Tenet Speaks Out

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”¦ the enhanced interrogation”¦” Pelley says.

“I did not say that. I did not say that. We do not tor”¦. Listen to me. You’re, you’re making”¦,” Tenet says.

“You call it in the book, ‘enhanced interrogation,’” Pelley remarks.

“”¦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.”

About Curzon

Lord George Nathaniel Curzon (1859 - 1925) entered the British House of Commons as a Conservative MP in 1886, where he served as undersecretary of India and Foreign Affairs. He was appointed Viceroy of India at the turn of the 20th century where he delineated the North West Frontier Province, ordered a military expedition to Tibet, and unsuccessfully tried to partition the province of Bengal during his six-year tenure. Curzon served as Leader of the House of Lords in Prime Minister Lloyd George's War Cabinet and became Foreign Secretary in January 1919, where his most famous act was the drawing of the Curzon Line between a new Polish state and Russia. His publications include Russia in Central Asia (1889) and Persia and the Persian Question (1892). In real life, "Curzon" is a US citizen from the East Coast who has been a financial analyst, freelance translator, and university professor; he is currently on assignment in Tokyo.
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6 Responses to Tenet Speaks Out

  1. Pingback: University Update

  2. cockaygne says:

    I did not see the program, but your quotes are illustrative. When the book came out and the media were giving it favorable reviews, I chalked it up to BDS. I believed then, and still believe, that the money we spend on “intelligence gathering” is wasted, and that the CIA is thoroughly politicized.

    That said, however, the media attitude as expressed by Pelley is even more interesting. You, the CIA, are damned by us because you had this information, true or not true, and you didn’t act on it. Now just imagine if the CIA had passed on its information about the potential 9/11 hijackers to the FBI and they were arrested. You can bet that the media would have called them innocent victims of the evil administration – Clinton or Bush, take your pick, and civil liberties lawyers would have them walking the streets within days.

    The bottom line is that the US government, especially its “security” agencies is so politically compromised and afraid of acting that no one is safe unless they take security into their own hands. VT was the dream world for our media. Guns were banned. Ticking time bombs like Cho were ignored because of “privacy” concerns. When the only armed people on campus, the police, learned that he had killed two people, they gave him two hours to go and kill many more. At the end of the day, they gave Cho a nationwide broadcast of his sick rants.

  3. Sean says:

    Scheuer has an interesting rebuttal.

    The Weekly Standard reports some factual errors.

  4. Eddie says:

    If the CIA was not so stunningly incompetent at nearly every step of the way, perhaps we would have more faith in them to do their job. Intelligence professionals the world around say the “ticking bomb” scenario is as rare as they come, so pointless debates over torture with a man who has and never will be an intelligence professional are worthless to even consider; Tenet was a career political aide, never a spy or analyst.

    Here’s John McCain on Fox News Sunday yesterday, a person who knows a little about “enhanced interrogation techniques” from his years imprisoned in Vietnam:

    J. MCCAIN: A man I admire more than anyone else, General Jack Vessey, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, battlefield commission, told me once — he said, “John, any intelligence information we might gain through the use of torture could never, ever counterbalance the image that it does — the damage that it does to our image in the world.”

    I agree with him. Look at the war in Algeria. Look, the fact is if you torture someone, they’re going to tell you anything they think you want to know. It is an affront to everything we stand for and believe in.

    It’s interesting to me that every retired military officer, whether it be Colin Powell or whether it be former chairmen of the Joint Chiefs of Staff — everybody who’s been in war doesn’t want to torture people and think that it’s the wrong thing to do. And history shows that.

    We cannot torture people and maintain our moral superiority in the world.

    WALLACE: But when…

    J. MCCAIN: And that’s a fact.

    WALLACE: But when George Tenet says…

    J. MCCAIN: I don’t care what George Tenet says. I know what’s right. I know what’s morally right as far as America’s behavior.

    WALLACE: But if I may, sir…

    J. MCCAIN: Yes, sir.

    WALLACE: … when George Tenet says we saved live through some of these techniques…

    J. MCCAIN: I don’t accept it. I don’t accept that fundamental thesis, because it’s never worked throughout history.

    And so again, I know this for a fact, and anyone who’s had experience with this, I think, that’s — well, the people I respect will tell you that if you inflect enough physical pain on someone, they will tell you anything they think you want to know in order to relieve that pain.

    That’s just a fundamental fact. And we’ve gotten a huge amount of misinformation as well as other information from these techniques.

  5. a517dogg says:

    I watched the whole thing. The interviewer was pretty obnoxious. I’m not that sympathetic to Tenet though – if what he’s saying is true, that there was no serious discussion of whether or not to invade Iraq, and Tenet felt uneasy about this, he should have resigned. A failure of character and leadership.

  6. lirelou says:

    McCain is wrong on his facts regarding Algeria, but right in principle. Information gained from torture, as well as a gamut of other intelligence, uncovered the FLNA terror networks in Algiers, and was instrumental in their destruction. No less a person than Gen. Paris de la Bollardiere, one of France’s WWII heroes who served with the British SAS, spoke out against it and was relieved of his duties. The crux of the problem for us is: How many civilian lives are we willing to lose to retain our principles? I fully agree with McCain and Vessey that it is un-American. But where is the dividing line?