Politics

Mr. ‘Slam Dunk’ Fouls Out

Former Director of Central Intelligence George Tenet now says he didn’t mean “slam dunk” when he told President Bush there was a “slam dunk” case that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction while the President was contemplating going to war. But how can Tenet say that when he testified under oath to Congress in 2003 that, “I think we will find caches of weapons of mass destruction [in Iraq], absolutely”?

While promoting his book, Center of the Storm on "60-Minutes" about his tenure as DCI from 1997-2004, Tenet said, “I’ll never believe that what happened that day informed the President’s view or belief of the legitimacy or the timing of the war. Never.”

This is Tenet’s insistent response to a scenario recounted by Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward in his book Plan of Attack. Woodward wrote that in a December 21, 2002 briefing with President Bush, Tenet and his top deputy John McLaughlin presented satellite photographs and intercepts from Iraq. According to Woodward, the President asked them “This is the best you’ve got?”

Then, as the story goes, Tenet told the President, “It’s a slam dunk case” that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. The President then decided to go to war with Iraq about two weeks later.

Tenet admits he said this but now characterizes it as a “passing comment” has been “intentionally misused,” “misunderstood." As a result of it Tenet said, “I became campaign talk. I was a talking point.”

When asked on "60-Minutes" what he meant with those two words Tenet said, “Well, I guess it meant that we [the CIA] could do better.”

His 550-page memoir recounts a few other instances when Tenet should have done better.

When Vice-President Dick Cheney said in an August 26, 2002 speech before the Veterans of Foreign Wars “there is no doubt Saddam Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction” Tenet wrote that he was “surprised.”

“The speech went beyond what our analysis could support,” Tenet said. “The intelligence community’s belief was that, left unchecked, Iraq would probably not acquire nuclear weapons until near the decade.”

But, Tenet did nothing to try to correct Cheney. Instead, Tenet now reflects, “I should have told the Vice-President privately, that in my view, his VFW speech had gone too far.”

In another passage, Tenet wrote that in a September 2002 briefing that his staff was grossly unprepared to talk about Iraq and al Qaeda. “[Scooter] Libby and the Vice- President arrived with such detailed knowledge on people, sources and timelines that the senior CIA analytic manager doing the briefing that day simply could not compete,” Tenet wrote. “We weren’t ready for this discussion.”

Tenet’s most inexcusable dereliction of duty, second only to failing to detect the 9-11 plot, is botching pre-war intelligence. He blamed his agency’s faulty intelligence on pressures from Capitol Hill to hurriedly produce reports.

On September 9, 2002, a little over a month before the Senate voted to authorize the President to use force in Iraq, Sen. Dick Durbin (D.-Ill.) asked Tenet to produce a National Intelligence Estimate [NIE]. Tenet was directed to answer two questions in the NIE: Whether Saddam Hussein had nuclear weapons and if not, when could he get them? In addition, Tenet was asked to produce an unclassified summary suitable for public consumption. The next day, Sen. Bob Graham (D.-Fla.) submitted a similar request.

Tenet wrote that he “reluctantly agreed” to do it. Because of the looming vote on the use of force scheduled in the Senate “a production process that normally stretched for six to ten months had to be truncated to less than three weeks.” The NIE was finished in 19 days. According to Tenet: “On the evening of October 1, the document was rushed to Capitol Hill with the ink still wet on its covers.”

Shortly after it was delivered, Tenet said requests started piling in for an unclassified version, which he said was “virtually impossible in the time allotted.” To solve this, Tenet wrote that, “Someone came up with the bright idea of taking an unclassified white paper that the National Intelligence Council had drafted months before on the same subject, and sat unpublished on a shelf, and modifying it for this purpose. Doing so would be far faster than trying to come up with an unclassified version of the NIE.”

“But, there’s a saying that ‘if you want it bad, you get it bad’” Tenet wrote. “And that’s precisely what they got.”

Near the end of At the Center of the Storm Tenet wrote, “CIA found absolutely no linkage between Saddam and 9/11.” But, in February 2003 Tenet repeatedly testified that Iraq provided a safe haven for members of al Qaeda, the group responsible for 9/11.

In a February 11, 2003 committee hearing before the Senate Intelligence Committee, Tenet was asked by Sen. John Warner (R.-Va.):

“In the event that force is used, and after the dust settles and the world press and others can go in and assess the situation, is it your judgment that there will be clearly weapons of mass destruction which will dispel any doubt with regard to the fair and objective analysis that the United States and other nations have joined in the use of force did the right thing at the right time?”

Tenet told Warner, “Sir, I think we will find caches of weapons of mass destruction, absolutely.”

Tenet also told Congress that ""Iraq is harboring senior members of a terrorist network led by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, a close associate of Osama bin Laden."

The Bush Doctrine, laid out in a June 1, 2002 speech by the President, makes no distinction between terrorists and those who harbor them. And, as shown in the above passage, Tenet convincingly testified to Congress that Iraq was harboring members of al Qaeda.

President Bush did not make the case for war based solely on “slam dunk” and neither did the Senate that authorized the President to use force in Iraq. What policymakers did base their votes and decisions on was flawed intelligence analysis that Tenet’s CIA provided.

As Tenet said, this was information policymakers wanted badly. And, by his own admission, that’s just how he gave it to them.

Below is a compilation of statements Tenet made before the Senate Armed Services Committee and the Senate Intelligence Committee in February 2003 that supported the Bush administration’s case for war against Iraq:

Notes from the Tenet February 12, 2003 Testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee

“We see disturbing signs that al Qaeda has established a presence in both Iran and Iraq.”

Iraq is harboring senior members of a terrorist network led by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, a close associate of Osama bin Laden.”

Iraq has in the past provided training in document forgery and bomb-making to al Qaeda. IT has also provided training in poisons and gases to two al Qaeda associates.”

“There’s certainly an individual who has been in Baghdad, who is supported by a group of individuals who remain in Baghdad, who facilitate not only this network, of which there has been a large number of arrests in European countries, but also these individuals in Baghdad who have their own plots they may be pursuing.”

SEN. JOHN WARNER (R.-VA.)WARNER: Is it your professional judgment that there will be clearly found weapons of mass destruction, to establish beyond a reasonable doubt that he had them?

TENET: Sir, I believe that we — I believe that we will….We know that weapons have been subordinated to units, and I believe we will find R&D. I will — we will find stockpiles of things that he has not declared and weapons he has not declared.”

“There are 116 people in jail in France, in Spain, in Italy and in Great Britain who received training and guidance out of the network run by an individual who is sitting in Baghdad today and supported by two dozen of his associates. Now that is something important for the American people to also understand. Iraq has provided safe haven and a permissive environment for these people to operate.”

“We also know from very reliable information that there’s been some transfer of training in chemical and biologicals from the Iraqis to al Qaeda.”

SEN. ROBERT BYRD (D.-W.VA.): Are there reports that the tape is evidence of a present and/or past connection between bin Laden and Saddam Hussein credible?

TENET: Well, sir, what he says in the tape is unprecedented in terms of the way he expresses solidarity with Baghdad….he appears to be making some kind of a linkage here, perhaps for his own purposes, whether he’s aligning himself with the Iraqi government, as it appears, or he’s speaking to the Iraqi people….it’s a bit alarming that he did it this way.”

SEN. JACK REED (D.-R.I.): This issue is his [Osama bin Laden’s] relationship to Saddam Hussein, to Baghdad, to — if he is operating in concert explicitly with Saddam Hussein, or is there for the — his own convenience and safety — can you comment on that?

TENET: The argument—the specific line of evidence and argument we have made is they [Iraqis] are providing safe haven to him [Osama bin Laden]. And we know this because a foreign government approached the Iraqis twice about Zarqawi’s presence in Baghdad, and he disappeared. The second troubling piece of this, sir, is as I mentioned yesterday, the two dozen other associates and two senior Egyptian Islamic Jihad associates that it’s indistinguishable from al Qaeda because they merged there. And the third piece I’d say to you is Baghdad’s not Geneva. It is unconceivable that these people are sitting there without the Iraqi intelligence services knowledge of the fact that there is safe haven being provided by people to people who believe it’s fairly comfortable to operate there. That’s as far as I can take the story today.”

Notes from Tenet’s testimony to the Senate Select Intelligence Committee on February 11, 2003

“We see disturbing signs that al Qaeda has established a presence in both Iran and Iraq.”

“We know from the events of September 11th that we can never again ignore a specific type of country — a country unable to control its own borders and internal territory, lacking the capacity to govern, educate its people or provide fundamental societal services. Such countries can, however, offer extremists a place to congregate in relative safety. Al Qaeda is already a presence in many parts of the world….I want to move to Iraq, sir, and then China and Iran and I’ll get out.”

Iraq is harboring senior members of a terrorist network led by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, a close associate of al Qaeda. We know Zarqawi’s network was behind the poison plots in Europe, and we discussed earlier as well — Secretary Powell, the assassination of a U.S. State Department employee in Jordan. Iraq has in the past provided training and document forgery and bomb-making to al Qaeda. It also has provided training in poisons and gases to two al Qaeda associates. One of these associates characterized the relationship he forged with an Iraqi official as successful. Mr. Chairman, this information is based on a solid foundation of intelligence. It comes to us from credible and reliable sources. Much of it is corroborated by multiple sources. And it is consistent with the pattern of denial and deception exhibited by Saddam Hussein over the past 12 years.”

SEN. JOHN WARNER (R.-VA.): In the event that force is used, and after the dust settles and the world press and others can go in and assess the situation, is it your judgment that there will be clearly weapons of mass destruction which will dispel any doubt with regard to the fair and objective analysis that the United States and other nations have joined in the use of force did the right thing at the right time?

TENET: Sir, I think we will find caches of weapons of mass destruction, absolutely.

“Part of this Zarqawi network in Baghdad are two dozen Egyptian Islamic jihad which is indistinguishable from al Qaeda — operatives who are aiding the Zarqawi network, and two senior planners who have been in Baghdad since last May. Now whether there is a base or whether there is not a base they are operating freely, supporting the Zarqawi network that is supporting the poisons network in Europe and around the world. So these people have been operating there.”

SEN. JOHN WARNER (R.-VA.): Mr. Tenet, you say, frankly, you don’t know whether Saddam Hussein would or would not employ weapons of mass destruction…..

TENET: Sir, I think you have to plan on the fact that he would use these weapons…..Do I know what’s in his head? I don’t know. Do I know whether his subordinates will take the orders? I don’t know. There are some unknowables, but you must plan as if he will use these weapons.

SEN. CARL LEVIN (D.-MICH.): Would you say, Mr. Tenet that the Zarqawi terrorist network is under the control or sponsorship of the Iraqi government?

TENET: I don’t know that, sir, but I now that there’s a safe haven that’s been provided to this network in Baghdad.

SEN. CARL LEVIN (D.-MICH.): So you’re not — well, you’re saying that you don’t know if they’re under the support — that they are under the control or direction?

TENET: Yes, sir. We have said — what we’ve said is Zarqawi and this large number of operatives are in Baghdad. They say the environment is good. And it is unconceivable to use that the Iraqi intelligence service doesn’t know that they live there or what they are doing.”