Ex-CIA Analyst Accuses Tenet of Hypocrisy for Not Speaking Out Earlier on White House Push for War

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In a new book, former CIA Director George Tenet blasts the administration, saying it had no firm rationale for invading Iraq, and accuses the White House of trying to shift blame to the CIA. In response, six former CIA officials are accusing Tenet of hypocrisy for not speaking out earlier. We speak with one of those former Intelligence officials, Ray McGovern. [includes rush transcript]

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: On May 1, 2003, President Bush stood on the deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln under a banner that read “Mission Accomplished.”

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: Major combat operations in Iraq have ended. In the battle of Iraq, the United States and our allies have prevailed.

AMY GOODMAN: Four years later, the U.S. occupation of Iraq continues with no clear end in sight. President Bush has promised to veto a bill being sent to the White House today by the Democratic leadership that sets a nonbinding timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. troops. Meanwhile, the daily bloodshed in Iraq continues unabated. At least 102 Iraqis were killed on Monday alone, and the U.S. military announced five more U.S. troops died over the weekend.

Now, in the fifth year of the war, yet another former Bush administration official is accusing the White House of manipulating intelligence to justify the 2003 invasion: George Tenet, the former director of the Central Intelligence Agency. Tenet’s new book At the Center of the Storm went on sale on Monday. In it, he blasts the administration, saying it had no firm rationale for going to war. Tenet accuses the White House of trying to shift blame to the CIA by falsely asserting he told President Bush finding weapons of mass destruction in Iraq would be a “slam dunk.” Tenet also accuses Vice President Dick Cheney and his neoconservative allies of pushing the nation into war. Tenet writes, “There was never a serious debate that I know of within the administration about the imminence of the Iraqi threat.”

Tenet resigned into 2004 as the second-longest-serving director of Central Intelligence. Bush later awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest U.S. civilian award.

Now, six former CIA officials, including former top terrorism experts, are accusing Tenet of hypocrisy for not speaking out earlier. In a letter issued over the weekend, they call on Tenet to “dedicate a significant percentage of the royalties from his book to the U.S. soldiers and their families who have been killed and wounded in Iraq. One of those former intelligence officials joins me now from Washington, D.C. Ray McGovern spent 27 years as an analyst with the CIA. Welcome to Democracy Now!, Ray McGovern.

RAY McGOVERN: Thank you, Amy.

AMY GOODMAN: Talk about what George Tenet has said in his book.

RAY McGOVERN: Well, it is true, of course, that the war was started on false pretenses. The intelligence was manipulated. But what George Tenet doesn’t fess up to is that he was the manipulator-in-chief. We have documentary evidence that George Tenet, for example, told his British opposite number on the 20th of July, 2002, so eight months before the war, that the intelligence was being fixed around the policy. It doesn’t get any clearer than that. Those were minutes taken by a participant in a meeting at 10 Downing Street the same day, and the British government has vouched for its authenticity. So George Tenet is being a little disingenuous in suggesting that he is the fall guy here.

AMY GOODMAN: He says that he never said that Saddam Hussein having weapons of mass destruction was a slam dunk.

RAY McGOVERN: Amy, this is the most bizarre thing I have witnessed in many years of watching intelligence leaders. What he says is, yeah, when he said “slam dunk,” he didn’t mean that the evidence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq was a slam dunk. What he meant was that, “Mr. President, we can make a slam-dunk case for popular consumption with the public and with the Congress out of this evidence.” Now, he thinks that’s exculpatory? I mean, that’s worse. Where is it in the director of Central Intelligence or the director of CIA’s job description that he is to participate and help the president manipulate evidence in order to start a war that has no reason and that was completely unnecessary, you know? He’s admitting to a more heinous offense than simply being wrong about the presence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. He doesn’t get it.

AMY GOODMAN: One of the things the administration is putting out there is that George Tenet is not telling the truth. For example, about September 12, the day after the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, he wrote that he was going into the White House past Richard Perle, who said that this was linked to Iraq. It turns out that Richard Perle was not in the country that day. George Tenet asserts then, he might have gotten the date wrong, but he didn’t get the substance of the conversation wrong.

RAY McGOVERN: Yeah, Amy. He’s got a whole bunch of things wrong, OK? Last night on Larry King, he was talking about Saddam Hussein’s brother-in-law. Well, it wasn’t his brother-in-law, it was his son-in-law. And that’s important, because his son-in-law was in charge of the nuclear, chemical, biological and rocket programs in Iraq. He defected in 1995, and guess what he told us? He told us there were no weapons of mass destruction there. How did he know? He was in charge. He ordered them destroyed.

Now, his testimony, the fact that he talked to us, was used by Dick Cheney, George Bush and other high officials to show the utility of defectors. But they stood the evidence on its head by saying he said there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, when he said completely the opposite. And this was given — his testimony was given — that is, his debriefing report was given to Newsweek magazine, which published it on the 24 of February, 2003, three weeks before the war started. And, unfortunately, the mainstream media neglected it. It was in a little periscope section of Newsweek, and the mainstream media didn’t think it important that the main reason used for starting this war was proven to be false through the voice of Saddam Hussein’s own son-in-law, who knew what he was talking about and from whom all the other information that he gave was proven to be correct.

So, you know, George Tenet knew that, as well. So there’s lots of stuff here that really smells to high heaven. But basically, you know, the main point is, yeah, George Tenet is right. The administration lied through its teeth to get us into this war. The only problem is, George Tenet ought to fess up. He ought to say, “Well, yeah, I was part of that. I was part of that conspiracy. And this $4 million I’m making on this book, I’m going to give those to the families of those who were slain because of this deception and to the families of those who are lying around Walter Reed Hospital without this or that limb.”

AMY GOODMAN: George Tenet says in his book that the origins of the National Security Agency warrantless surveillance program originated with Vice President Dick Cheney.

RAY McGOVERN: Well, you know, just about everything originated with Vice President Dick Cheney. He was quoted — well, actually, he spoke about three days after 9/11, saying, “You know, we’re going to have to do a lot of things on the dark side here,” and so they included torture, of which he was the vice president for torture. They included warrantless wiretapping, where you and I can be wiretapped now, even though we’re American civilians and even though, to my knowledge, no one has revoked the Fourth Amendment. And all manner of indignities have been visited upon this country and on the rest of the world because of Dick Cheney.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to turn to the issue of torture. In the interview that George Tenet did on 60 Minutes on Sunday, when he launched his book, he denied the CIA interrogation techniques could be defined as torture.

GEORGE TENET: Let me say that again to you: We don’t torture people.

SCOTT PELLEY: OK. Come on, George.

GEORGE TENET: So we don’t torture people.

SCOTT PELLEY: Khalid Sheikh Mohammed?

GEORGE TENET: We don’t torture people.

SCOTT PELLEY: Waterboarding?

GEORGE TENET: We do not —

SCOTT PELLEY: It’s torture.

GEORGE TENET: I don’t talk about techniques, and we don’t torture people.


GEORGE TENET: Well, now listen to me. No. Listen to me.

AMY GOODMAN: Again, that’s George Tenet speaking to Scott Pelley on 60 Minutes on Sunday.

GEORGE TENET: I know that this program has saved lives. I know we’ve disrupted plots.

SCOTT PELLEY: But what you’re essentially saying is some people need to be tortured.

GEORGE TENET: No, I did not say that. I did not say that.

SCOTT PELLEY: You’re telling me that the enhanced interrogation —

GEORGE TENET: I did not say that. I did not say that. We do not torture. Listen to me.

SCOTT PELLEY: Well, you could look —

GEORGE TENET: You’re making an assumption. You —

SCOTT PELLEY: You call it in the book “enhanced interrogation techniques.”

GEORGE TENET: Well, that’s what we call it.

SCOTT PELLEY: That’s a euphemism.

GEORGE TENET: Well, I’m not having a semantic debate with you. I’m telling you what I believe.

SCOTT PELLEY: Anybody ever die in the interrogation program?


SCOTT PELLEY: You’re sure of that.

GEORGE TENET: Yeah. In this program you and I are talking about, no.

SCOTT PELLEY: Have you ever seen any of these interrogations done?


SCOTT PELLEY: Didn’t you feel like it was your responsibility to know what you were signing off on?

GEORGE TENET: I understood. I’m not a voyeur. I understand what I was signing off on.

AMY GOODMAN: George Tenet being questioned by Scott Pelley on 60 Minutes on Sunday. “In this program … no,” no one died. George Tenet was being very careful there, as he drank a sip of water, answering Scott Pelley’s question. Ray McGovern, your assessment of his answer?

RAY McGOVERN: Well, you know, Amy, this crowd thinks that if they say things often enough — he repeated “We do not torture” five times within the space of one paragraph. And then, if you bluster and bully and say, “Now, listen to me. Now, you’re not hearing me,” that people will take you more seriously. This is ridiculous. Of course they torture. In the next sentence he says there were special circumstances, these were terrible people, the context of after 9/11 was such that we pretty much had to deal with these people with extraordinary — you know, I don’t know what he takes us for. Fools? I mean, perhaps he never took logic, even though he went to Georgetown University. We used to take logic. And when you say, “We don’t torture,” and then you say, “These people had to be tortured,” obviously, it doesn’t parse.

Now, I think John McCain was right in saying that “I don’t buy George Tenet’s premise that lives were saved through torture,” and I don’t buy it either. And it used to be in this country, Amy, that torture was ruled out as inhumane, as unworthy of civilized nations. Actually, Patrick Henry himself said that we left the screw and the torture devices back in the old world. Torture doesn’t work. You know, if you’re a utilitarian, you should know that. Experienced Intelligence officers know that. This ticking bomb in Times Square, it’s a red herring, never happens, OK? And the other thing is — and not a small thing, Amy — I feel strongly that torture is intrinsically evil. It’s in the same category as rape or slavery: always wrong. And I think John McCain appreciates that in a special way. So to watch of the director of Central Intelligence say we don’t torture, but we really do, really gives me a lot of pain.

AMY GOODMAN: Ray McGovern, you served at the CIA for more than a quarter of a century. You were one of the top briefers of Vice President George H.W. Bush. We are now five years into the war. This is the anniversary of the day President Bush stood under “Mission Accomplished” and said the major combat operations are over. It’s the day that the Democratic leadership of Congress is sending up a bill to President Bush, which he promises to veto, that funds the war, but also has this nonbinding timetable for a withdrawal. What do you think has to happen right now?

RAY McGOVERN: I think people like Dick Durbin have to change their whole mindset and realize that they are not a subservient branch of government. You know, I’m a Virginian, and I think George Mason and James Madison and Tom Jefferson of rolling over in their grave. Here’s Durbin saying, “I knew that the war was going to be fought on false pretenses, but I was sworn to secrecy.” Well, he was sworn to defend the Constitution of the United States from all enemies, both foreign and domestic. And that’s what he ought to have done. Classification is to protect sources and methods. It’s not to protect presidents, OK? And so, he should have come out and said, “Look, this is not what I’m hearing in the Intelligence Committee. Hold the presses. We’re not going to go to war until I get satisfaction.” He didn’t do that.

Now they’re — well, now they’re in the majority. They were in the majority then in the Senate, and they didn’t stand up to it. Now, you have to stand up to it now, because this country needs this war to stop. I hope they have the guts to do it.

AMY GOODMAN: That issue that you raise of Senator Dick Durbin saying that he was angry about it, but “frankly, I couldn’t do much about it, because in the Intelligence Committee we are sworn to secrecy,” he was talking about being misled into the war. Durbin went on to say, “We can’t walk outside the door and say the statement made yesterday by the White House is in direct contradiction to classified information that is being given to this Congress.” Why can’t he say precisely that?

RAY McGOVERN: Sure, he can. Sure, he can. And for several years now, the people in the House have been saying, “Well, we can’t do anything because we’re in the minority.” Well, in reflecting on this, I realize that when he did that or did not do that, the Democrats were in the majority in the Senate. And so, what I’m saying here is that they have to step up to their constitutional prerogatives, their constitutional responsibilities, and make sure that this war stops, because there is no justification for the surge or for the funding, other than to prevent the war from being definitively lost while George Bush and Dick Cheney are still in office. That’s what our men are dying for, our men and women are dying for now, and it’s unconscionable.

AMY GOODMAN: What do you think should happen if the president does, indeed, as he promised, veto the bill that has been sent to him?

RAY McGOVERN: I think that the Democrats need to go back to the drawing board and impose rather strict structures in the next piece of legislation and not simply fold their tent like Arabs and silently steal away. The conventional wisdom was that if the first bill was rejected, then the Democrats would have to give the president what he wants. What really troubles me, Amy, is that people like Carl Levin have played into that, have said we will never refuse funding of the troops.

And trying to piece together why Carl Levin would undercut the Senate majority leader, I found out an interesting thing, Amy, and that is that Carl Levin gets more money from the pro-Israel lobby AIPAC than any other senator. Now, do I suggest that he’s doing this for the money? I think we have to give him the benefit of the doubt, because he’s one of the good guys, but certainly he appears to be one of those folks like the neocons who can’t see any daylight between what they perceive to be the strategic interest of Israel, on the one hand, and the strategic interests of the United States, on the other. And when Olmert and Livni, the foreign minister, come here to the AIPAC meeting four weeks ago and say, “Don’t show weakness on Iraq now. If you leave Iraq, that would make this area more dangerous for Israel — well, and for the whole world and for yourselves, too,” — my goodness, Amy, it’s very transparent. If Levin is one of those people that can’t see any daylight between our interests and those of Israel, well, he hasn’t read George Washington’s farewell speech, which warned against precisely this: passionate attachments, entangling alliances. That’s what we’ve got, and that lies at the bottom of a lot of our troubles in the Middle East.

AMY GOODMAN: Ray McGovern, I want to thank you for being with us, 27-year career analyst with the CIA.

RAY McGOVERN: You’re most welcome.

AMY GOODMAN: Thank you.

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