President Bush announced this morning that he had accepted the resignation of CIA Director George Tenet. Tenet, who was the second longest serving director of Central Intelligence, resigned for “personal reasons,” according to Bush. But many analysts say that Tenet is a fall guy for an administration plagued by accusations of misconduct. [Includes rush transcript]
In recent months, the Bush administration has attempted to lay much of the blame for its false claims about Iraqi WMDs, its handling of 9/11 and its justification for the war in Iraq on Tenet.
Minutes after the announcement, we spoke with 27-year veteran CIA analyst Ray McGovern.
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RAY MCGOVERN: George Tenet is clearly the first sacrificial lamb here. Things are going quite badly here in Washington. Somebody has to start being held accountable. And Tenet is sort of a tragic figure because he did all he could to help George Bush, much more than he should have as an objective intelligence professional. For example, the estimate that was prepared in September and October of 2002, which was used to persuade our Congress that Saddam Hussein was about to rain mushroom clouds upon us. That was George Tenet actually corrupting the Intelligence process to the policy that had already been decided. The decision for war antedated that estimate by six or seven months at least. And so we had the bizarre experience of a decision for war before there was any intelligence estimate, and the intelligence estimate sort of playing catch-up ball so that the Congress, that needed to approve this war, would be deceived. He played that game, and he defended it, and if you look at what that estimate said, it was wrong on virtually every count. It’s amazing that he hung around as long as he did.
JEREMY SCAHILL: And Ray McGovern, of course George Tenet, as you point out, really was put forward as sort of the one to blame for everything from the inclusion of the accusation by Bush at the State of the Union Address. Those sixteen words that Saddam Hussein was attempting to import uranium from an African nation. Colin Powell’s major address making the case for war in front of the U.N Security Council in February of 2003 as well as the investigation of the events leading up to 9/11 and directly following. Can you expand on this idea of Tenet being a fall guy now for an administration faced with really a political crisis because of the war in Iraq, the lack of finding any weapons of mass destruction, etcetera?
RAY MCGOVERN: Yeah, you see Tenet was playing a double game. He was trying to be all things to all people. Which is what a congressional staffer needs to do, and that is his sole professional background. So when he realized that all this hype about Iraq seeking Uranium from Niger, was based, was false on its face number one, it couldn’t happen, and number two it was based on a forgery, he succeeded in getting that out of the president’s speech on October the 7th, the key one that antedated the vote for war by three or four days. He succeeded in that, but at the very same time, he permitted to be put in this national estimate, N.I.E., we call it National Intelligence Estimate, he permitted sections in there, several paragraphs which repeated this charade, this crazy story that Iraq was getting Uranium. So he was indirectly responsible for that appearing in the president’s state of the union address. Why? Well because the White House simply called from the estimate. What the White House didn’t realize perhaps, is that the estimate had already been prostituted, had already been corrupted. It’s usually possible to take an estimate, which is the most authoritative view of the director of central intelligence and say, well this is the last word. Well it wasn’t Tenet’s last word. His last word was saying to the president, please don’t say that, it’s spurious. And yet the estimate prepared at precisely the same time and given to the president over George Tenet’s signature, said just the opposite. So he was playing the game that he learned in Congress. You know, when the president, according to Bob Woodward, at the end of the year, at the end of 2002 said, you know I’m not sure, is this all you’ve got in terms of intelligence on weapons of mass destruction? Is it a good case? Well George Tenet sprung up twice and said, Mr. President, it’s a slam-dunk. Now we know he did that because Ms. Condoleezza Rice has verified that. Now, this is just a startling example, of what’s not supposed to happen in intelligence. You don’t tell the president what he wants to know. You tell him the truth. And that seems to have been avoided here in Washington these days. What is truth, Pilate’s old question? People don’t seem to have any appreciation of the need to tell the truth. And there’s one place where that’s essential, and that is serving up an objective, unpartisan, unbiased, tell it like it is, intelligence to the president. The president doesn’t like that, but you got to do it anyway. And if he doesn’t like you, you got to quit, or permit yourself to be fired. That’s not what this firing is all about. This firing is simply the first sacrificial victim here. They don’t want to get rid of Rumsfeld or Wolfowitz yet. There’s lots of dirty stuff having to do with CIA interrogations in Iraq as well as military interrogations. So there’s a whole litany of things that George Tenet is very vulnerable on, and I think this is throwing one person in to the fray here and say, well at least we got rid of George Tenet. He’s a tragic figure. I feel sorry for him but I do not defend what he has done to the intelligence community because the folks there are thoroughly demoralized. The ethic that we all worked by, you shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free, you know that’s carved into the marble at the entrance to CIA headquarters. That seems to have been just completely rescinded from under the reign of George Tenet.
AMY GOODMAN: We, of course can’t forget how many times Dick Cheney went to the Central Intelligence Agency. Very unusual situation. Can you talk about that in relation to George Tenet?
RAY MCGOVERN: Yes Amy, that’s a very good question. People have asked me, is that unusual? Well, it’s not unusual for the vice president to go to CIA headquarters. It’s unprecedented. I worked there for twenty seven years, and never once did a serving vice president come on a working visit to CIA headquarters. That’s not the way you do things in Washington. We went down to see him. I saw the first George Bush every other morning over a period of more than two years. If they have questions, you bring down the experts. You get the answers. But you don’t need key policy makers looking over your shoulder to make sure you haven’t missed something, to make sure in effect that you get the answers right. And right, the description of right is what the policy makers want. You not only had Dick Cheney, you had people like Newt Gingrich for Pete’s sake. You had Colin Powell bragging about the fact that he spent four days and nights at CIA headquarters before his key speech on 5 February 2003. This is bizarre. If by that time the CIA did not have together a conclusive case to present to Colin Powell for him to present to the UN, it’s bizarre that he had to show up there and help along the analysts. This is not the way things are done.
AMY GOODMAN: This is happening at the same time, Ray McGovern, as George Bush is just getting his own private lawyer to deal with the Bush administration exposing of the CIA operative Valerie Plame. Now this both implicated Central Intelligence because Novak said the reporter who exposed the story said he was speaking with Bush administration officials said that he spoke with both people in the CIA as well as the White House. Can you talk about that?
RAY MCGOVERN: Yeah, I’m just fresh actually from writing an Op-Ed on the general question of the president seeking private counsel. I think he’s learned from one very large mistake. That is he’s learned by going to a private counsel to get advice on the Valerie Plame case. I think he’s probably by now read the memorandum of 25 January 2002 that Alberto Gonzalez, his chief White House counsel wrote to him. This is the one that says, well you know, Geneva Conventions, that’s kind of a nettle here. We have US law actually, dated 1996 which makes it a crime punishable by death to rescind from or to ignore or to exempt people from the Geneva Conventions on prisoners of war. But Ashcroft says it’s okay as far as the Al Qaeda people are concerned, and I think it’s probably okay to exempt the Taliban as well. And the only downside is that exempting people is a slippery slope and people might come up with some ambiguity with respect to which prisoners qualify for such protection and which do not. And so he finished up by saying, there’s a reasonable basis in law Mr. President, that you will not be prosecuted for war crimes under the US code, War Crimes Act of 1996. Now if I’m President Bush and I finally read that thing because Newsweek has it printed, and I say, my goodness, there’s a reasonable basis in law that I won’t be prosecuted? I’m going to have a couple of really second thoughts here. One is that next time I’m in a situation like this I’m certainly going to seek independent counsel. But another is, my God, four more years becomes even more important to me and to Ashcroft and to Rumsfeld. Gonzalez specifically warns that who knows, some future administration or some future group might sue you for violating the Geneva Conventions. And not only the Geneva Conventions but to the degree that they are embedded in this US law of 1996, and so you’re really, we have a strong basis in law but we can’t exclude the possibility. So four more years? Why do I say all this? I say all this because I am more frightened now than at any time over the last three and a half years, that this administration will resort to extra-legal methods to do something to ensure that there are four more years for George Bush. And Ashcroft’s statement last week, gratuitous statement, uncoordinated with the department of, CIA, with the Department of Homeland Security, his warning that there is bound to be a terrorist strike before the US elections. That can be viewed and this can be reasonably viewed as the opening salvo in the justification for doing, taking measures to ensure that whatever happens in November comes out so that four more years can be devoted to maybe changing that war crimes act or protecting at least these vulnerable people for four more years.
JEREMY SCAHILL: We’re talking to Ray McGovern, who is a veteran of the Central Intelligence Agency, more than a quarter century with the agency. As you talk about the issue of the leaking or exposing of the identity of Valerie Plame as CIA operative. Also, the FBI is examining whether Pentagon officials who had frequent contacts with Ahmed Chalabi may have leaked sensitive information that American intelligence have broken Iran’s secret communication codes. This morning Chalabi’s lawyers issued statements around the networks saying that they are calling for an investigation into who leaked these false allegations about Ahmed Chalabi. Do you see any connection with Tenet’s resignation and this current controversy about Ahmed Chalabi and his apparent fall from grace.
RAY MCGOVERN: Well as is well known, it has been the Pentagon that had sort of adopted Chalabi. The CIA and State department dismissed him as a swindler several years ago. I don’t see any direct connection there between George Tenet’s resignation and the Chalabi thing. But I must say that if it weren’t so sad, one could sort of, one could sort of focus and then say, well there’s poetic justice for you, you know? The folks that were running Chalabi or vice versa as the case may be that is, the folks that were being run by Chalabi, were the Neo-cons who are responsible for the fix that this country is in now in Iraq. They groomed him and they went out drinking with him, and I can easily believe the story that was printed in the press yesterday that one of them got a little too potted. Intelligence officers often, sometimes are guilty of the same fault, but you like to brag a little and somebody told Chalabi, you know those Iranians, we’ve got 'em pegged, we've got their communications and we can read everything they’re saying. Chalabi goes and tells the Iranian in Baghdad and the fool puts that message on the same code as has been broken. And so the CIA and NSA now has no doubt is a transcript of Chalabi saying, this is what I learned from, and there’s a good chance that there might be a name in there. And one can guess about five people who may have told him that. And most of them, yeah most of them reside in the Pentagon. So what we have here is very very damaging proof that A), Chalabi was always to be distrusted, and B), that the people that were in association with him and brought him in with US aircraft right when the war was over so to speak, those people are really playing fast and loose with US intelligence, with US interests, all out of their very blind devotion to this fellow who is going to deliver their objectives to them by being a subservient head of Iraq and not incidentally, establishing ties with Israel.
AMY GOODMAN: What do you mean not incidentally?
RAY MCGOVERN: Well, I mean the twin aim of this neo-conservative so-called cabal was this. You can read it in their documents. First and foremost it was the strategic vision, the ideological vision, that the US is the sole remaining superpower in the world and this imposes some sort of obligation on the US to throw its weight around wherever it can, and particularly in strategic areas where there’s lots of oil. God knows we need the oil. Okay, that’s number one. Number two is that the only threat to Israel’s security that needed to be dealt with in Israeli eyes was the impossible threat that Saddam Hussein may have had one or two scuds left, scud missiles which could rain chemical weapons, chemical agents down on Tel Aviv or Jerusalem. Why did they believe that? Well there were thirty nine such missiles raining down on Israel and other countries during the first gulf war so it was a reasonable fear. Colin Powel said on the 5th of February 2003 that Iraq had twenty four of those. Well, he was off just by two dozen, he didn’t have any it turns out. But if you’re an Israeli, you can’t be sure of that. And so the only thing to do is eliminate that threat, occupy the country and make sure there are no scud missiles.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking with former CIA analyst Ray McGovern. We only have a minute to go and I have two last quick questions. What do you think really happened behind the scenes? What does it mean to say that he is the scapegoat, George Tenet, who has now just resigned, George Bush accepting his resignation and announcing it? And also George Bush’s lawyer being the former attorney for Richard Secord, the retired major general US air force who worked with Albert Hakim involved with Iran-Contra affair. If you could say who Secord was.
RAY MCGOVERN: Yeah, well Secord was one of those shadowy figures who was so deeply involved with Iran-Contra that he needed the best kind of lawyer to defend him. I’m glad you pointed that out Amy. This is exactly and precisely the same fellow. With respect to Tenet, you know, the Senate Intelligence Committee is just about to come out with a report that is going to bring him over the coals. It’s going to be very acerbic. Pat Roberts is no longer his defender. For the first time in George Tenet’s political existence he does not have support on the hill and that is the death knell for him. And the president will be able to point to this and say, well we did get rid of one of the malefactors, and maybe that will shield Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz for another month or two.