- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 4, 2006

With Bob Woodward’s book “The Anger of the Court Historian Spurned” in hand, we now await a book by George Tenet, the former director of Central Intelligence, to be published later this fall. The book will be of great interest to Americans, not only because of the position Mr. Tenet held under Messrs. Clinton and Bush, but because the CIA apparently afforded him office space and access to documents so that he could prepare a thorough work. This, parenthetically, is special treatment that is not given to other CIA officials. Indeed, the agency apparently has accommodated the research needs of Mr. Tenet, while making tortuous the publication efforts of fine CIA officers like Gary Schroen and Gary Bernsten, men who risked their lives to protect Americans.

Mr. Tenet, in many ways, holds the keys to the kingdom; he was at the very center of the policy deliberations in two administrations that yielded the disasters of September 11 and Iraq. His personal knowledge base has the clear potential to give Americans some truth about the lead-up to those landmark events. It will be interesting to see whether he uses that knowledge to inform his fellow citizens or to burnish his reputation as the reliable friend of politicians in both parties, always ready to take the blame for the mistakes of others.

From my own perspective, I look forward to Mr. Tenet’s description of what he told Presidents Clinton and Bush on three issues: hunting for Osama bin Laden, the mistaken bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade and the likely consequences invading Iraq would have on the war on terrorism.

On bin Laden, Mr. Tenet deserves high marks for being involved in the nuts-and-bolts of the chase and for understanding the threat al Qaeda posed to America long before September 11. In internal CIA meetings on each occasion that arose to kill or capture bin Laden, Mr. Tenet was always gung-ho to attack and assured his lieutenants, and lesser-ranked officers like myself, that he understood that the intelligence we had acquired was precise but not perfect, but that we were quite unlikely to get any of better quality. On leaving for the NSC meetings called to decide about an attack on bin Laden, Mr. Tenet invariably assured us that he would tell the principals that the intelligence was a solid as it was going to get and that it was time to act. And when he returned to Langley, he invariably would say he had laid it on the line and the president and the NSC refused to act. Oddly, Mr. Clinton and Richard Clarke now claim that Mr. Tenet always professed strong uncertainty about the quality of the information CIA officers risked their lives to obtain. Mr. Tenet ought to use his book to set the record straight so CIA officers know that he was not lying to them.

While now just a blip on the historical screen, the Air Force’s mistaken bombing of the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade resulted in the dismissal of a young, just-married CIA employee who had assembled targeting information on a building in Belgrade thought to be vital to the Serbian government. After the bombing, Mr. Tenet inexplicably accepted blame for the mistaken attack.

Now, everyone in the intelligence community knows that while many agencies nominate targets for attack in wartime situations, only the U.S. military can make the decision to attack, and that it only makes such a decision after military targeters have reviewed the information provided by other agencies and confirmed that it is valid and up to date. The question of why a young CIA employee’s career was sacrificed for the military’s failure is one Mr. Tenet ought in fairness to explain.

Finally, many of Mr. Tenet’s subordinates at the CIA — especially in the Counterterrorist Center — advised him that the invasion of Iraq would break the back of America’s war against the Sunni militant movement led and inspired by bin Laden. This advice did not claim that Iraq was not a threat, but simply that the invasion of Iraq manifestly amounted to the more-than-millennium-old predicate for a defensive jihad — the unprovoked infidel invasion of a Muslim country.

Mr. Tenet was advised that whatever the threat was from Saddam Hussein, the invasion of Iraq would validate bin Laden’s call for a jihad across the Sunni world and would speed the accomplishment of bin Laden’s basic goal: transforming himself and al Qaeda from a man and an organization into a philosophy and a movement. I think all Americans would be interested in learning how the president and his cabinet reacted when Mr. Tenet presented this analysis to them.

So let’s all look forward to Mr. Tenet’s book and to seeing what he will make of the opportunity to talk frankly to Americans. What will it be Mr. Tenet, truth teller or apple polisher?

Michael F. Scheuer, a 22-year veteran with the CIA, created and served as the chief of the agency’s Osama bin Laden unit at the Counterterrorist Center.

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