Today on Meet the Press, exactly one week after Condoleeza Rice's whirlwind talkshow appearances and in a far less animated performance than what was shown on 60 Minutes, former CIA Director George Tenet sat down with Tim Russert and proceeded to explain just how many times he completely screwed the pooch prior to the Iraq War and how he failed to tell the President of his concerns about our invasion of that country.
I didn't do it, Tim. I, I did not, I did not oppose this, and to, to, to dress me up as a hero at this--I wasn't a hero here, and, and that's the record.
Well, ain't that the truth.
Wait, let me rephrase that.
NO SHIT SHERLOCK!
But apparently now that Tenet has had a chance to calm down and refresh his meds - he actually managed to put forth a pretty good case that he honestly did the best job he could.
The main issue clearly that Tenet wants to put forward is the fact the CIA didn't know - just how much they didn't know.
I've heard debate about this book subsequently, and it, and it looks like, "You knew this was wrong, and you let the president of the United States or you let the secretary of state go to the United Nations and say it."
"You knew in the moment, at the time you lived in, all of the problems that would manifest themselves in postwar Iraq and didn't tell anybody."
That's absolutely not true.
On these two points, Tenet has a strong case surprisingly. First of all you have to look not just to him, but to other sources such as Col. Lawrence Wilkerson and Colin Powell who actually gave the UN speech. As Tenet described today, Powell did spend several days at CIA headquarters vetting the accuracy of the speech and largely tossing out many of the White House claims which he had been provided via Scooter Libby.
"We've really got to make the case" against Hussein, Bush told Powell in an Oval Office meeting in late January, "and I want you to make it." Only Powell had the "credibility to do this," Bush said. "Maybe they'll believe you." It was a direct order from his commander in chief, and it never occurred to Powell to question it.
He was told that the case had already been put together by the White House, and he assumed that with a little tweaking he could turn it into a speech that would fit his voice and style. He was taken aback on Tuesday, January 28, when he received the bulk of the document, a 48-page, single-spaced compilation of Hussein's alleged weapons of mass destruction program, replete with drama, rhetorical devices and a kitchen sink full of allegations. The most extreme version of every charge the administration had made about Hussein, the document had been written, Powell concluded, under the tutelage of Cheney's chief of staff, I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, who shared all of his boss's hard-line views and then some.
That was the Speech the President wanted Powell to give, but he didn't do it and frankly - neither Tenet or Wilkerson wouldn't let him. Still things didn't go smoothly.
MR. RUSSERT: He now says that that presentation was inaccurate and that it's a blot on his career.
MR. TENET: And we let the secretary down, and we undermined the credibility of the United States because we, we worked very hard for three nights. We believed we put together a presentation that we thought was good and solid. And we know that once we got on the ground, and we know that once we started learning things, that that presentation didn't stand up. So, you know, I sat behind, I sat behind the secretary of state. We sat there for three and a half days trying to make sure that he said what we believed. We worked very, very hard. We started with a draft that wasn't our own. We spent two and a half days trying to figure out where, where half the stuff came from.
But it's fair to note - that their failure wasn't for lack of trying to do a good job.
"HERE YOU GO," POWELL SAID, as he dropped the White House document on the desk of his chief of staff, Lawrence Wilkerson. Wilkerson quickly agreed it read more like a badly written novel than something designed to persuade the world. That afternoon, he assembled a State Department team-- including speechwriter Lynne Davidson and Barry Lowenkron, a senior CIA officer before he joined Powell's policy planning staff -- to set up shop at CIA headquarters, across the Potomac River in Virginia. They would examine the evidence themselves and turn the document into what Wilkerson called "a Colin Powell speech." Cheney aide John Hannah and William Tobey, the counterproliferation director at the White House National Security Council, would meet them there to answer any questions.
The problem as has been admitted by Wilkerson, is that they never considered the possibility that they were wrong about Saddam.
As they probed for proof of Hussein's lies, no one thought of looking for evidence that might have raised questions about their assumptions that the weapons existed.
And as it turned out Hussein finally did tell the truth when he put forth his "Final Declaration" on the status of his WMD programs in the wake of Powell's speech and the passage Un Resolution 1441.
He didn't have any more WMD's, Hussein had given the order to destroy them in 1991 - not that anyone in 2002 was listening to him.
What Tenet and Powell didn't know was that their source for the many of the claims in the UN speech, Ibn Sheik al-Libi was known as a fabricator by the DIA (Defense Intelligence Agency) - a fact which was not shared with CIA.
Another of the primary sources was Curveball, who had also been identified by DIA as a fabricator.
But some people in CIA were aware of problems with Curveball, including European chief Tyler Drumheller, who personally crossed out information from Powell's UN speech which he recognized as coming from that source. Unfortunately, it didn't take.
In late January 2003, as Secretary of State Colin Powell prepared to argue the Bush administration's case against Iraq at the United Nations, veteran CIA officer Tyler Drumheller sat down with a classified draft of Powell's speech to look for errors. He found a whopper: a claim about mobile biological labs built by Iraq for germ warfare.
Drumheller instantly recognized the source, an Iraqi defector suspected of being mentally unstable and a liar. The CIA officer took his pen, he recounted in an interview, and crossed out the whole paragraph.
A few days later, the lines were back in the speech. Powell stood before the U.N. Security Council on Feb. 5 and said: "We have first-hand descriptions of biological weapons factories on wheels and on rails."
Tenet has long argued that he wasn't told about Curveball's credibility problems, in 2005 he said:
It is deeply troubling to me that there was information apparently available within CIA as of late September or October of 2002 indicating that Curveball may have been a fabricator"
And Wilkerson - whose been no fan of Bush Iraq policy or the Vice President's tactics in pushing his agenda - says he never heard anything about Curveball or Drumheller.
"No one mentioned Drumheller, or Curveball," Lawrence B. Wilkerson, Powell's chief of staff at the time, said in an interview. "I didn't know the name Curveball until months afterward."
Drumheller, according the Washington Post has stated that he informed deputy-DCI John McLaughlin about the problems with Curveball, but McLaughlin has claimed before the Robb-Silberman Commission that he didn't remember it.
The same situation was repeated when it comes to the infamous 16 Words - although Tenet personally intervened to have the reference to Niger and Uranium removed from the President's Cincinnati speech, it still found it's way back into the State of the Union. From MTP.
MR. RUSSERT: You said six months after that, that those words should not have been included in the president's speech.
MR. TENET: Correct.
MR. RUSSERT: Why did it take six months?
MR. TENET: Well, well, Tim, first of all, it's interesting. Let's, let's do the history here. Identical words were intended to be put in the Cincinnati speech, and we took them out. I took them out directly in a conversation with Mr. Hadley and follow-up memos that we sent to the White House as to why you can't use this data. We document that in the book. That speech was provided to me just before it was given. Unfortunately, I didn't read it. We passed it out for comment. Nobody came back to me to say "Let's take it out."
To his credit though, Tenet doesn't completely pass the buck to his underlings.
TENET: But we took it out--we took it out in the Cincinnati speech. We left it in in this speech. I believe we had a responsibility in clearing the (SOTU) speech to, to accept the responsibility of the fact that we didn't get our job done and allowed the president of the United States to say that. I believed there was going to be shared responsibility. We took it out of Cincinnati. We were very forceful about that.
Yes, they were - with two faxes and a phone call directly from Tenet to Stephen Hadley. Yet the incorrect words returned
I may be weird, but it seems to me this is exact repeat of what didn't happen with Curveball because in that case as well, the issue apparently got lost somewhere on the desk of Tenet's deputy John McLaughlin. Hmmmm...
In the midst of all this were the action being taken by Douglas Feith over at Defense to help promote and hype the Curveball and al-libi claims, to hype the Niger forgeries and the aluminum tubes. As Wilkerson has noted:
What I saw was a cabal between the vice president of the United States, Richard Cheney, and the secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld, on critical issues that made decisions that the bureaucracy did not know were being made. And then, when the bureaucracy was presented with the decision to carry them out, it was presented in a such a disjointed, incredible way that the bureaucracy often didn't know what it was doing as it moved to carry them out.
With Libby pushing his points from the OVP along with Feith at DOD and his attempts to hide and overide the issues with Curveball, al-libi, the Niger forgeries, the non-existent Atta/Prague meeting, the fact that Iraq Foreign Minister Sabri had essentially defected and told us outright - that Iraq Had No More WMD's - the ones who got "slammed dunked" were Tenet and the American people.
But one point where Tenet does appear to be a little bit of Hero - almost - is on the pre-9-11 warnings.
MR. RUSSERT: Then in June, a briefer of the CIA named Rich B gave a conclusion saying, based on all the reporting we've seen, that "bin Laden is going to launch a significant terrorist attack against U.S." Israeli "interest in the coming weeks." July 10 you got another briefing so alarming that you picked up the phone, said to Condoleezza Rice, "I want to come see you now," jumped in the car with some of your key advisers, went to see her. Rich B, he gave her a briefing package. Opening line, "There will be a significant terrorist attack in the coming weeks or months!" And then you--and later July, Rich B
sitting at the CIA, said, "They're coming here." When he told you that, what did you think?
MR. TENET: It was a moment I'll never forget. We, we were sitting there trying to rack our brains, trying to figure out what we were up against at that moment. And you know, Rich, Rich said that, it hung over the room. We had no texture. We took it seriously, you know, but we had no texture at that moment. Of course, this is a, this is a human being who's been following this for many years, and he's giving us an instinctual call.
Tenet briefed Rice, she had them repeat the briefings with Rumsfeld. The August PDB reitereated the warnings.
Yet Bush and Co did nothing.
They only had ONE MEETING on the issue eight months after Richard Clark had begged for one.
Condoleezza Rice has consitently maintained that there were no warnings of an attack "inside the U.S." - either in the PDB ("This was historical information") or during this briefing, which she intially claimed didn't even happen.
But he's the thing, considering how the filtering of subordinates (and a healthy dose of hype from Douglas Feith) later hurt us going into Iraq, did the President ever get the message about al-Qaeda before 9-11? Apparently he did.
MR. RUSSERT: This is late July. The evidence coming in the intelligence: big event, spectacular, King, King Abdullah of Jordan calling, saying, "We have to go to Afghanistan. We have to do something." A presidential daily brief was prepared for the president on August 6 entitled "Bin Laden Determined To Strike in the U.S."
Late August, you went to Crawford, Texas, first time ever, met with the president, rode with him in his pickup truck. Did you say to him at that time, "Mr. President, Rich B told me at the CIA they are coming. You got to do something now"?
MR. TENET: Tim, by, by August, remember, this threat reporting starts way back in the spring--May, June, July, August. I held nothing back from the president. He understood our concerns about threats. He understood what we were doing around the world at the time. The interesting thing is is by the end of July, everything goes silent on us.
So, yes - Bush was specifically told and knew that Bin Laden was going to attack the U.S. He was In The Loop.
TENET: You know, I, I have every confidence that everybody in our government understood what I believed to be a very, very serious time period. At the end of the day, the authorities we were seeking were to get on the ground and work covertly with, with Ahmed Shah Massoud and the northern alliance. We wanted to get more proactive on the ground. The hijackers were already here.
Again, this puts the lie to Rice's claims from just last week that the desire to go to Afghanistan and deal with al-Qaeda directly Prior to 9-11 was a "New Fact".
Unfortunately for Tenet, Massoud was murdered just a week before 9-11. While the Bush Administration was "deliberating" the issue of an imminent al-Qeada attack - Bin Ladin was finalizing his plan. While we sat on our hands and CIA waited for authority to proceed - al Qaeda was taking action.
Tenet is indeed "No Hero" in all of this, but neither is he entirely a villain. It's fair to say that he did try hard to do what he thought was right, he made mistakes - serious ones (although he had a ton of help in that regard) - and it may be true that all he may be trying to do now is simply brush some of the tarnish off of his tattered legacy, he has at least been man enough to admit his own many, many mistakes.
He may have an ongoing tiff with Richard Perle over who said what and when about Iraq's links to Al-Qaeda - (and he's already admitted his mistake here as well) - but utimately it's going to take the 20/20 hindsight of history to fully appreciate the total scope of the failures and successes of the CIA under his leadership.
It seems to me there's more than enough blame to go around.
When exactly we're going to hear Feith, Libby, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Rice and Bush admit their complete and total fuck-ups will probably be sometime after the next Ice-Age in Hell.