George J. Tenet, the former director of central intelligence, has lashed out against Vice President Dick Cheney and other Bush administration officials in a new book, "At the Center of the Storm.”
He writes that top Bush administration officials pushed the country to war in Iraq without ever conducting a “serious debate” about whether Saddam Hussein posed an imminent threat to the United States.“There was never a serious debate that I know of within the administration about the imminence of the Iraqi threat,” Mr. Tenet writes.
Nor, he adds, “was there ever a significant discussion” about the possibility of containing Iraq without an invasion.
Mr. Tenet largely endorses the view of administration critics, such as former Clinton and Bush terrorism Czar, Ricard Clarke, that Mr. Cheney and a handful of Pentagon officials, including Paul D. Wolfowitz and Douglas J. Feith, were focused on Iraq as a threat in late 2001 and 2002 even as Mr. Tenet and the C.I.A. concentrated mostly on Al Qaeda.
The book recounts C.I.A. efforts to fight Al Qaeda in the years before the Sept. 11 attacks, and Mr. Tenet’s early warnings about Osama bin Laden. He contends that the urgent appeals of the C.I.A. on terrorism received a lukewarm reception at the Bush White House through most of 2001.“The bureaucracy moved slowly,” and only after the Sept. 11 attacks was the C.I.A. given the counter terrorism powers it had requested earlier in the year.
Tenet's views echo those of Richard Clarke who wrote in his 2004 book, "Against All Enemies": "By late June (2001) Tenet and I were convinced that a major series of attacks was about to come. 'It's my sixth sense, but I feel it coming. This is going to be the big one,' Tenet told me. No one could have been more concerned about the al Qaeda threat than George, but he had been unable to find a way to go after the heart of al Qaeda...."
Clarke reports that he and Tenet tried to persuade the administration that al Qaeda posed a real threat at a September 4, 2001 meeting, seven days before the attack on the twin towers. "Rumsfeld, who looked distracted through the session, took the Wolfowitz line that there were other terrorist concerns, like Iraq..."
Clarke recounts briefing Condi Rice about al Qaeda" "...her facial expression gave me the impression that she had never heard the term before..." noting that"... Rice and her deputy, Steve Hadley, were still operating with the old Cold War paradigm...."
Clarke presciently concludes his book by saying:" The nation needed thoughtful leadership to deal with the underlying problems September 11 reflected...Instead America got unthinking reactions, ham held responses and a rejection of analysis in favor of perceived wisdom. It has left us left secure. We will pay a price for a long time." Presidential Medal of Freedom winner, George Tenet, apparently agrees.