To put it simply, George
Tenet is confusing us. The beleaguered CIA director has become a veritable sphinx
regarding his knowledge, or lack thereof, of the neocon OSP cabal’s remarkable
ability to filter bogus intelligence from its self-proclaimed "Batcave"
in the Pentagon to the White House’s corridors of power. And this ambivalence
may have fatal results for the remarkably long-lived CIA chief.
A Plethora of Contradictions
This whole long affair has been frustratingly
confused. First of all, last summer, Tenet fell
on his sword regarding the faulty data that was used to back up the Iraq
war. He took "full responsibility" for the controversial assertions that wound
their way into George W. Bush’s fateful 2003 State of the Union Address, and
Colin Powell’s grave speech at the UN, both of which were patchworks of grandiose,
imaginative fear-mongering, all stitched together with errors and lies. Yet
now Tenet is also contradicting himself, claiming that he both knew about and
objected to the OSP’s work at the time. Which is it, George?
A Mystifying Reticence
This reticence is especially dismaying considering
that Tenet’s position should be bolstered by the turbulent trajectory of events
since the "outing" of CIA
employee Valerie Plame to the press. The past nine months have seen the
neocons put under the hot glare of public criticism, and now a grand jury investigation.
As the Iraq occupation has dragged on with no end in sight, and as the revelations
of a massive deception continue to grow in number, Tenet has come under the
gun again. After CIA chief weapons inspector David Kay admitted in January to
having been "almost all wrong" regarding Iraq's WMD capabilities, Tenet was
"immediately blamed" for the intelligence imbroglio.
Tenet looked even worse last month when, says Jim Lobe, he made "a
rousing defense" of the CIA’s professionalism: "…Tenet boasted to students at
Georgetown University that he and only he was the sole purveyor of intelligence
information to the president."
Whoops! One marvels that Tenet would say such a thing, considering all that
has emerged regarding the neocons’ role in disseminating faulty intelligence,
directly to the president, vice-president, and secretary of defense.
Yet Tenet’s mystifying tactics hadn’t yet reached their apogee. Just two days
ago, Lobe continues,
"…he admitted to members of the Senate Armed Services Committee that he was
unaware until just last week that officials based in the Pentagon's policy
office had given intelligence briefings directly to the White House."
"…Is That A Normal Thing To Happen?"
This asinine statement raised more than a few
eyebrows among committee members. We’ve known for a long time that President
Bush is proud to say he doesn’t read the papers, trusting his top aides to give
him an "objective" rundown of the news every day. But the head of the CIA? If
Tenet seriously expects anyone to believe that he knew nothing about this massive
story in which he is involved at almost every turn, he might as well nominate
himself for the jury in the Michael Jackson trial.
His lame excuse proved too much for the Senate inquisitors to bear.
"Incredulous" Democratic senator Carl Levin, asked Tenet during the hearings,
"…is that a normal thing to happen, that there [is] a formal analysis relative
to intelligence that would be presented to the NSC [National Security Council]
that way, without you even knowing about it?’
A Glutton for Punishment?
"‘I don't know. I've never been in the situation,’
Tenet replied, insisting, ‘I have to tell you senator, I'm the president's chief
intelligence officer; I have the definitive view about these subjects.’ ‘I know
you feel that way,’ Levin said, betraying a hint of sarcasm."
All things considered, we have to ask whether George Tenet is trying to
protect someone—or is just a glutton for punishment. Now that neocon allies like
Ahmad Chalabi are gleefully
attesting to be "heroes in error" for pulling the wool over Americans’ eyes
with the faulty data, and volunteering to take Tenet’s place in the crucifixion
line, what good reason does the CIA director have for sacrificing himself,
perhaps for nothing? Now, when the neocons are clearly on the chopping block,
why would he want to keep sticking his neck out?
Indeed, when all signs show that the Plame scandal and intel fraud lead directly
back to the Naval Observatory and the office of Vice President
Cheney, why should Tenet volunteer himself now? After all, Cheney
practically admitted his bad-faith dealings himself, and relatively
"…In a Jan. 9 interview with the Rocky Mountain News, Cheney had cited
an article in The Weekly Standard magazine which was based in large part
on a since-discredited—and classified—Defense Department document from the
office of Assistant Secretary of Defense Douglas Feith. That document contended
there was a relationship between Saddam and the al-Qaeda
Killing an Immortal Allegiance
It’s been argued that Tenet’s undying allegiance
to George W. Bush lies behind his ambivalence. As Lobe comments,
"…in his desperate attempt to walk a tightrope between his increasingly
irreconcilable loyalties to the administration of President George W. Bush and
to his own intelligence professionals, Tenet is suggesting that he really was in
the dark about what was going on just a few miles down the Potomac River from
Still more embarrassing for Tenet and the CIA is the fact that they are still
being babysat by the Pentagon, which is still allowed to vet any "informants"
supplied by Chalabi before they are interviewed by the CIA. And, on top of that,
the Bush Administration is still paying Chalabi’s INC—even after he admits to
having helped construct the lies that started a war—to
the tune of $340,000 a month.
Simultaneously, Tenet is allowing Chalabi to walk all over him regarding the
intelligence failures. The latter told the New York Times recently that
it wasn’t his fault: instead, "…intelligence people, who are supposed to do a
better job for their country and their government, did not do such a good
Why Didn’t They Ask?
However, the main issue here is not what they
knew or didn’t know, but why they didn’t ask many questions. We should not forgive
our highest officials simply because they "didn’t know." That is no excuse for
those who are, if not always America’s best and brightest, invested with the
duty to serve the American people in a responsible and above-board manner. Indeed,
we should wonder why those whose vision and wisdom American voters trust did
not ask simple questions regarding the validity of the data. And not simply
out of reference to damaged popular faith; after all, whole countries have been
wrecked, and thousands of innocent Iraqis and Afghans have died as a result
of what is beginning to look like an entirely unreasoned policy of blind warmongering.
Since it is increasingly looking like the Iraq invasion was planned well in
advance and destined to occur, come hell or high water, the truth emerges that
intelligence was treated as a mere formality. Impatient, reckless policy
planners, most of them neoconservatives, had little interest in determining the
veracity of information. Since they had already made up their minds about the
severity of the Iraqi threat, nothing was going to deter them from following
through on their quest for war.
Throwing Caution to the Winds
Voices of caution such as Colin Powell and Tenet
were cast aside as weak and naïve regarding the Iraq threat. Yet George Tenet
still has a chance to set the record straight. And that is the absolute least
that should be expected. Like Colin Powell, perhaps he should have resigned
long ago in protest of the Bush Administration’s amateurish, "faith-based" approach
to intelligence-gathering, and the utter foolhardiness of its constant march
to war. Powell, many believe, sacrificed his reputation and career in order
to prevent a nuclear attack on Afghanistan and the invasion of who knows how
many countries by now. The fact that his was one of the "cooler heads" in the
bunch says a lot about the extreme, fanatical warmongering tendencies of the
most influential members of the Bush Administration.
Will Tenet’s Discretion Prove Fatal?
In Tuesday’s hearing, Tenet was grilled by Massachusetts
Senator Ted Kennedy, who got to the heart of the matter right away regarding
the chief spook’s waffling: "you can't have it both ways, can you, Mr. Tenet?"
To which Tenet replied:
"…I'm not going to sit here today and tell you what my interaction [with
fraudulent intelligence gatherers] was. What I did, what I didn't do… When I
believed that someone was misconstruing intelligence, I said something about it.
I don't stand up in public and do it."
This admission is damning. For Tenet to argue that his job discretion means
not publicly blowing the whistle on brazen liars who are simultaneously
undercutting his authority and incurring the deaths of thousands of American
soldiers and Iraqis, is more than irresponsible. It’s downright negligent. The
tragedy here is that he really could have bagged them—publicly, not just in weak
private interventions—and perhaps prevented a war.
However, he didn’t. Whether out of loyalty or for other reasons, we may never
know. Yet if George Tenet thinks that he will be able to get away with "not
sitting here today and telling you" for much longer, then he is estranged from
reality. But then again, that wouldn’t contradict the self-description that the
perhaps fatally wounded CIA director has been giving us for the past