The three short sentences at the beginning of Chapter 17 of former CIA Director George Tenet’s memoir, “At the Center of the Storm,” tell it all: “The United States did not go to war in Iraq solely because of WMD. I doubt it was even the principal cause. Yet it was the public face that was put on it.”
Consider the deep cynicism of that statement, playing as it does on the gravest threat to humanity’s survival—an apocalyptic nuclear conflagration—to exploit the fears of a nation raw from the 9/11 attacks. The “mushroom cloud” over Manhattan that now-Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Vice President Dick Cheney warned against was nothing more than a cheap rhetorical trick to justify an agenda of imperial intervention in the Middle East that long preceded the 9/11 attacks. The goal was to bamboozle Americans into supporting the restructuring of the politics of the Mideast to accord with the fantasies of a small band of neoconservative rogues who had insinuated themselves into the highest levels of the U.S. government.
That they were rogues was known to the chief of the Central Intelligence Agency, a man rewarded by President Bush with the Medal of Freedom precisely because he provided respectable cover for the chicanery that drove the Iraq debacle. Pity that it took a $4-million book contract for Tenet to come clean.
While Tenet remained silent, he observed the neocon coup d’état up close. His most devastating revelations center on the antics of that neocon cabal in the Pentagon and its hit squad, dubbed “Team Feith” for Douglas Feith, a protégé of former Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz and, through him, former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and Cheney.
Team Feith’s main task was to create and maintain the fiction of a connection between Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden when no solid evidence supported that assertion. The intelligence unit Feith headed set about discrediting the conclusions of every other intelligence operation while cherry-picking evidence to support the invasion of Iraq as a logical response to 9/11. Tenet’s high crime—and it is just that—was that he knew of this treachery from the start, yet never exposed it to Congress or the public.
Take Tenet’s description of the briefing, provided by Feith’s office throughout the higher reaches of government, entitled “Iraq and al-Qaa’ida—Making the Case.” As Tenet notes, Feith’s briefer, Tina Shelton, “started out by saying that there should be ‘no more debate’ on the Iraq-al Qaeda relationship. ‘It is an open-and-shut case,’ she said. ‘No further analysis is required.’ This statement instantly got my attention. I knew we had trouble on our hands.”
Shelton ran through a series of fraudulent claims, including one that lead hijacker Mohamed Atta had met with an Iraqi agent in Prague, which the CIA had previously investigated but found to be fraudulent. Tenet then adds: “I listened for a few more minutes trying to be polite, before saying, ‘that’s very interesting.’ This was one of my rare moments of trying to be subtle. What I was really thinking was, this is complete crap, and I want this to end right now.”
But he didn’t say it. And the “complete crap” of Team Feith carried the day with the Bush administration, from Bush on down, not because they had facts or logic on their side, but because their intellectual bullying served the political agenda of the Karl Rove juggernaut. The bullying was effective only because Congress and the media were traumatized by 9/11 and because those who knew better, most prominently Tenet, failed to speak out. In the end, Tenet betrayed the bedrock freedom of representative democracy—the right of the people to be informed—and failed, when it mattered most, his sworn duty to honestly inform the government about issues of vital importance to its security.
Tenet, knowing the administration was willfully leading our nation into a horrific war in Iraq that would detract from the real fight against terrorism, had an obligation to resign and go public with his knowledge when the war could have been prevented. Tenet knew that the Bush administration had sold the public a package of lies, but he waited to reveal that truth until he could turn a hefty book profit.
Will Tenet share the book’s royalties with the grieving families of the dead and wounded from this war that he concedes he could never honestly justify? Or with the U.S. taxpayers, who are stuck with the trillion-dollar bill for the never-ending occupation and reconstruction of Iraq? After one of his talk show appearances, will he be arrested for complicity in war crimes?
AP Photo / Lawrence Jackson
President Bush presents George Tenet the Presidential Medal of Freedom Award, the nation’s highest civilian honor, in 2004.