April 29, 2007by RJMac
The heavily promoted George Tenet interview on 60 Minutes was good television. He was combative and defensive, so hyper flailing about in his chair that the cameraman had to work to keep him in the shot.
Beyond the frenetic body language, Tenet made two points which seem to make sense on the surface. He claims he was giving dire warning to Condoleezza Rice about Al Qaeda threats in the summer of 2001 and the warnings apparently went over her head. And he claims launching the war in Iraq never made sense to him.
Both those things are probably true. But Tenet didn't do much to change things at the time, and he waited years to tell the American public.
In the meantime he accepted the Medal of Freedom from the president, and also accepted a book advance said to be $4 million from Harper Collins, a publishing house owned by Rupert Murdoch.
More than ten years ago, Harper Collins drew fire when it announced it was paying $4.5 million to Newt Gingrich, who was then Speaker of the House. It looked like a bribe from Murdoch, and Gingrich wound up having to forfeit the massive advance. Tenet doesn’t work for the government now and doesn’t have to give back the millions he’s getting from Murdoch.
A number of former CIA people have started a campaign demanding that Tenet give back the Medal of Freedom that Bush gave him. They’re excoriating him for not speaking up back when it might have done some good.
And people have started to find factual problems with Tenet’s memories. In the 60 Minutes interview Tenet talks about Richard Perle talking to him on the day after 9/11 and already starting the push to go to war against Iraq. Perle’s defenders are already saying tonight that he wasn’t even in the US on 9/12/01; they claim Perle was in France, where he was stranded for several days during the ban on air travel.
And Michael Scheuer, the former CIA analyst who has several axes to grind, wrote a piece for the Washington Post headlined "Tenet Tries to Shift the Blame. Don't Buy It." Scheuer notes that some of what Tenet is saying today about Rice's negligence in the summer of 2001 is substantially different than what he told the 9/11 Commission.
As the book gets out to the public this week, you can bet on a fact checking feeding frenzy.
Tenet’s game seems obvious enough: salvage some of his reputation, settle a few scores, and make some money.
The more interesting question is whether Murdoch and his people are just making some money publishing a book or whether they are playing a deeper game.
It’s hard to imagine that anything George Tenet says at this point will really change any opinions about the Bush administration.
But whenever Murdoch made the deal for Tenet’s book, it might have looked like a smart move to lock up the memoirs by the CIA chief during 9/11 and the launching of the Iraq war.
Some fast research indicates that Tenet actually signed with a division of Random House to write a book back in late 2004, but that deal was canceled just a few months later. The deal with Murdoch's Harper Collins then came along in 2005, and the publication date was postponed several times, according to articles in Publishers Weekly.
However the book deal happened, Tenet is suddenly highly visible after being out of public view for a few years. Murdoch’s company is promoting the book heavily, buying full page ads in papers and booking Tenet all over television this week.
And while Tenet is critical of members of the Bush administration, Bush himself seems to be immune from any criticism. On 60 Minutes, Scott Pelley asked if receiving the Medal of Freedom is why Bush gets a “free pass.” Tenet appears uncomfortable and evasive, suddenly looking off to the side, and says, “That’s the most outrageous thing I’ve ever heard.”
Tenet today claims he wasn’t convinced there was a need to go to war with Iraq. Yet there he is in the videotapes, sitting right behind Colin Powell at the UN as Powell lied his ass off before the world.
Tenet comes off as a sycophant who was telling Bush what he thought Bush wanted to hear. And who is now making up stories to justify his own incompetence and spinelessness at a time when he could have prevented disasters from taking place.
And that’s actually helpful to Bush’s defenders. Murdoch has put Tenet right where he wants him. People can point to Tenet, catch him in lies, note (of course) that he was Clinton’s CIA chief first, and argue the point that it's no wonder the president was misled on the intelligence. Look at the guy who was head of the CIA.
Tenet is left holding the bag. But at least he finds $4 million bucks in it.