Saturday, May 05, 2007

Bob Woodward Covering for the Bushies?

This is from the opening paragraphs of Bob Woodward's review of the new book of memoirs by George Tenet in the Washington Post:

In his remarkable, important and often unintentionally damning memoir, George Tenet, the former CIA chief, describes a meeting with Condoleezza Rice, then national security adviser, two months before the 9/11 terrorist attacks. In much more vivid and emotional detail than previously reported, Tenet writes that he had received intelligence that day, July 10, 2001, about the threat from al-Qaeda that "literally made my hair stand on end."

According to At the Center of the Storm, Tenet picked up the phone, insisted on meeting with Rice about the threat from al-Qaeda, and raced to the White House with his counter-terrorism deputy, Cofer Black, and a briefer known only as "Rich B."

There will be a significant terrorist attack in the coming weeks or months," Rich B. told Rice, and the attack would be "spectacular." Black added, "This country needs to go on a war footing now." He said that President Bush should give the CIA new covert action authorities to go after Osama bin Laden and his al-Qaeda organization. After the meeting, Tenet's briefer and deputy "congratulated each other," Tenet writes. "At last, they felt, we had gotten the full attention of the administration."

Though Tenet was meeting almost daily with President Bush to give him an intelligence briefing and an update on threat reports -- "extraordinary access," he labels it -- by his own account he did not take the request for action "now" directly to the president.

Do you notice what's missing from the quotes above? What exactly did Rice do with this information? She was the National Security Adviser. It was her duty to take this information to the President and to make sure that the national security of the United States was protected. No doubt that the U.S. would have been better served if Tenet had taken his concerns directly to Bush, but the fact that he didn't doesn't in any way excuse Rice if she didn't. So what does Tenet say Rice did with the information Tenet gave her? We don't know because Woodward doesn't tell us that part of Tenet's story.

Woodward goes on in that vein for the rest of the review. According to him, the problem wasn't that Bush, Rice, Cheney, and Rumsfeld either misused or didn't use the information that they were given. The problem is that Tenet didn't make his case clearer and/or didn't make it directly to Bush.

This is how Woodward sees as Tenet's failure concerning Iraq:

But the other critical intelligence assessment he didn't carry to the Oval Office -- surely the most critical of his career -- was his misgivings about invading Iraq. As I reported in my third book on Bush, State of Denial, in the months before the invasion in the fall of 2002, Tenet confided to one of his top aides, John O. Brennan, that he thought it was not the right thing to do. "This is a mistake," Tenet told Brennan.

But he never said as much to the commander in chief. And he doesn't say it to readers of his memoir. *

There is no doubt that in a lot of ways, George Tenet screwed up concerning how he handled this administration. In no way, however, do his mistakes excuse the mistakes of the Bush Administration. The real problem wasn't Tenet, the real problem was Bush.

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