Former CIA director George Tenet has just written a book titled At the Center of the Storm, and has written remarkably honestly about the CIA and the war on terror. Although I haven’t seen the book, his interview on 60 minutes at Georgetown University, with a few important excerpts, particularly on what happened on 9/11:
Interviewer: Two of the 19 hijackers, in your files, in Langley, Virginia, a year and a half before 9/11… they don’t get on a watch list. They don’t get on a no-fly list. You know these are bad guys…
Tenet: Scott, they don’t. And honest people doing honest work, for whatever you know, all of these people who are doing the best that they can, and understand this in great granularity, understand all of this and feel this pain, we all know this. I can’t dress this up for you… People were inundated with data and operations. And they missed it. We’re not trying to intentionally withhold””?human beings made mistakes.
All these commissions, and all these reports never got underneath the feeling of my people. You know, to see us written about as if we’re idiots. Or if we didn’t understand this threat. As if we didn’t understand what happened on that day. To impugn our integrity, our operational savvy. You know, the American people need to know that’s just not so. We’re the ones that stand up and tell you the truth about when we’re wrong. It’s a great thing about this government. The only people that ever stand up and tell the truth are who? Intelligence officers. Because our culture is, never break faith with the truth. We’ll tell you, you don’t have to drag it out of us. You didn’t have to serve me a subpoena to tell me I didn’t watch list Hazmi and Midhar. We knew right away; and we told everybody. Truth matters to us.
Tenet finally gets to tell his side of the story: two years before the attacks, the CIA had officers on the ground in Afghanistan laying plans to overthrow the Taliban and take out bin Laden. But Tenet says neither Clinton nor President Bush would give him the go ahead. Then, by the summer of 2001, Tenet says he was so alarmed by intelligence that an attack was coming, he asked for an immediate meeting to brief then-National Security Advisor Condoleeza Rice, to say there would be multiple, imminent, spectacular attacks against the United States with mass casualties.
His next comment on interrogation post-9/11 is real interesting:
Secret prisons were set up, and several suspects were questioned under new, so-called “enhanced interrogation techniques,” said to include sleep deprivation, extreme cold and water boarding, which causes a severe gag reflex, as water is continuously poured over the face.
“The image that’s been portrayed is, we sat around the campfire and said, ‘Oh, boy, now we go get to torture people.’ Well, we don’t torture people. Let me say that again to you. We don’t torture people. Okay?” Tenet says.
“Come on, George,” Pelley says.
“We don’t torture people,” Tenet maintains.
“Khalid Sheikh Mohammad?” Pelley asks.
“We don’t torture people,” Tenet says.
“Water boarding?” Pelley asks.
“We do not ““ I don’t talk about techniques,” Tenet replies.
“It’s torture,” Pelley says.
“And we don’t torture people. Now, listen to me. Now, listen to me. I want you to listen to me,” Tenet says. “The context is it’s post-9/11. I’ve got reports of nuclear weapons in New York City, apartment buildings that are gonna be blown up, planes that are gonna fly into airports all over again. Plot lines that I don’t know ““ I don’t know what’s going on inside the United States. And I’m struggling to find out where the next disaster is going to occur. Everybody forgets one central context of what we lived through. The palpable fear that we felt on the basis of the fact that there was so much we did not know.”
“I know that this program has saved lives. I know we’ve disrupted plots,” Tenet says.
“But what you’re essentially saying is some people need to be tortured,” Pelley remarks.
“No, I did not say that. I did not say that,” Tenet says.
“You’re telling me that”Â¦ the enhanced interrogation”Â¦” Pelley says.
“I did not say that. I did not say that. We do not tor”Â¦. Listen to me. You’re, you’re making”Â¦,” Tenet says.
“You call it in the book, ‘enhanced interrogation,’” Pelley remarks.
“”Â¦an assumption. Well, that’s what we call it,” Tenet says.
“And that’s a euphemism,” Pelley says.
“I’m not having a semantic debate with you. I’m telling you what I believe,” Tenet says.
Asked if anyone ever died in the interrogation program, Tenet says, “No.”