Two months ago, former CIA Director George Tenet offered his side of the Iraq war story in his memoirs, At the Center of the Storm: My Years at the CIA. In that book, Tenet tried to attack Douglas Feith and other backers of action against Iraq, partly by micharacterizing one key player’s presentations and her background in intelligence. At the time Christina Shelton issued a brief statement in rebuttal to Tenet on both points. In today’s Washington Post, Shelton gives a much more detailed account of her role and Tenet’s lack of truth:
On Aug. 15, 2002, I presented my part of a composite Pentagon briefing on al-Qaeda and Iraq to George Tenet, then CIA director. In his recent book, “At the Center of the Storm,” Tenet wrote that I said in opening remarks that “there is no more debate,” “no further analysis is required” and “it is an open-and-shut case.”
I never said those things. In fact, I said the covert nature of the relationship between Iraq and al-Qaeda made it difficult to know its full extent; al-Qaeda’s security precautions and Iraq’s need to cloak its activities with terrorist networks precluded a full appreciation of their relationship. Tenet also got the title of the briefing wrong. It was “Assessing the Relationship Between Iraq and al-Qa’ida,” not “Iraq and al-Qa’ida — Making the Case.” …
Tenet’s response to my presentation was to attempt to denigrate my credentials. I was not a “naval reservist,” as he wrote in his book, assigned to the Pentagon for temporary duty. In fact, I was a career intelligence analyst for two decades, and I spent half of that time in counterintelligence. I did not draw conclusions beyond the reporting, as he suggested. I addressed the substantive material in the reports.
Tenet claimed that the body of reporting did not prove an “operational” relationship existed. I never said it did. The use of the caveat “operational” became a convenient — albeit transparent — way to discount the credibility of the 1990s reporting and the relationship as I had described it. In his book Tenet maintained that there was no evidence of Iraq’s having “authority, direction, and control of al-Qa’ida operations.” I don’t recall anyone inside or outside the intelligence community ever making that claim.
It’s odd that Shelton waited two months to publish this rebuttal. The first reviews of the book appeared in the last week of April, and the book hit the stores a week later. As I wrote at the time, even before its publication, the book’s excerpts got panned for their inaccuracies. Afterwards, the criticism turned into a flood, with former high-ranking CIA officials as Michael Scheuer and Tyler Drumheller essentially calling Tenet a liar after they read the book.
Shelton provides a straightforward deconstruction of the charges Tenet leveled at her in his book. She makes it clear that Tenet at best told a lot of half-truths, most of them intending to paint his subordinates as radicals and all of them self-serving. She also points out information that Tenet left out of the book — such as his own assertions to Congress that Iraq and al-Qaeda had some operational ties and those would likely increase whether we took military action or not.
Be sure to read it all. It comes late in the debate over Tenet, his book, and his tenure at Langley, but not so late as to be at all irrelevant.