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Former CIA Director Tenet Responds to Memoir Criticism

Former CIA Director George Tenet's new memoir has drawn criticism from administration officials over his account of events leading up to the Iraq war. Jim Lehrer talks with Tenet about his memoir and its critics.

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  • JIM LEHRER:

    The storm over the book by former CIA Director George Tenet, "At the Center of the Storm." I talked with George Tenet earlier this evening.

    Mr. Tenet, welcome.

  • GEORGE TENET, Former CIA Director:

    Thank you, Jim.

  • JIM LEHRER:

    Are you upset by the reception you and your book have received?

  • GEORGE TENET:

    Not upset, Jim. Obviously, this is a raw period in our country's history, and Iraq is a very difficult issue. I'm not sure I'd say I'm upset by it. I didn't expect it would be this controversial, but it's certainly engendered a lot of feelings and emotions.

    I don't know that everybody who's reacted has actually taken the opportunity to read the book. But it's a personal reflection of a time in history I lived, and so people are going to have different reactions.

  • JIM LEHRER:

    Did you expect to be criticized so severely, as you have been, and so personally?

  • GEORGE TENET:

    Well, Jim, I guess you don't expect the personal criticism, but I certainly understood that issues that would be raised would be controversial with folks, and I guess that's to be expected. All I'm trying to do is fill in some blanks and give people a sense of what it was like from my position, what it was like to be the intelligence community, what our officers were up against.

  • JIM LEHRER:

    A lot of the criticism has centered on your motives for writing the book. What were your motives? Why did you write this book?

  • GEORGE TENET:

    Well, people from my position and people who were former directors don't usually do this.

    I thought, first, I had a historical obligation. I believed I lived through some of the most turbulent times in our history. Intelligence was central to it.

    Lots of people have provided their perspective from afar. I thought it was important that I give you a perspective from the inside, in terms of what we felt, what we saw, what we did.

  • JIM LEHRER:

    One of your critics, former CIA officer who you worked with, Michael Scheuer, said in the Washington Post that your purpose was to absolve yourself of the failings involving 9/11 and Iraq. What do you make of that charge?

  • GEORGE TENET:

    Well, he's entitled to his opinion. I'm trying to give you a sense of what we did well, what we didn't do well. I won't absolve myself of anything. History will make these judgments. My motives were far more honorable than Mr. Scheuer portrays, but he's entitled to his opinion.

  • JIM LEHRER:

    So what is the message of the book then? What do you want somebody who reads the book — and there have been scores of interviews, both in print, but particularly in television — a lot of people know an awful lot about what George Tenet said and did about this recent period. What's the message you want people to take away from this?

  • GEORGE TENET:

    I think message is, is that there were — George Tenet and a lot of honest men and women did their best. They did it honorably; they did it honestly. We were sometimes wrong; we were many times right.

    Some of the things we were wrong about had profound consequences for the country. We were wrong for professional reasons, not for reasons of trying to tell people what they wanted to hear. We saved thousands of lives. Our activities around the world have been beneficial for the country, and I wanted to give people a sense of what it was like to grapple with all these issues.