Down Goes Tenet
The news over the last week or so has been grim for the White House. Ahmad Chalabi, Bush's favorite Iraqi, has been accused of passing high-level intelligence secrets to Iran. Questions as to who could have coughed up those secrets have been auguring towards Defense Department officials Douglas Feith and William Luti, the two men who ran the secretive Office of Special Plans (OSP).
The OSP, organized for the express purpose of massaging intelligence data on the threat posed by Iraq so as to justify the already-made war decision, was fueled in no small part by the data provided by Chalabi. This story unfolded under the deepening gloom of the Abu Ghraib torture scandal, which appears to be spreading far beyond Iraq, and threatens to subsume a number of high-ranking officials.
Late Wednesday night, a wire report appeared stating that George W. Bush was seeking legal advice on how to protect himself from the looming investigation into who in the White House outed the name of CIA agent Valerie Plame. According to the report, Bush was "ready to cooperate" with the investigation -- an interesting comment, considering the fact that the investigation has been going on for months, and that his people have been stonewalling the investigation across the board. When the President needs a lawyer, it is usually a sign that there is blood in the water.
Then, on Thursday, CIA Director George Tenet resigned his position. The news was delivered by George W. Bush just before he boarded a plane to absorb a beating from our former European allies.
Whither goes Tenet? Why did he resign? The official version holds that he quit for "personal reasons," and has intended to leave for a while now. It was put forth that perhaps this Clinton holdover never quite fit the Bush administration mold. Some said he was quitting because no weapons of mass destruction were found in Iraq. Some used the word 'fired' to describe his departure.
In the end, however, it appears Tenet bailed out to save George W. Bush.
Ray McGovern, a 27-year veteran analyst for the CIA and unabashed critic of both Bush and Tenet, had this to say when reached by phone on Thursday afternoon: "It is pretty clear this resignation came for two reasons. The first is the failed policy in Iraq. The cry for accountability and resignations has reached a din here in Washington D.C. Things have gone from bad to worse, the White House was looking for a sacrificial lamb, and Tenet being the good soldier he is, took the fall."
"An ancillary reason," continued McGovern, "is the Pat Roberts report coming out of the Senate Intelligence Committee next week. The report excoriates Tenet and the entire intelligence community for the failure to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. You need to remember that Roberts is the archetypal GOP stalwart. The whole name of the game now is to blame the intelligence community and protect the White House."
"The truth, as we now know," said McGovern "is different. The war had nothing to do with weapons of mass destruction or al Qaeda, but with the ideological vision of the neoconservatives. Tenet was always trying to compromise, trying to make everyone happy. He tried to make the administration happy by telling Bush the WMD case against Iraq was a 'slam dunk.' Pat Roberts is preparing to hang him for it, which helps Roberts protect the White House."
McGovern has never spoken well of Pat Roberts, Republican of Kansas and Chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee. In an interview McGovern gave truthout in June of 2003, he offered the following perspective: "When the Niger forgery was unearthed and when Colin Powell admitted, well shucks, it was a forgery, Senator Jay Rockefeller, the ranking Democrat on that Committee, went to Pat Roberts and said they really needed the FBI to take a look at this. After all, this was known to be a forgery and was still used on Congressmen and Senators. We'd better get the Bureau in on this. Pat Roberts said no, that would be inappropriate."
"So Rockefeller drafted his own letter," continued McGovern in the interview, "and went back to Roberts and said he was going to send the letter to FBI Director Mueller, and asked if Roberts would sign on to it. Roberts said no, that would be inappropriate. What the FBI Director eventually got was a letter from one Minority member saying pretty please, would you maybe take a look at what happened here, because we think there may have been some skullduggery. The answer he got from the Bureau was a brush-off. Why do I mention all that? This is the same Pat Roberts who is going to lead the investigation into what happened with this issue."
"There is a lot that could be said about Pat Roberts," said McGovern. "I remember way back last fall when people were being briefed, CIA and others were briefing Congressmen and Senators about the weapons of mass destruction. These press folks were hanging around outside the briefing room, and when the Senators came out, one of the press asked Senator Roberts how the evidence on weapons of mass destruction was. Roberts said, oh, it was very persuasive, very persuasive. The press guy asked Roberts to tell him more about that. Roberts said, 'Truck A was observed to be going under Shed B, where Process C is believed to be taking place.' The press guy asked him if he found that persuasive, and Pat Roberts said, 'Oh, these intelligence folks, they have these techniques down so well, so yeah, this is very persuasive.' And the correspondent said thank you very much, Senator. So, if you've got a Senator who is that inclined to believe that kind of intelligence, you've got someone who will do the administration's bidding."
This, very clearly, has been proven out over the course of time. Roberts has used his Committee to shield the Bush administration from any culpability. Nowhere in the deliberations of the Committee did the Office of Special Plans come to the fore. The data on the Iraqi threat Roberts praised did not come from CIA, but from the Office of Special Plans.
The OSP, recall, was created by Defense Secretary Don Rumsfeld specifically to second-guess and reinterpret intelligence data to justify war in Iraq. The OSP was staffed by rank amateurs, civilians whose ideological pedigree suited Rumsfeld and his cabal of hawks. Though this group was on no government payroll and endured no Congressional oversight, their information and interpretations managed to prevail over the data being provided by the State Department and CIA. This group was able to accomplish this incredible feat due to devoted patronage from high-ranking ultra-conservatives within the administration, most prominently Vice-President Cheney.
This group worked according to a strategy that they hoped would recreate Iraq into an Israeli ally, destroy a potential threat to Persian Gulf oil trade, and wrap U.S. allies around Iran. The State Department and CIA saw this plan as being badly flawed and based upon profoundly questionable intelligence. The OSP responded to these criticisms by cutting State and CIA completely out of the loop. By the time the war came, nearly all the data used to justify the action to the American people was coming from the OSP. The American intelligence community had been totally usurped.
When the OSP wanted to change or exaggerate evidence of Iraqi weapons capabilities, they sent Vice President Cheney to CIA headquarters on unprecedented visits where he demanded "forward-leaning" interpretations of the evidence. When Cheney was unable to go to the CIA, his chief of staff, Lewis "Scooter" Libby, went in his place. On three occasions, former congressman Newt Gingrich visited CIA in his capacity as a "consultant" for ultra-conservative hawk Richard Perle and his Defense Policy Board. According to the accounts of these visits, Gingrich browbeat the analysts to toughen up their assessments of the dangers posed by Hussein. He was allowed access to the CIA and the analysts because he was a known emissary of the OSP.
Air Force Lt. Col. Karen Kwiatkowski worked in the office of Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Douglas Feith until her retirement a year ago, and often worked with the Office of Special Plans. "What I saw was aberrant, pervasive and contrary to good order and discipline," Kwiatkowski wrote of her experience in the run-up to the invasion. "If one is seeking the answers to why peculiar bits of 'intelligence' found sanctity in a presidential speech, or why the post-Saddam occupation has been distinguished by confusion and false steps, one need look no further than the process inside the Office of the Secretary of Defense."
Kwiatkowski went on to charge that the operations she witnessed during her tenure regarding the Office of Special Plans, constituted "a subversion of constitutional limits on executive power and a co-optation through deceit of a large segment of the Congress". According to Kwiatkowski, the same operation that allegedly cooked the intelligence also was responsible for the administration's failure to anticipate the problems that now dog the U.S. occupation in Iraq. Kwiatkowski reported that the political appointees assigned there and their contacts at State, the NSC, and Cheney's office tended to work as a "network." The OSP often deliberately cut out, ignored or circumvented normal channels of communication both within the Pentagon and with other agencies.
"I personally witnessed several cases of staff officers being told not to contact their counterparts at State or the (NSC) because that particular decision would be processed through a different channel," wrote Kwiatkowski. In one interview, she insists that her views of the OSP were widely shared by other professional staff. Quoting one veteran career officer "who was in a position to know what he was talking about," Kwiatkowski says, "What these people are doing now makes Iran-Contra look like amateur hour."
Is Tenet being a good soldier and allowing CIA to take the blame for the mess in Iraq? He has done it before. Remember that last summer, on a Friday to be exact, CIA Director Tenet took public blame for the fraudulent use of the Niger uranium evidence in Bush's State of the Union Address in January 2003. According to Tenet, Bush's use of data from known forgeries to support the Iraq war was completely his fault. He never told Bush's people that the data was corrupted, and it was his fault those "sixteen words" regarding Iraqi attempts to procure uranium from Niger for a nuclear program made it into the text of the speech.
Condoleezza Rice and Don Rumsfeld had been triangulating on Tenet since that Thursday, claiming the CIA had never informed the White House about the dubious nature of the Niger evidence. Tenet fell on his sword and took responsibility for the error. On that Saturday, White House spokesman Ari Fleischer told the press corps that Bush had "moved on" from this controversy. The New York Times editorial board thought otherwise. The paper published an editorial on that Saturday entitled "The Uranium Fiction." The editorial read, in part, as follows:
"It is clear, however, that much more went into this affair than the failure of the CIA. to pounce on the offending 16 words in Mr. Bush's speech. A good deal of information already points to a willful effort by the war camp in the administration to pump up an accusation that seemed shaky from the outset and that was pretty well discredited long before Mr. Bush stepped into the well of the House of Representatives last January. Doubts about the accusation were raised in March 2002 by Joseph Wilson, a former American diplomat, after he was dispatched to Niger to look into the issue. Mr. Wilson has said he is confident that his concerns were circulated not only within the agency but also at the State Department and the office of Vice President Dick Cheney. Mr. Tenet, in his statement yesterday, confirmed that the Wilson findings had been given wide distribution, although he reported that Mr. Bush, Mr. Cheney and other high officials had not been directly informed about them by the CIA."
The next day, on Sunday, the Washington Post's lead headline read, "CIA Got Uranium Reference Cut in October." The meat of the article states:
"CIA Director George J. Tenet successfully intervened with White House officials to have a reference to Iraq seeking uranium from Niger removed from a presidential speech last October, three months before a less specific reference to the same intelligence appeared in the State of the Union address, according to senior administration officials. Tenet argued personally to White House officials, including deputy national security adviser Stephen Hadley, that the allegation should not be used."
Here is CIA Director Tenet arguing in October of 2002 against the use of the Niger evidence, stating bluntly that it was useless. He made this pitch directly to the White House. The administration later claimed they were never told the evidence was bad. Tenet responds by taking the blame for the whole thing. He earned some of it, to be sure. But all of it?
The Valerie Plame case is creeping towards the White House, and Bush is reaching out to lawyers. Ahmad Chalabi is being sized for leg irons because he has been acting on behalf of Iran. The war is a disaster, and the Office of Special Plans owns a vast amount of blame for it, along with the neo-con hawks who put the whole scheme together.
Is Tenet's last act a last-ditch effort to pull the White House out of the maelstrom by, again, scapegoating himself and his agency? Former CIA Director Stansfield Turner seems to think so. Turner believes this resignation is "too significant a move at too important a time" to be motivated by personal considerations. "I think he's being pushed out," Turner said on CNN. "The president feels he has to have someone to blame. I don't think (Tenet) would pull the plug on President Bush in the midst of an election cycle without being asked by President Bush to do that."
It makes sense. Tenet's resignation will allow the Bush administration to say the Iraq situation was the fault of CIA and the 'intelligence' offered. Tenet's position can now be filled with a Bush loyalist; one name floated recently for the position was none other than Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz.
Will it work? If the mainstream media chooses to accept White House spin as fact, Bush will be helped by this resignation. If the mainstream media continues to avoid reporting on the OSP, the true source of the Iraq 'intelligence,' and the real reasons for this war, Bush will be helped by this resignation.
Yet Bush is calling his lawyer. Hmm.
William Rivers Pitt is the Managing Editor of Truthout.org, where this article first appeared (www.truthout.org). He is a New York Times and international best-selling author of three books: War On Iraq, available from Context Books, The Greatest Sedition is Silence, available from Pluto Press, and Our Flag, Too: The Paradox of Patriotism, available from Context Books. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
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