some reason February 5 has been chosen two years running for rhetoric
aimed at what Socrates termed “making the worse cause appear the
better”— last year by Secretary of State Colin Powell at the UN and
Thursday by CIA Director George Tenet at Georgetown University.
As in the case of
Powell’s spurious depiction of the threat from Iraq, Tenet’s
disingenuous tour de force becomes more embarrassing the closer you
Tenet chose to
defend the indefensible—the bogus National Intelligence Estimate (NIE)
hurriedly conjured up in September 2002 to support spurious charges
made by Vice President Dick Cheney on August 26, 2002 in beating the
drum for war on Iraq. The conclusions of that estimate have now been
proven —pure and simple—wrong.
Even so, that is
not the most important point. What all should know is that the Bush
administration’s decision for war against Iraq came well before any
intelligence estimate. There is ample evidence that that decision was
made, at the latest, by spring 2002.
That there was no
NIE before that speaks volumes. During my 27 years of service as a
CIA analyst, never was a foreign policy decision of that magnitude
made without FIRST commissioning a National Intelligence Estimate.
Why did Tenet not take the initiative and see that one was done?
Surely, if he did not know that decisions on war and peace were being
made at the White House and Pentagon in early 2002, he was the only
one in Washington so unaware.
There was no NIE
because Tenet realized that an honest one would show how little the
intelligence community knew about the threat from Iraq and would
hardly support a case for war. And so, consummate bureaucrat that he
is, he kept his head down for as long as he could.
It was only when
the somnolent Senator from Florida, Bob Graham, then Chair of the
Senate Intelligence Committee, was nudged awake by committee colleague
Dick Durbin that Graham nodded, yes it did seem odd that no NIE had
been prepared. And especially odd at a time when Congress was being
asked to cede to the president its constitutional prerogative to
So Graham called
Tenet, and Tenet got the go-ahead from his masters in the White
House—WITH THE PROVISO that the estimate’s conclusions dovetail with
the case for war just made by Cheney. Tenet saluted, and then picked
his most malleable manager, Robert Walpole, to ensure that a
politically correct NIE was produced.
In other words,
the purpose of the estimate was not to inform an (already reached)
decision on whether war was necessary. Rather, it was to enlist
intelligence in the campaign to deceive Congress into thinking that
Iraq posed such a threat that the legislative branch’s prerogative
must be surrendered to the president, and—not incidentally—to make so
persuasive a case to the nation that those who dared vote against the
president would be highly vulnerable in the mid-term election of
2002. That worked too.
inspector David Kay’s refreshing honesty, we now know that Cheney’s
charges, and the cognate conclusions of the estimate, were bogus.
The NIE: Lynchpin
Am I saying that
the fall 2002 Estimate on Iraq’s “weapons of mass destruction” was
irrelevant? In the narrow sense that it was ex post facto the
decision for war, yes. It was decidedly NOT the “linchpin of the Bush
administration’s case for invasion,” that former CIA analyst and Iraq
specialist Kenneth Pollack recently claimed it was.
But enlisting the
intelligence community in a deliberate campaign to mislead our elected
representatives into surrendering their power under the
Constitution—that is highly relevant, and unconscionable. In 40 years
of following such issues quite closely, I have never seen
politicization of intelligence so cynical, so sustained, so
consequential. And I was there for Vietnam.
Bob Graham voted
against the war. But he was never able to stay awake long enough tell
his colleagues they were being conned. His behavior, and that of
House Intelligence Committee Porter Goss, give an entirely new meaning
to the word “oversight” customarily used to describe their committees’
The Tenet Speech
“Now I am sure you
are asking: Why haven’t we found the weapons? I have told you the
search must continue and it will be difficult.”
But, Mr. Tenet, it
has been over ten months since we invaded Iraq. Your former chief
inspector David Kay concluded “probably 85 percent of the significant
things” have now been found—but no WMD. And his successor, Charles
Duelfer told the press four weeks ago “the prospect of finding
chemical weapons, biological weapons is close to nil at this point.”
On what basis do you now say “we are nowhere near 85 percent
obediently arguing the administration’s brief that the search for WMD
is far from over and that it will, in Cheney’s words, “take some
additional considerable period of time in order to look in all the
cubbyholes and ammo dumps.” A safe guess is that the administration’s
current plan is to drag out the quest until after the election in
Taking his cue
from Cheney, Defense Secretary Rumsfeld, in testimony before Congress
on Wednesday, also stressed the need for additional time. And
yesterday, in an unguarded moment, Rumsfeld gave the game away, when
he disparaged David Kay’s judgment on the status of the search for WMD:
“Kay said we’re
about 85 percent complete. Tenet said what I said: there’s work yet
to be done.” Indeed, Tenet says what Rumsfeld…and Cheney say. Tenet
is the quintessential “team player,” an attribute antithetical to his
statutory duty to tell the emperor when he had no clothes on. Former
House speaker Newt Gingrich, like Cheney a frequent visitor to CIA
Headquarters, recently told the press “George Tenet is so grateful to
the president [presumably for not firing him on Sept. 12, 2001] that
he will do anything for him.”
Are you surprised
that intelligence has been politicized?
Ray McGovern a 27-year veteran of
the CIA, regularly briefed George H. W. Bush as vice president and,
earlier, worked with him closely when he was director of CIA. Mr.
McGovern is on the Steering Group of Veteran Intelligence
Professionals for Sanity. He is now co-director of the Servant
Leadership School, an outreach ministry in the inner city of
Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS) is a
coast-to-coast enterprise; mostly intelligence officers from analysis
side of CIA.
Other Articles by Ray
McGovern and Veteran Intelligence Officers for Sanity
Will Bush's State of the Union Speech Lack the Hyperbole That
* Memo for
the President: Your State-of-the-Union Address
Intelligence Veterans Challenge Colleagues to Speak Out
We Are Perplexed at the US Refusal to
Permit the Return of UN Inspectors to Iraq
Weapons of Mass Distraction: Where?