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Former CIA Director Tenet’s Memoir Sparks Controversy

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. A former senator and an ex-CIA officer discuss the assertions in the book.

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  • SPENCER MICHELS, NewsHour Correspondent:

    Even before George Tenet's new book, "At the Center of the Storm," hit bookstores today, the former CIA director was the subject of controversy as the man in charge of intelligence before and after the 9/11 attacks…

    GEORGE TENET, Former Director of the Central Intelligence Agency: I still lie awake at night thinking about everything that could have been done that wasn't done to stop 9/11. To the 9/11 families, I said, "You deserve better from your entire government, all of us."


    … and as the man who provided much of the intelligence that the Bush administration used to justify the U.S. invasion of Iraq four years ago. Last night, Tenet appeared on CBS's "60 Minutes," where he was asked about the "slam dunk" quote most famously attributed to him that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction.


    The hardest part of all of this has just been listening to this for almost three years, listening to the vice president go on "Meet the Press," on the fifth year of 9/11, you know, and say, "Well, George Tenet said, slam dunk," as if he needed me to say slam dunk to go to war with Iraq.

    And they never let it go. I mean, I became campaign talk. I was a talking point. You know, "Look what the idiot told us, and we decided to go to war." Well, let's not be so disingenuous. Let's stand up. This is why we did it. This is how we did it. And let's tell — let's everybody tell the truth.

    SCOTT PELLEY, "60 Minutes" Correspondent: The truth of Iraq begins, according to Tenet, the day after the attack of September 11th, when he ran into Pentagon adviser Richard Perle at the White House.


    He said to me, "Iraq has to pay a price for what happened yesterday. They bear responsibility." It's September the 12th. I've got the manifest with me that tell me that al-Qaida did this. There's nothing in my head that says that there's any Iraqi involvement in this in any way, shape or form, and I remember thinking to myself, as I'm about to go in and brief the president, "What the hell is he talking about?"


    You said Iraq made no sense to you in that moment. Does it make any sense to you today?


    In terms of complicity with 9/11? Absolutely none. It never made any sense. We could never verify that there was any Iraqi authority, direction and control, complicity with al-Qaida for 9/11 or any operational act against America, period.


    Hours before that interview aired, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who served as national security adviser alongside Tenet, also appeared on CBS.

    CONDOLEEZZA RICE, U.S. Secretary of State: You know, it's very interesting. When George said "slam dunk," everybody understood that he believed that the intelligence was strong. We all believed the intelligence was strong.

    The sad fact of how all of this has gotten talked about is that there was a problem with intelligence, but it wasn't just a problem with intelligence in the United States. It was an intelligence problem worldwide.

    Services across the world thought that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. The United Nations thought that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction or would not have had these draconian sanctions that were being levied against Iran — Iraq.


    Tenet also drew fire in the opinion pages of major newspapers over the weekend. Maureen Dowd in the New York Times wrote, Tenet's so-called "slam dunk" was more like an "air ball." And former intelligence operative Michael Scheuer, the man who founded the CIA's unit on bin Laden, opined in the Washington Post that Tenet is trying to "shift the blame."

    This morning, White House spokesman Tony Snow denied Tenet's claim that the administration had been pushing a connection between 9/11 and Saddam Hussein to justify going to war.

  • TONY SNOW, White House Press Secretary:

    The fact is, the president made it clear before the State of the Union in 2002 that there was no link between Saddam Hussein and September 11th. So I'm afraid what's happened there is that George Tenet may have been referring to something that has been misreported or at least twisted by people who may have political motives in recent years, but there's been no attempt to try to link Saddam to September 11th.


    Tenet acknowledged mixed feelings about accepting the highest civilian award, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, shortly after he left his post almost three years ago.

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