"Early in his tenure as [Director of Central Intelligence], George Tenet was one of the first to recognize and address the growing threat to America from radical terrorist networks," President Bush told the crowd of reporters and photographers. "Immediately after the attacks of September the 11th, George was ready with a plan to strike back at al Qaeda and to topple the Taliban. CIA officers were on the ground in Afghanistan within days. Seasoned American intelligence officers, armed with laptop computers, Afghan clothes and a visionary plan, rode horseback with the fighters of the Northern Alliance, identified key targets for our military and helped to free a nation." Bush said that Tenet had "brought justice to America's enemies and greater security to the American people" and that he was "a fine public servant and patriot."
They don't give those Presidential Medals of Freedom out to just anyone, you know. You've got to blow up the Death Star or something. Which makes a declassified report on September 11, 2001 a little embarrassing.
A CIA inquiry has accused the agency's ex-chief George Tenet and his aides of failing to prepare for al-Qaeda threats before the 9/11 attacks on the US.
"The agency and its officers did not discharge their responsibilities in a satisfactory manner," the CIA inspector general wrote in a scathing report.
Former CIA analyst Ray McGovern spoke to the BBC. He wasn't kind to George Tenet. "... [George Tenet] was too busy schmoozing with foreign leaders and getting sort of swamped with the detail that he forgot that his job was to manage the intelligence community and so the cracks such as existed became wider and wider. He didn't talk to the FBI and 9/11 happened," BBC reports him as saying.
It turns out the man who President Bush said was "one of the first to recognize and address the growing threat to America from radical terrorist networks" wasn't. Michael Scheuer, the former head of the CIA's Osama bin Laden unit, described the CIA under Tenet as "lions led by asses."
Despite all of this, it's still possible to defend Tenet. It's a weak defense and it doesn't make him look any better, but it has some validity. Even if George Tenet had been on top of everything, had he been the most competent spook the agency had ever known, nothing would've changed. George Tenet would've wound up banging his head on a locked Oval Office door.
Eric Boehlert wrote in a piece for Salon (via SourceWatch):
On the night of Aug. 9, 2001, speaking from his vacation ranch in Crawford, Texas, President Bush delivered his first prime-time address to the nation. It was just three days after he had read the startling President's Daily Brief titled, "Bin Laden Determined to Strike in U.S.," which warned of airline hijackings planned by al-Qaida. It was one month after the administration's counterterrorism chief, Richard Clarke, informed senior law enforcement officials he had gathered inside the White House's Situation Room, "Something really spectacular is going to happen here, and it's going to happen soon." And it was three months after intelligence analysts had begun tracking unprecedented "chatter" about a possible terrorist attack. So now, Bush looked into the camera and spoke solemnly: "Good evening. I appreciate you giving me a few minutes of your time tonight so I can discuss with you a complex and difficult issue, an issue that is one of the most profound of our time."
That issue was stem cell research.
Bush's disinterest in terrorism is infamous by now. The PDB, which Bush had ignored and which Condi Rice later claimed was "historical" warned that "FBI information... indicates patterns of suspicious activity in this country consistent with preparations for hijackings or other types of attacks" and that the US embassy in the United Arab Emirates had been warned that "a group of bin Laden supporters was in the U.S. planning attacks with explosives." Bush, for his part, said he was "tired of swatting flies" in counter-terrorism. After being briefed on the PDB, Bush told a CIA briefer, "All right. You've covered your ass, now."
Clearly he didn't take it at all seriously.
Other agencies were working on bin Laden and finding roadblocks put up in their investigations. John O'Neill, who'd investigated the bombing of the USS Cole for the FBI, once said, "All the answers, everything needed to dismantle Osama bin Laden's organization can be found in Saudi Arabia." He also, according to journalist Jean-Charles Brisard, "complained that the FBI was not free to act in international terror investigations because the State Department kept interfering." Asked why he was getting so much interference, O'Neill answered, "One word: oil."
In one of the supreme ironies of 9/11, John O'Neill left the FBI to take a job as the security chief for the World Trade Center -- he died that day, a victim of a crime that higher-ups wouldn't allow him to prevent. Chance has a way of playing these sick little jokes on us.
So, as I say, Tenet shouldn't take the blame here. Yes, he was incompetent. Yes, he was "too busy schmoozing" to be effective. Yes, he was one of the asses leading the lions. But nothing he could've done would've gotten the Bush administration to take al Qaeda seriously.
They had stem cells to deal with. Terrorist cells were for Clintonistas to worry about.
Technorati tags: politics; terrorism; John O'Neill; George Tenet may have been an incompetent boob, but the Bush White House still gets the blame for 9/11