Tenet Answers Criticism from Retired CIA Officers Former CIA Director George Tenet responds to criticism from a group of retired CIA officers who point to hypocrisy and failed leadership. They wrote, "By your silence, you helped build the case for war."

Tenet Answers Criticism from Retired CIA Officers

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This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Robert Siegel.


George Tenet spoke with NPR's Mary Louise Kelly in our New York bureau today.

MARY LOUISE KELLY: He was the first head of the CIA's bin Laden unit. Scheuer believes his old boss should take a lot more responsibility than he has for what's gone wrong in Iraq. In The Washington Post this past weekend, Scheuer wrote that Tenet, quote, "lacked the moral courage to resign and speak out publicly to try to stop our country from sliding into what he knew would be an abyss."

GEORGE TENET: Well, I didn't know it was going to be an abyss.

LOUISE KELLY: George Tenet.

TENET: There was never any doubt in my mind that you would win militarily. I didn't know how we would implement the post-war - I didn't have any prescient knowledge about how this is all going to play out. As to his resignation piece, well, you know, when you're a professional and you believe in your government and you believe in your service. I've got a war against al-Qaida I believe deeply in. The way I looked at my job was, I believed that I had an obligation to stay and do the best I could.

LOUISE KELLY: Tenet says, not true. He adds, none of the ex-CIA letter writers actually worked for him, that these are people not speaking from first-hand knowledge of events.

TENET: People who were not within a hundred miles of me, never sat in on meetings, don't know how I think about my country and my responsibility. They can say whatever they want to say. They're making all kinds of assertions. Look, they have a right to their opinion.

LOUISE KELLY: Is it painful to hear this coming from former CIA officers?

TENET: You know, I've heard from a lot of other CIA officers - hundreds of others in these two weeks. They said: Boss, keep your head up. We trusted your leadership, but history will make that judgment.

LOUISE KELLY: As to his and the CIA's overall performance on Iraq, Tenet says it's mixed, that there's no question they blew it in assuming Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. But he argues the agency got it mostly right in predicting how things might play out after the invasion. And Tenet denies his analysts bowed to political pressure.

TENET: If we have told them what they wanted to hear, we could have not said things are really going badly. We could have not pointed out the post-war problems. So the thing that really troubles me is that I hear folks get up and say you just told him what they wanted to hear. It's not our culture. It's not the way I did my job. The record is mixed but there's no doubt that, you know, on issues that some policy makers would have loved us to have been much closer to them, we held our ground.

LOUISE KELLY: George Tenet speaking at our New York bureau earlier today.

BLOCK: That report from NPR's Mary Louise Kelly, who joins us from New York. And, Mary Louise, there have been a few factual inaccuracies in George Tenet's book that have come to light. What did he have to say about those?

LOUISE KELLY: We've raised this with Tenet. He says he does regret the errors, that he may have been off by a detail or two. But that he remembers well the substance of the conversations and he says, look, I did a lot of research for this book, a lot of interviews. This is my attempt to be as honest as possible about events as he sees them.

BLOCK: You asked George Tenet whether these criticisms that have been leveled against him are painful. Does he seem surprised by them?

LOUISE KELLY: The other point I would make is from the reporting I've done these past few days, the CIA officers speaking out against Tenet, I think, are, as he said, they're probably in the minority. He is still amazingly, you know, after everything that happened, remarkably respected at the agency. I think his word will still carry a lot of weight among former and current intelligence officials there.

BLOCK: Okay, Mary Louise, thanks very much.

LOUISE KELLY: You're welcome, Melissa.

BLOCK: That's NPR's Mary Louise Kelly in New York. You can read a profile of George Tenet and follow an interactive timeline of his years as CIA director at npr.org.

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