George Tenet Takes One for the Team
by Paul Harris
July 17, 2003
CIA Director George Tenet is an amazing guy, a real man's man. Here he is, the head of what is putatively the most powerful and clever spy agency on the planet, and he has come forward to tell the world he's a damn liar. That takes guts. It also takes an incredible amount of hubris to think that anyone more evolved than, say, a New England scrod, is going to believe him.
Now, it isn't just that he told a lie; after all, he's a government official and most of us are more surprised to find out they aren't lying. But this isn't a lie told knowing he would be convincing his nation, and perhaps several others, to go and beat the tar out of a backward nation that had already been on its knees for eleven years. Oh, he could justify that by saying the leader of that country was not a nice man; but, for varying reasons, you could say that the leaders of many nations, including Mr. Tenet's, are not nice people. It isn't even a lie told to his commander-in-chief or anyone else during the lead-up to war in Iraq that is the problem.
It's the big one he's telling now, the one where he is gallantly taking the fall for his president.
George Tenet said, in a statement released July 11, that he bears responsibility for President Bush telling the world about a clear and present danger from Iraq. Bush had said in his State of the Union speech on January 28, 2003: "The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa." Tenet's statement does not indicate if he personally cleared the speech but does acknowledge his agency has responsibility for it. "The president had every reason to believe that the text presented to him was sound. Those 16 words should never have been included in the text written for the president."
It is always hard to separate the wheat from the chaff when political people speak, but the facts seem to be these: A story surfaced that suggested Iraq tried to purchase 550 tons of uranium from Niger, and may have succeeded. The story eventually turned out to be false and, early in the game, the CIA, including George Tenet, made sure to alert the White House that these stories were at least suspect, if not altogether untrue. The White House ignored these warnings and plunged ahead with their accusations against Iraq, using the image of large mushroom clouds as a negotiating point to convince the rest of the world to support their war against Saddam Hussein.
Therefore, what did George Tenet do when he realized that the president had relied on this likely inaccurate information? Why, he did what any loyal subject would do: he kept his mouth shut.
It's an amazing story he's telling these days. It seems he was perfectly content to let his president, his congress, the president's cabinet, the secret services of Australia and Great Britain and anyone else who would listen believe that Iraq had big loads of weapons of mass destruction when, in fact, it looks as if they didn't have any at all.
Now we are being asked to accept that information received at the White House via the CIA, even when the latter makes clear the information is highly suspect, is simply accepted without so much as a question being asked. And on the strength of that information, again without any further questioning, the most powerful nation on earth is prepared to launch into a potentially disastrous war. It suggests that any American citizen ought to be able to float any idea at the White House and get it acted upon because no one who lives there has the wit to ask any questions.
Actually, the fact George Tenet tells lies should be obvious. What should be equally obvious is that he is lying now; George Tenet did not mislead George Bush. Bush knew exactly what weaponry Iraq possessed (so did Britain's Tony Blair, although a friend of mine in Australia assures me that Prime Minister John Howard probably didn't because he is truly stupid). Tenet's lie is the one he is telling now in the time honored tradition of soldiers falling on their swords for their commander-in-chief and taking one for the team, so to speak. Only the truly bewildered and foolish will fail to see through this attempt by the Bush team to deflect the blame for this fiasco from their man.
If the White House thought the president had truly been misled about this issue, even inadvertently, they would have retracted the remarks made in the State of the Union address. It is very significant that when speaking to the United Nations a week later, Secretary of State Colin Powell did not present those same remarks about the African uranium because, according to him, the story was not reliable. The fact is that if Powell knew the information was unreliable, so did Bush. That Bush chose to let his speech stand, if indeed he made the speech unwittingly, makes clear that he was willing to allow the world to rely on evidence that he knew to be unsubstantiated -- so who is truly the liar here?
It is a scary situation that the people at the top in most nations breathe such rarified air that their brains are oxygen deprived. That is the only explanation for their constant assumption that the people will believe any line of nonsense that is fed to them. What is even more frightening, and thoroughly depressing, is just how often they are right about that.
But George Tenet's current fairy tale is too fabulous even for the group that P.T. Barnum thought was born at a rate of one per minute.
Paul Harris lives in Canada, and is self-employed as a consultant providing Canadian businesses with the tools and expertise to successfully reintegrate their sick or injured employees into the workplace. He has traveled extensively in what we arrogant North Americans refer to as "the Third World," and he believes that life is very much like a sewer: what you get out of it depends on what you put into it. This article first appeared in Yellow Times.org (www.yellowtimes.org). Paul Harris encourages your comments: pharris@YellowTimes.org.