Tenet Says He Was Made a Scapegoat Over Iraq War
Friday, April 27, 2007
Former CIA director George J. Tenet bitterly complains in a forthcoming television interview that White House officials set him up as a scapegoat when they revealed that he had assured President Bush the intelligence on Iraq's suspected weapons arsenal was a "slam dunk."
Tenet, who was one of the longest-serving CIA directors in U.S. history, resigned abruptly in June 2004 after administration infighting over the flawed intelligence in the run-up to the Iraq war.
Bush awarded him the Medal of Freedom six months later. Tenet then remained publicly silent about his role in the presentation of prewar intelligence that turned out to be wrong. But in a memoir scheduled for release on Monday, Tenet will offer his version of events and of conversations preceding the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and leading up to the U.S. invasion of Iraq in March 2003.
Tenet received a reported $4 million advance for the book, "At the Center of the Storm: My Years at the CIA," which is being published by HarperCollins. Yesterday, CBS News's "60 Minutes" released excerpts of its Tenet interview, which will air Sunday night.
In the interview, Tenet acknowledged that he used the phrase "slam dunk" during a conversation with Bush and other key advisers in December 2002. But Tenet said the phrase was an offhand remark used to describe the ease with which a public case for war could be made. "We can put a better case together for a public case," Tenet told "60 Minutes." "That's what I meant."
Washington Post Assistant Managing Editor Bob Woodward first wrote about the conversation between Tenet and Bush in his 2004 book "Plan of Attack," chronicling the run-up to the invasion. Bush told Woodward then that Tenet's "slam dunk" assurance had been "very important" as he weighed decisions about the invasion.
In the television interview, Tenet takes special exception with Bush's comments, telling "60 Minutes" that he will "never believe that what happened that day informed the president's view or belief of the legitimacy or the timing of this war. Never!" White House planning for the invasion had been far along by then, Tenet said, with military and logistical plans near completion.
Tenet said that the description offered first to Woodward and then repeated by senior administration officials, including Vice President Cheney and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, was "the most despicable thing that ever happened to me."
"You don't do this," Tenet said. "You don't throw somebody overboard just because it's a deflection. Is that honorable? It's not honorable to me."
Tenet said "the hardest part of all this has been just listening to this for almost three years. You listen to that and they never let it go. I mean, I became campaign talk. I was a talking point." He accused his former colleagues of being disingenuous and called on them to "just get up and tell the truth. Tell the American people what really happened."
Tenet initially denied having used the phrase "slam dunk." But, in a 2005 speech at Kutztown University in Pennsylvania, he said he regretted using the phrase to describe the case against Iraq. "Those were the two dumbest words I ever said," Tenet said.
The author Ron Suskind reported in his 2006 book, "The One Percent Doctrine," that Tenet did not remember whether he had used the phrase. Tenet's deputy at the CIA, John E. McLaughlin, attended the same meeting with Tenet and Bush, and he also told Suskind that he did not remember Tenet having used the phrase.
Staff researcher Julie Tate contributed to this report.