Michael Ledeen found himself in the middle of a controversy regarding the new book by former CIA chief George Tenet, and unexpectedly so. According to Ledeen, he had not been contacted by Tenet or his co-author for the book for his input. Nevertheless, Ledeen found Tenet’s scorn for him and his efforts to assist the intel community on Iran on the front page of the New York Times this past weekend. Now Ledeen responds at National Review Online, and he accuses Tenet of misrepresenting Ledeen’s efforts:
In December, 2001, I participated in discussions between two Pentagon officials and Iranians who claimed knowledge of Iranian-sponsored efforts to kill Americans in Afghanistan. We met in Rome, Italy over several days. The discussions were approved by Stephen Hadley, the deputy national-security adviser, and the two Defense department officials’ travel was approved by their superiors. The American ambassador in Rome was fully informed in advance, and fully briefed afterwards. The conversations produced detailed information about the identities, locations, and plans of Iranian-trained terrorists in Afghanistan. This was passed on to the proper authorities at the DoD, and I was later told by military officers that the information likely saved American lives.
Now comes the former director of central intelligence, George Tenet, with several pages about the meeting in his new book. He does not mention that American lives were saved, nor does he seem at all interested to learn that there were well-informed sources who were willing to help the American government. Nor, for that matter, is he much interested in the facts at all. His account is repeatedly wrong. He is wrong about the Iranians, wrong about the Americans, wrong about what was discussed, and wrong about the official status of the meeting. He misdescribes the Iranians as “dissidents” living overseas. He misidentifies the two Pentagon officials as subordinates of Under Secretary Douglas Feith (one of Tenet’s many betes noirs), but only one of them was in Feith’s shop. He says it “sounded like an off-the-books covert-action program trying to destabilize the Iranian government,” when the discussion was about Iranians in Afghanistan, not overthrowing the mullahs, and the meeting had been formally approved by the deputy national-security adviser (knowing Stephen Hadley, I presume he had the approval of his boss, Condoleezza Rice). Tenet calls it “Son of Iran-contra,” with which it had nothing in common save for the marginal involvement of Manoucher Ghorbanifar, who helped bring the Iranians to Italy, but was not a source of information. Someone might have reminded Tenet that Iran-Contra had to do with providing weapons to Iran in exchange for hostages, while the Rome meeting was about Iranian efforts to kill Americans in Afghanistan. Some parentage! He’s wrong about other things as well, some of which Ed Morrissey and Bill Kristol have pointed out.
Kristol pointed out a rather egregious error in Tenet’s post-9/11 narrative involving Richard Perle. Perle has acquired a Machiavellian reputation thanks to assertions like Tenet’s, only this time Tenet gets sloppy. He describes a conversation with Perle on 9/12 that supposedly shows the neocons in the Bush administration had determined from the first to use 9/11 as an excuse to attack Iraq — only the conversation could not possibly have happened:
On the day after 9/11, he [Tenet] adds, he ran into Richard Perle, a leading neoconservative and the head of the Defense Policy Board, coming out of the White House. He says Mr. Perle turned to him and said: “Iraq has to pay a price for what happened yesterday. They bear responsibility.”
Here’s the problem: Richard Perle was in France on that day, unable to fly back after September 11. In fact Perle did not return to the United State until September 15. Did Tenet perhaps merely get the date of this encounter wrong? Well, the quote Tenet ascribes to Perle hinges on the encounter taking place September 12: “Iraq has to pay a price for what happened yesterday.” And Perle in any case categorically denies to THE WEEKLY STANDARD ever having said any such thing to Tenet, while coming out of the White House or anywhere else.
Tenet has yet to see his book hit the stores, and it already has serious credibility issues. He misidentifies a Defense Department analyst as a “naval reservist” in an attempt to belittle her credentials. Tenet can’t seem to understand that Iran-Contra involved arming the mullahs, not the dissidents. It’s a great display of why the CIA seems to have been rather incompetent during the years of his leadership. If the boss can’t get his facts straight, how can he have advised two presidents with any degree of competence at all?
Fortunately, Michael Ledeen had a few minutes to spare on Saturday afternoon for Mitch and me to interview him I’ve podcasted the main part of the interview here, where he rebuts Tenet and talks to us about Iran.