Forgotten Briefings of August 2001
By Dana Priest
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, April 15, 2004; Page A12
Sometimes the best stories in Washington are left unchecked.
Yesterday, for instance, CIA Director George J. Tenet happened to mention to the commission investigating the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks that he had not talked to President Bush during the entire month of August 2001. Given the extraordinary level of al Qaeda threats detected that summer, this was an alarming revelation.
Former House member Timothy J. Roemer of Indiana, the commissioner whose questioning elicited this bombshell from the intelligence chief, was dumbfounded.
"You don't see the president of the United States once in the month of August?" he asked.
"He's in Texas, and I'm either here or on leave for some of that time," Tenet responded.
"So -- but you never get on the phone . . . at this level of high chatter and huge warnings during the spring and summer, to talk to him, through the whole month of August?"
"We talked to him directly throughout the spring and early summer, almost every day," Tenet started to say.
"But not in August?" Roemer continued.
"In this time period," Tenet said, "I'm not talking to him, no."
"Does he ever say" to someone on his staff, "I want to talk to Tenet. Tenet is the guy that knows the situation. . . . Tenet understands this stuff. His hair's been on fire. He's been worried about this stuff?" Roemer asked.
"I don't have a recollection of being called, Mr. Roemer," Tenet responded. "But I'm sure that if I wanted to make a phone call because I had my hair on fire, I would have picked up the phone and talked to the president."
"It was just never made?" Roemer said.
"That's an amazing story," one reporter said, seeking an explanation from CIA spokesman Bill Harlow.
"Yeah, but it's not accurate," Harlow said, a response usually reserved for critics alleging CIA secret operations, wrongdoing or incompetence.
CIA records show that Tenet briefed the president twice in August -- once in Crawford, Tex., on Aug. 17, and once in Washington, on Aug. 31. A CIA analyst who accompanied Bush on his vacation briefed him approximately six days a week, Harlow said. It is likely that Tenet spoke to Bush by phone, he added, but the complete record is not yet available.
"He momentarily forgot," Harlow said of Tenet.
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