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George Tenet's Blinkered Hindsight

By Jack Kelly

One of the reasons why the invasion of Iraq was a mistake, former CIA Director George Tenet told CBS' Scott Pelley, is because the CIA didn't think Saddam Hussein would have a nuclear weapon until 2007.

Er, George, it's 2007. To a born again dove like Mr. Tenet, the five years that has passed since President Bush decided Saddam must go was an eternity justifying inaction. But if President Bush hadn't done what he did when he did it, Saddam might today have the bomb, and however bad you may think the situation in Iraq is today, it would be very much worse. That's important to keep in mind as we relive these events through Mr. Tenet's blinkered hindsight.

Washington memoirs tend to be self serving, but "At the Center of the Storm" is remarkable even for the genre. Michael Scheuer, the first head of the CIA's bin Laden unit, said the book "seems designed to rehabilitate Tenet in his first home, the Democratic Party."

Mr. Tenet's reputation is in need of rehabilitation because it was he who assured President Bush the case against Saddam on weapons of mass destruction was a "slam dunk." And there was that 9/11 thing the CIA missed on his watch.

None of this was his fault, Mr. Tenet assures us. It was the neocons who screwed up Iraq. Intelligence collection and analysis about 9/11 would have been better if President Clinton hadn't slashed his budget. Book stores should serve cheese with this whine.

But budget cuts can't explain why Mr. Tenet didn't stand up for his field officers when they had the opportunity to kill or capture Osama bin Laden, and President Clinton's national security advisers turned them down, Mr. Scheuer said.

"He would nod and assure his anxious subordinates that he would stress to Clinton...that the chances of capturing bin Laden were solid," Mr. Scheuer said. "However, several key Clinton counterterrorism advisers... have reported that Tenet consistently denigrated the targeting data on bin Laden, causing the president and his team to lose confidence in the hard-won intelligence."

Mr. Scheuer isn't alone in accusing Mr. Tenet of making "untrue" statements. In his "60 Minutes" interview, Mr. Tenet described to Mr. Pelley an encounter in the White House the day after the 9/11 attacks with Richard Perle, then a member of the Defense Policy Board. "He said to me, 'Iraq has to pay a price for what happened yesterday,
they bear responsibility,'" Mr. Tenet said.

The difficulty with this, noted Bill Kristol of the Weekly Standard, is that Mr. Perle was in France on Sept. 12, 2001, and didn't return to the U.S. until Sept. 15.

"Tenet implies that 9/11 might have been headed off if only then National Security Adviser Condoleeza Rice hadn't passed off his warnings to some third-tier lackey," noted the Arizona Republic in an editorial Tuesday. "Fortunately, "60 Minutes" reporter Scott Pelley had the presence to note that Tenet held a daily meeting with President Bush himself, yet never troubled the chief executive with his certitudes of imminent national peril."

Tenet misidentified a Defense Intelligence Agency analyst as a naval reservist in an attempt to belittle her credentials, and doesn't seem to understand that the Iran-Contra scandal (during the Reagan administration) involved arming the mullahs, not the dissidents, noted Web logger Ed Morrissey (Captain's Quarters).

"If the boss can't get his facts straight, how could he have advised two presidents with any degree of competence at all?" Capt. Ed asked. Liberals won't mind the liberties Mr. Tenet has taken with the truth to bash the Bush administration. But his book will be unpalatable to them because of the extent to which he tells truths liberals would just as soon ignore.

The "enhanced" interrogation techniques the CIA used on al Qaida suspects (approved by the Bush administration but opposed by most Democrats) foiled several major plots, Mr. Tenet said.

Nor will Democrats be pleased with this statement (on page 336): "Intelligence professionals did not try to tell policy makers what they wanted to hear, nor did the policy makers lean on us to influence outcomes."

At the start of the Iraq war, the CIA was convinced Saddam possessed between 100 and 500 tons of chemical weapons, Mr. Tenet said. In its prewar analyses, the CIA did warn of negative consequences if Iraq were invaded, Mr. Tenet said. But, he adds (page 318): "Had we felt strongly these were likely outcomes, we would have shouted our conclusions...We had no way of knowing then how the situation on the ground in Iraq would evolve."

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