George Tenet has written a tell-all book, another example of the talk show mentality that has pervaded this country in recent years. Correct me if I’m wrong (I know you will!), but I don’t recall that it used to be customary for retired CIA officers, much less heads of the CIA, to write self-serving memoirs.
But Tenet has written a book entitled At the Center of the Storm—interesting choice, that title. I assume he’s referring to himself in his capacity as CIA director, but he also could be referring to the accusations that he messed up, charges that appear to weigh extremely heavily on his mind.
Extremely heavily, indeed. In fact, if you read Tenet’s interview with “60 Minutes,” you’ll find he is exceptionally emotional about the entire subject. Perhaps his emotionality is clouding his judgment, because (as Bill Kristol has written in this Weekly Standard piece, and Roger Simon has elaborated on here) Tenet is either lying or sadly mistaken about some of his facts.
Tenet attributes comments to Richard Perle that Perle not only denies, but it turns out the conversation could not have occurred as Tenet states because Perle wasn’t in Washington at the time. The sloppiness of Tenet’s assertion about Perle (he speaks as though it had been “seared into” his brain, but now he says he must have gotten the date wrong) doesn’t engender a great deal of confidence in his ability to tell a narrative that depends on attention to detail and an excellent memory.
Andrew McCarthy points out many other anomalies in Tenet’s story. I’m sure the blogs will be duking it out as to who’s right and who’s wrong on statements such as whether the CIA was able to “verify” Iraq’s involvement in 9/11 (as well as what the word “verify’ signifies, and why it’s used here), and whether the CIA had actually “knocked down” the Niger uranium claim Bush made in his State of the Union speech.
But I was struck, on reading Tenet’s “60 Minutes” interview with Scott Pelley, by his extreme emotional intensity. The entire thing reads less like the dispassionate relating of a sequence of events and more like a plea to the jury for leniency and the restoration of Tenet’s honor (the latter is a word he uses many times in the interview).
The CBS report on the “60 Minutes” interview leads with a remarkable statement by Tenet that illustrates the sort of thing I’m talking about: “People don’t understand us, you know,” complains Tenet (the “us” here being Tenet and his fellow employees at the CIA).
Tenet vents on:
…they think we’re a bunch of faceless bureaucrats with no feelings, no families, no sense of what it’s like to be passionate about running these bastards down. There was nobody else in this government that felt what we felt before or after 9/11…This was personal.
Yes indeed, very very personal. Tenet is understandably and extraordinarily sensitive to charges that he fell asleep at the switch—because, in fact, he was the one at the switch, from 1997 on. It would be too much to ask, perhaps, that he remain objective; too much of his personal reputation is at stake. But once people give themselves over to this sort of heated emotionality, it becomes likely that their intense human need to vindicate themselves can easily make them, if not lie, then misperceive and misremember events in order to throw the softest and kindest possible light on their own actions.
Here’s some more of the extraordinary feeling emphasis from Tenet:
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.
And the following is the most telling exchange of all, perhaps:
“Somebody who was in the Oval Office that day decided to throw you off the train. Was it the president?” Pelley asks.
“I don’t know,” Tenet says.
“Was it the vice president?” Pelley asks.
“I don’t know,” Tenet says.
“Who was out to get you, George?” Pelley asks.
“Scott, you know, I’m Greek, and we’re conspiratorial by nature. But, you know, who knows?” Tenet says. “I haven’t let myself go there, but as a human being it didn’t feel very good.”
I’m all for feelings, and talking about them. But there’s a place and time. This sort of thing rightly belongs in a therapist’s office. But sometimes it seems as though the whole world has turned into a therapist’s office.