Slam-Dunk Tenet

What does George John Tenet have in common with Mother Theresa and Pope John Paul II? Well, all three are recipients of the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Tenet? The Director of Central Intelligence under both Clinton and Bush II? The DCI who "justified" Clinton’s Operation Desert Fox in 1998 and Bush’s Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003? "Slam-Dunk" Tenet?

Yep, that’s the one.

Maybe you’ve wondered how Tenet got to be DCI in the first place.

Well, Tenet was acting DCI in December 1996 when the absolutely mind-blowing mishandling and misuse of highly classified data by departing DCI John Deutch was discovered by horrified CIA investigators.

For years, Deutch had been creating classified data files, on personal computers at his homes and on portable memory cards. That was bad enough. But many of these files were based upon "sensitive compartmented information" and "Special Access Programs," and Deutch had reportedly shared this information – via e-mail – with various "uncleared" White House officials.

By law, Tenet was required to immediately notify the Justice Department and to file a "crimes report." We now know Tenet didn’t file a "crimes report" until March 1998, and didn’t get around to telling Congress what Deutch had done until February 2000.

But, in December of 1997 – a year after the Deutch "crimes" had been discovered – President Clinton appointed Deutch to be co-chairman of the Commission to Assess the Organization of the Federal Government to Combat the Proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction!

Tenet – by then appointed DCI – ignored the recommendations of his own investigators and gave Deutch the high-level security clearances he would need as co-chairman.

Now, scroll back to 1995, when Tenet was deputy director of the CIA.

Gen. Hussein Kamal, director of Saddam’s nuke and chem-bio weapons programs (and also Saddam’s son-in-law), had defected to Jordan, carrying with him thousands of program documents.

Kamal was extensively debriefed by U.N. officials and by the CIA.

Kamal revealed that Iraq – at his direction – had already destroyed all chemical and biological agents and weapons, including the missiles to deliver them. The International Atomic Energy Agency had discovered and destroyed what remained of the unsuccessful Iraqi nuke program. Quoth Kamal, "nothing remained."

By 1998, the U.N. inspectors were able to verify to the U.N. Security Council that Kamal had indeed told the truth. Whereupon several members proposed that the "sanctions" imposed on Iraq in 1991 be lifted.

President Clinton refused to allow it, claiming he had "intelligence" – presumably provided by DCI Tenet – to the contrary.

Then, to the horror of the Security Council, Clinton launched Operation Desert Fox, allegedly to destroy WMD sites hidden beneath Saddam’s palaces.

As the four-day bombing spree was an obvious attempt to assassinate him, Saddam didn’t allow U.N. inspectors to return to Iraq until Nov.18, 2002.

We now know that President Bush had come into office looking for an excuse to invade and occupy Iraq. When he went to Congress in September 2002, seeking "specific statutory authorization" to resume the Gulf War, he based his case on the highly classified National Intelligence Estimate of Iraq’s Weapons of Mass Destruction Programs prepared by Tenet.

It reportedly contained "slam-dunk" proof that Saddam was reconstructing his nuke and chem-bio programs, with the intention of supplying them to Islamic terrorists for use against us.

Well, Congress did give Bush the authority he sought for invading Iraq.

But there was a catch. Before resorting to the use of force, Bush also had to satisfy Congress that "reliance on peaceful means alone will not adequately protect the national security of the United States."

Bummer. By mid-March of 2003, Chairman Blix of the Monitoring and Verification Commission and by Director-General ElBaradei of the International Atomic Energy Agency were reporting – after checking out many of Tenet’s alleged "WMD sites" – that they could find no "indication" that there had been any attempts to reconstruct Iraq’s WMD programs or facilities since 1991.

Hence, by mid-March, thanks to Blix and ElBaradei, Congress should have known that every judgment and assumption in Tenet’s NIE was wrong. Saddam was not a threat to anyone, much less the United States.

Nevertheless, Bush used Tenet’s by then thoroughly discredited – but still top secret – NIE as his justification for invading and occupying Iraq.

On his final day in office, President Clinton gave John Deutch a pardon for the crimes he had committed as DCI.

Last week, President Bush gave George Tenet the Medal of Freedom. But stay tuned. Tenet may get a pardon, too.

December 28, 2004