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May 12, 2007

Tenet’s Greatest Sins


by Gordon Prather

There are sins of commission and sins of omission. George Tenet, former Director of Central Intelligence, has apparently decided to confess, several years after receiving the Medal of Freedom, to one or two of the latter. But in his book, At the Center of the Storm, he has, it appears, inadvertently confessed to a major sin of commission.

The National Security Act of 1947 created the Office of the Director of Central Intelligence, making said DCI responsible for providing "timely, objective" intelligence "independent of political considerations" and "based upon all sources available to the intelligence community" to the President, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staffs and "where appropriate, to the Senate and House of Representatives" and the relevant committees.

Beginning on September 9, 2002, Members of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, began officially requesting DCI Tenet to produce for them a National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction programs.

Why did Congress begin making those demands on beginning September 9?

Well – as we now know, thanks to Walter Pincus and Barton Gellman at the Washington Post – the White House Iraq Group had been established in August by President Bush’s Chief of Staff in August, 2002, to essentially "market" to gullible consumers what was – as we now know, thanks to the Downing Street Memos – Bush’s impending war of aggression against Iraq.

WHIG – which met weekly in the White House Situation Room – comprised included the President’s political advisor Karl Rove, the National Security Advisor Condi Rice, her deputy Stephen Hadley, Vice-President Cheney’s Chief of Staff Scooter Libby and various congressional and media relations flacks.

WHIG reportedly "operated" out of the Vice President’s office.

On August 26, 2002, Cheney declared that

"We now know that Saddam has resumed his efforts to acquire nuclear weapons. Among other sources, we've gotten this from firsthand testimony from defectors, including Saddam's own son-in-law."

According to Peter Eisner, WHIG had realized that the way to market the impending war to the American people was to focus on their fear of a "mushroom cloud."

On September 7, Bush and Prime Minister Tony Blair conferred at Camp David.

On September 8, Michael Gordon and Judith Miller reported in the New York Times that Iraq "has embarked on a worldwide hunt for materials to make an atomic bomb."

Not coincidently, WHIG launched that very day its "public relations campaign," featuring radio and TV appearances involving Cheney, Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld, Condi Rice, Secretary of State Colin Powell and others, all citing the Gordon-Miller article and all warning about the danger of Saddam’s "smoking gun coming in the shape of a mushroom-shaped cloud."

The next day, September 9, Congress began demanding that DCI Tenet provide them with timely, objective intelligence – "independent of political considerations" – and based upon "all sources available" to the intelligence community.

On September 12, Bush addressed the UN General Assembly, claiming, among other things:

"Today, Iraq continues to withhold important information about its nuclear program – weapons design, procurement logs, experiment data, an accounting of nuclear materials and documentation of foreign assistance.

"Iraq employs capable nuclear scientists and technicians.

"It retains physical infrastructure needed to build a nuclear weapon.

"Iraq has made several attempts to buy high-strength aluminum tubes used to enrich uranium for a nuclear weapon.

"Should Iraq acquire fissile material, it would be able to build a nuclear weapon within a year."

Now, the NIE on Iraq’s WMD capabilities that Congress had just asked Tenet to prepare for them had not yet been prepared and would not be presented to them until October 9, 2002.

So, who told Cheney that Saddam’s son-in-law had verified that Saddam had "resumed his efforts to acquire nuclear weapons"?

And, who told Bush that Iraq "retains physical infrastructure needed to build a nuclear weapon" or was withholding "important information on weapons design, procurement logs, experiment data, an accounting of nuclear materials and documentation of foreign assistance"?

Well, scroll back to 1995, when Tenet was Deputy Director of the CIA.

General Hussein Kamel – Saddam's son-in-law – had just defected to Jordan carrying with him thousands of documents on Iraq's "weapons of mass destruction" program.

Kameal was extensively interrogated by the CIA, and by Rolf Ekeus of the UN Special Commission and Maurizio Zifferero of the International Atomic Energy Agency Action Team on Iraq.

By the time Tenet became DCI in 1997, the IAEA had determined that Kamel had told the truth in every detail. By 1995, "nothing remained" of Saddam’s nuclear, chemical and biological warfare weapons and/or infrastructure.

Zifferero's interview notes were shared with the CIA and MI-6 at the time, but were not made public – "leaked" – until December of 2002.

So, Tenet knew that Cheney’s inflammatory charge that -- because of Saddam’s son-in-law "testimony" – "we" know "Saddam had resumed his efforts to acquire nuclear weapons" was false.

Furthermore, from the publicly available IAEA reports of 1997, 1998 and 1999 [.pdf], Tenet knew – everyone knew – that most of Bush’s inflammatory charges about Iraq’s nuclear programs were false, too.

"The IAEA’s extensive verification activities in Iraq, since May 1991 have yielded a technically coherent picture of Iraq’s clandestine nuclear programme.

"These verification activities have revealed no indication that Iraq possesses nuclear weapons or any meaningful amounts of weapon-usable nuclear material, or that Iraq has retained any practical capability (facilities or hardware) for the production of such material."

But perhaps most important of all, the IAEA concluded that

"There were no indications of significant discrepancies between the technically coherent picture that [IAEA] had evolved of Iraq’s clandestine nuclear weapons programme and the information contained in Iraq’s 'Full, Final and Complete Declaration.'"

No significant discrepancies!

But what about all that stuff that Bush claims the Iraqis are withholding?

"Resolution of the few remaining questions and concerns ... would undoubtedly contribute to the confidence in the completeness of the technically coherent picture. However, Iraq has consistently stated that it is unable to provide any further information or documentation.

"In this latter regard, Iraq states that much of the requested documentation never existed and that which did exist had been unilaterally destroyed by Iraq in 1991 and 1992.

"The IAEA holds no credible information to confirm or refute Iraq’s statements."

So, was the "Slam-Dunk" National Intelligence Estimate DCI Tenet provided a gullible Congress on October 9, 2002 – which formed the basis for Congress providing Bush authority to launch a pre-emptive attack on Iraq – "independent of political considerations"?

And was his "Slam-Dunk" NIE based upon the "best intelligence available," – the final reports of the IAEA Action Team on Iraq and of the UN Special Commission on Iraq?

Or was his "Slam-Dunk" NIE a sin of commission?


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Physicist James Gordon Prather has served as a policy implementing official for national security-related technical matters in the Federal Energy Agency, the Energy Research and Development Administration, the Department of Energy, the Office of the Secretary of Defense and the Department of the Army. Dr. Prather also served as legislative assistant for national security affairs to U.S. Sen. Henry Bellmon, R-Okla. -- ranking member of the Senate Budget Committee and member of the Senate Energy Committee and Appropriations Committee. Dr. Prather had earlier worked as a nuclear weapons physicist at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California and Sandia National Laboratory in New Mexico.

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