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Correcting a George Tenet Memory Lapse
Tuesday, 01 May 2007 10:34
by Larry C. Johnson

[Note from Larry C Johnson: I received the following tonight from Tyler Drumheller, a recently retired CIA officer. His book, On the Brink, is an important contribution to the history of our misguided war in Iraq. Tyler has first hand knowledge of George Tenet's self-delusion and dissembling about his role in helping lead the march to war. It provides an important correction to the spin of George Tenet.]

Tyler Drumheller responds to George Tenet's book.

Correcting the Record

by Tyler Drumheller

As people read through George Tenet's "At the Center of the Storm" I hope the basic errors and misstatements of fact do not detract from the most important point, that the Bush administration came into office with the idea of attacking Iraq and they proceeded to misuse and manipulate intelligence to support their preconceived views, both before and after 9/11.

The problem for George is that he was not a peripheral player, he was"at the center of the storm" but apparently stood by as the Vice President, Secretary of Defense and others led the country into an ill conceived, ill planned war of choice. He was, after all DCI and as such had the responsibility for how intelligence was being used. I will not pretend to understand why he stood by when he knew what was at stake and had his own questions about the entire affair. In the end, although he served in many senior staff jobs, he was ill prepared to deal with the great crisis of his professional career. Taking lines out of individual presidential speeches and stopping one of many questionable speeches by the Vice President, simply does cut it when balanced against standing by as the country moved toward war.

Through his actions and inaction, George allowed the administratioen to pick and chose intelligence to fit their views, and to make matters worse he and his deputy, John Mclaughlin, were aware of the fact that key pieces of intelligence were flawed and should not be used in the decision making process. This includes not only the now infamous Curveball case, but other pieces of intelligence that are still classified and can not be openly discussed. As you have said, Larry, the standard for reporting to support the administration position was extremely low, while anything questioning the administration poistion was held to an extremely high standard of proof.

At the risk of diverting attention from the big picture, I am compelled to address the section of his book dealing with my role in the Curveball case where George falls back on faulty memory, facts taken out context and his inability to find documentation to defend his actions in this key matter. In point of fact he and John know that by early December 2002 and possibly as early as November 2002 the lead analyst on this issue knew and was already complaining about my meeting with the German official who had raised the first questions about Curveball in the Directorate of Operations.

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They know very well that a series of meetings took place in December 2002 where the details of the Curveball case were fiercely debated by all of the DI and DO offices involved. These meetings were chaired by John's chief of staff and the emails summarizing the results included the special assistants and chiefs of staff for both George and John. These emails exist at headquarters and some are paraphrased in Silberman-Robb.

Tyler Drumheller on Hardball

These December meetings also resulted in a message being sent to the president of the German intelligence service (BND) at the request of John's chief of staff, asking that they answer a number of questions related to Curveball and the use of his information in public statements. In the book George fails to mention that this German cable was in reply to a request from his office. The German reply is the letter George claims he never saw. In fact the text of the German letter came in a cable from Berlin. This cable was attached to an email and sent to the special assisstants and chiefs of staff for both George and John. There was no answer from George and Berlin sent the message a second time. Eventually the letter arrived in the pouch and a copy was forwarded to the office of the DCI but only later in Februray, long after George and John read its text in the cable. It is also important to remember that while we sent the message to the DCI attached to an email, his office would have recieved a direct copy of the original cable from communications, as is standard with any cable dealing with action involving the DCI. We recieved an acknowledgement of this responce and note of thanks from John's chief of staff.

Most of this material is included in my book, but looking back in the light of what George has written, you have to wonder, if George had no concerns involving Curveball, why were they asking the BND president to vouch for his reporting.

In late January, after the State of the Union address, and a look at the draft of the Powell speech I realized that despite the meetings and other contacts, the DCI's office had not come to grips with the serious concerns regarding Curveball himself. I met with John Mclaughlin the week before the Powell speech. John can say what ever he wants on this point but he, his chief of staff and George all know the meeting took place, and that I warned them that there were questions about the reporting. In the book George throws up a good bit of dust talking about fabricators and burn notices, reinforcing the fact that we sometimes forget, he is not a professional intelligence officer. If he were he would know that Curveball was a Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) case and a BND source. We were not able determine that he was a fabricator until we obtained direct access to him in March 2004, but he should also know that while the issue of fabrication is being investigated you can not responsibly use the reporting the case produces. Also I know exactly what John said, "oh my I hope not."

From an institutional perspective, the really disturbing part of the Curveball story is that if the DDO, Jim Pavitt, had not asked us to try to get access to Curveball, George and the other leaders of the intel community would have been happy to accept without question the reporting of this unknown source. What George describes sarcastically as DO officers having a "gut feeling" about Curveball were in fact the legitimate concerns raised by the failure of this case to rise to even the basic level of professional standards expected of any case by the directorate of operations, let alone one with the potential impact of Curveball.

This brings us to the final point of the Curveball drama as described by George. He discusses the memo over my signature for BND president Hanning's visit to CIA headquarters in May 2003, where we asked George to thank him for Curveball and ask if we could have access to him. This was a diplomatic ploy, worked out with George's input to get the German's to allow us to have access to Curveball. George, citing White House interest had been pressing us to get this access. I suppose he has forgotten this context, but that is too bad, since, in this case his input had affect and set in motion the negotiations that led to us obtaining direct access and confirming that Curveball was a fabricator in March 2004.

I don't want this to be a point by point study of George's book, but it is also interesting to note that George completely ignores the fact that we had reporting from a separate sensitive source, refuting what Curveball was saying. In a real case of tragic irony, this reporting from a senior Iraqi official was manipulated, diluted and never properly used in the policy process.

The run up to the war on Iraq is a complicated and murky picture and it is important to remain focused on the main; the policy on Iraq was set by political leaders in the administration who then picked and chose intelligence, no matter what the source, to support their position. George's role is equally complicated and in the end sad, as only he knows how he was able to stand by while the matter moved toward war.
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