Scott Ritter: George Tenet's resignation
- Scott Ritter: Tenet leaves CIA's reputation in tatter:
In reflecting on his passing, one should never forget that his
troubles were, for the most part, of his own making.
June 4, 2004 "Newsday" -- George Tenet's resignation as director of
Central Intelligence has taken the political world of Washington by
storm. And yet, it was an act that had been foreseen for some time.
Consider what made Tenet's tenure at the CIA untenable: the combined
weight of the 9/11 intelligence failures, the absence of Iraqi WMD
and the post-occupation fiasco, as well as the unauthorized
disclosure of sensitive information, whether it be the leaking of the
identity and the affiliation of Ambassador Joseph Wilson's wife (a
CIA covert operative) to the press, of Ahmed Chalabi's allegedly
informing the Iranians (courtesy of a leak from the Pentagon) that
the United States had broken Iran's diplomatic code.
But, in reflecting on his passing, one should never forget that his
troubles were, for the most part, of his own making.
I was an intelligence officer for many years, and I had always been
instructed to abide by the adage that "an intelligence officer tells
his boss not what they want to hear, but rather what the facts are."
George Tenet repeatedly violated that principle during his time as
director - most egregiously on Iraq.
In Tenet's haste to please his bosses in both the Clinton and Bush
White House (he served both presidents as the CIA director), he
oversaw the politicization of the intelligence process to the extent
that today the CIA lacks credibility as an institution not only in
the United States, but around the world as well.
Perhaps the most glaring example of this can be found in Tenet's
February 2004 speech at his alma matter, Georgetown University. In a
rambling defense of the CIA's pre-war estimate on Iraqi WMD
capabilities, Tenet hedged on his agencies' earlier assertions. For
the most part, he provided little or no substance to back up his
remarks. But midway through his presentation, Tenet mentioned the
1995 defection of Saddam Hussein's son-in-law, Hussein Kamel, who had
controlled Iraq's biological weapons program.
"Only then was the world able to confirm that Iraq indeed had an
active and dangerous biological weapons program," Tenet
said. "Indeed, history matters in dealing with these complicated
The irony of this statement by Tenet is that he, of all people,
should have known it to be false. During the course of Hussein
Kamel's debriefings with the CIA, British MI-6 and with UNSCOM, he
repeatedly talked about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction programs,
and his role not only in their manufacture, but also in their
destruction following the onset of UN weapons inspections in Iraq in
the summer of 1991.
"Nothing remained," Kamel told UN inspectors. "I ordered destruction
of all chemical weapons. All weapons - biological, chemical, missile,
nuclear - were destroyed."
Tenet knew this was the case. As deputy director of the CIA in August
1995, he was directly involved with the CIA's debriefing of Hussein
As director of the CIA in February 2004, he had total access to the
debriefing documents in order to refresh his memory. That he chose to
misrepresent the defection of Hussein Kamel during his presentation
at Georgetown University only underscores the personal culpability
that Tenet bears when it comes to deceiving the president, Congress
and the people of the United States about the threat posed by Iraq's
Tenet's visually defining moment as director of the CIA came on Feb.
5, 2003, when he was prominently seated behind Secretary of State
Colin Powell during Powell's now discredited presentation to the UN
Security Council on Iraqi weapons of mass destruction. Tenet's
positioning was deliberate, designed to reinforce the credibility of
Secretary Powell's assertions by reminding those viewing the
proceedings that the weight of the CIA backed the secretary of
state's words. At the time, Powell's presentation was considered a
tour de force. Today, sobered by the harsh reality that not only was
almost every assertion made by Powell that day wrong, but for the
most part drawn from data that many in the U.S. intelligence
community at that time knew to be suspect.
Today Colin Powell has tried to disassociate himself from the
intelligence provided by George Tenet for that fateful briefing.
Powell may want to distance himself from his words and deeds of that
day, but Tenet will never be able to erase the public vision of him
seated behind Powell, on the world stage, an empty suit peddling
false information in support of a war that has so far proved to be a
Scott Ritter, a former UN chief weapons inspector in Iraq, 1991-1998,
is author of "Frontier Justice: Weapons of Mass Destruction and the
Bushwhacking of America."
Copyright © 2004, Newsday, Inc.
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Tenet was anticipating heavy criticism from three reports expected to
assail the agency either over its failure to detect the Sept. 11,
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unconventional weapons before the American invasion last year.
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Rumsfeld posed the question, "Is it a terrible failure that we did
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Did al-Qaida trainee warn FBI before 9/11?:
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Second top official to quit CIA:
A second top CIA official is to retire from his post, less than a day
after the surprise resignation of the agency's director George Tenet.
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