I haven’t had the chance to read the book by former CIA chief George Tenet, which Harper Collins will release next week, but it has generated its share of controversy. His top-level insider’s account of the pre- and post-9/11 efforts against terrorism have current Bush administration officials unhappy — and in at least two cases, pointing out deficient fact-checking. Tenet misidentifies a key figure in an argument he makes about how back-channel analyses started, and then neglects to mention his own analysis:
Mr. Tenet also directs scorn at the Pentagon intelligence analyses by Douglas J. Feith, then undersecretary of defense for policy. He describes his fury in August 2002 as he watched a slide show by Mr. Feith’s staff at C.I.A. headquarters suggesting “a mature, symbiotic relationship” between Iraq and Al Qaeda.
He said C.I.A. officers came to call such reports, in a play on words, “Feith-based analysis.” In an interview on Friday, Mr. Feith said Mr. Tenet’s account distorts the facts of the Pentagon effort and obscures Mr. Tenet’s own public statements before the war. Mr. Feith noted that Mr. Tenet, in October 2002, sent the Senate intelligence committee a letter that said, “We have solid reporting of senior level contacts between Iraq and Al Qaeda going back a decade.” Mr. Tenet describes Tina Shelton, who presented part of the Feith slide show at the C.I.A. in 2002, as a “naval reservist” and quotes her as saying in introductory remarks, “It is an open-and-shut case.”
But Ms. Shelton said Friday she was never a Navy reservist and never said such a thing. She was a Defense Intelligence Agency analyst for 22 years before retiring in October, she said.
Tenet also goes after Michael Ledeen for his efforts to meet with Iranian dissidents living abroad to encourage democratization in the Islamic Republic. Calling it nothing more than “Son of Iran-Contra,” Tenet describes his anger and frustration at hearing of this back-channel effort to undermine the mullahcracy.
Well, boo hoo. First, it’s ridiculous to call this the “Son of Iran-Contra”, since the first Iran-Contra dealt with sending military hardware to the mullahs, not the dissidents. Second, since Iran has postured itself in a state of war against the Great Satan since 1979, why exactly did the CIA skip dealing with the dissidents who could have helped push back against the radical Islamists? The Pentagon apparently understood the necessity of engaging with Iranian dissidents, even if Langley and Foggy Bottom couldn’t figure it out for themselves, and they leveraged those with contacts in that community, including Michael, a CQ reader and a friend of mine.
It reminds me of the hack job Rolling Stone did on Michael last year. James Bamford couldn’t smoke out the the difference between Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden, when the Rolling Stone reporter wrote that Ledeen’s Iranian contacts claimed the former was hiding in Iran … in December 2001. Rolling Stone still has not corrected that mistake to this day, nearly nine months later. (See Section III.)
Tenet does the same with his recollection of the intel showing strong connections between Iraq and al-Qaeda, a connection that seems even stronger with the capture of Abd al-Hadi al-Iraq, a former Saddam Hussein-era officer in the Iraqi Army (rank: major) who became one of al-Qaeda’s top field commanders. He claims that such arguments are “Feith-based analysis,” but Douglas Feith reminds the Times that Tenet himself told Congress that the CIA had solid reporting of high-level contacts between AQ and Iraq for a decade.
Tenet then misidentifies Tina Shelton as a member of the Feith clique at the CIA and puts words into her mouth. Shelton disputes both her description and Tenet’s characterization of her presentation. That forced Tenet’s co-author to backpedal, apologizing for not getting the facts straight about Shelton’s job, even though it formed a key part of Tenet’s argument regarding her credibility.
I’d say the one with credibility problems is Tenet.
UPDATE: Jeffrey Carr points out that it gets released next week, so I’ll read it then. The New York Times has had access to at least some portions of the book, and even before its release, the co-author is apologizing for getting its facts wrong.