Hawking his new book, At the Eye of the Storm, former CIA Director George Tenet bared his soul Sunday night to Scott Pelley of the CBS news magazine, 60 Minutes. Some preliminary thoughts about his jaw-dropping performance are in order.
1. Tenet met every morning with President Bush. Indeed, he was the point person at the national-security briefing — the daily session Bush, from the beginning of his presidency, has made a point of taking more seriously than his predecessor did. Tenet now claims that in the summer of 2001, he was convinced al Qaeda was on the verge of launching a spectacular, multiple-site attack against the United States. He was convinced the United States should take action against the terror network in its Afghanistan safe haven. But
, he maintains he shared this information only with (then) National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, not the president.
Why, day after day after day, didn’t he advise the president of his suspicions? “Because,” Tenet says, “the United States government doesn’t work that way. The president is not the action officer. You bring the action to the national-security adviser and people who set the table for the president to decide on policies they’re gonna implement.”
Sure, Mr. Director. Just one question: What the hell goes on at the daily briefings?
2. Immediately after 9/11, Tenet’s first response was that (a) he knew for certain al Qaeda was responsible (“when you’ve been following this as long as I’ve been following this, when you’ve been thinking about multiple spectacular attacks. There was no doubt what had happened in my mind immediately”), and (b) bin Laden better watch out because “I’m gonna run you and all your bastards down. And here we come. Because the rules are about to change. Here we come; our turn now. Unleashed, authorities, money, direction, leadership; here we come, pal.”
Question: Why did it take 9/11 for that?
We knew Bin Laden had bombed the embassies in 1998. In October 2000, al Qaeda bombed the destroyer, the U.S.S. Cole, in Yemen. The Clinton people say they did not respond to the Cole attack because the intelligence community would not assure them that al Qaeda was responsible. Regardless of what Tenet and others may have been telling them, I find it impossible to believe that the Clinton people did not fully appreciate that al Qaeda was the culprit. But let’s assume, for argument’s sake, there really was some doubt. Was Tenet certain then, as he says he was the minute 9/11 happened, that al Qaeda did the Cole? And since the Cole bombing killed 17 U.S. naval personnel, why didn’t the rules change then? Why was our response to do … nothing.
3. As Bill Kristol has pointed out, Tenet has apparently fabricated a September 12, 2001, meeting with Richard Perle at which Tenet insists Perle said Iraq had to be made to pay for 9/11. (Tenet: “[Perle] said to me, ‘Iraq has to pay a price for what happened yesterday, they bear responsibility.’ It’s September the 12th. I’ve got the manifest with me that tell [sic] me al Qaeda did this. Nothing in my head that says there is any Iraqi involvement in this in any way shape or form and I remember thinking to myself, as I’m about to go brief the president, ‘What the hell is he talking about?’” (Emphasis added).)
Leaving aside that Perle denies Tenet’s account, the meeting Tenet vividly recounts could not have happened. Perle was not in the United States on September 12; he was stranded outside the country, unable to return due to the closure of U.S. airspace. Keep that in mind: When Tenet recalls standing there with the manifest in his hand about to brief the president the day after the shocking 9/11 attacks, and then being thrown for a loop by Richard Perle (translation: rabid neocons) raving about Iraq, that never happened.
Now, if it’s possible, let’s give Tenet the benefit of the doubt and forget for a moment that he clearly has an ax to grind when it comes to Iraq. The fact remains that, like others in the intelligence community now running for the hills because Iraq has proved more difficult than they may have thought, Tenet is desperate to change the subject from Iraq’s complicity in jihadist terror to Iraq’s fingerprints on 9/11. He carefully tells Pelley that the CIA could never “verify” that Saddam’s regime had anything to do with 9/11. Not, mind you, that the CIA can categorically state that Iraq was uninvolved in 9/11; just that CIA (which, it turns out, can’t verify much of anything) could not verify Iraq’s involvement in those particular attacks.