Tenet: Iraq targeted before 9/11
Intelligence manipulated to support war on Saddam, former CIA director says in soon-to-be-released book
Saturday, April 28, 2007The Washington Post
WASHINGTON – White House and Pentagon officials, and particularly Vice President Dick Cheney, were determined to attack Iraq from the first days of the Bush administration, long before the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, and repeatedly stretched available intelligence to build support for the war, according to a new book by former CIA director George J. Tenet.
Although Tenet does not question the threat Saddam Hussein posed or the sincerity of administration beliefs, he recounts numerous efforts by aides to Cheney and then-Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld to insert “crap” into public justifications for the war. Tenet also describes an ongoing fear within the intelligence community of the administration’s willingness to “mischaracterize complex intelligence information.”
“There was never a serious debate that I know of within the administration about the imminence of the Iraq threat,” Tenet writes in “At the Center of the Storm,” to be published Monday by HarperCollins. The debate “was not about imminence but about acting before Saddam did.”
White House counselor Dan Bartlett called Tenet a “true patriot” but disputed his conclusions, saying “the president did wrestle with those very serious questions.” Responding to reports on the book in Friday’s New York Times, Bartlett suggested the former CIA director might have been unaware of all the discussions. President Bush, Bartlett said on NBC’s “Today Show,” “weighed all the various consequences before he did make a decision.”
In their threat briefings for the incoming Bush administration in late 2000, Tenet writes, CIA officials did not even mention Iraq. But Cheney, he says, asked for an Iraq briefing and requested that the outgoing Clinton administration’s defense secretary, William S. Cohen, provide information on Iraq for Bush.
A speech by Cheney in August 2002 “went well beyond what our analysis could support,” Tenet writes. The speech charged, among other things, that Saddam had restarted his nuclear program and would “acquire nuclear weapons fairly soon … perhaps within a year.” Caught off-guard by the remarks, which had not been cleared by the CIA, Tenet says he considered confronting the vice president on the subject but did not.
“Would that have changed his future approach?” he asks. “I doubt it but I should not have let silence imply an agreement.” Policy-makers, he writes, “have a right to their own opinions, but not their own set of facts.”
New details about the origins of the current terrorist threat – and the way the Clinton and Bush White Houses dealt with it – add to a growing body of information about the tumultuous late 1990s and the first years of the new century. For the future, Tenet describes his deepest fear as “the nuclear one.” He is convinced, he writes, that this is where Osama bin Laden “and his operatives desperately want to go. They understand that bombings by cars, trucks, trains and planes will get them some headlines, to be sure. But if they manage to set off a mushroom cloud, they will make history.”
© 2007 The Birmingham News. All rights reserved.
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