Tenet’s dereliction of duty

By Gordon Prather

The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence has concluded that the “key assessments” in the National Intelligence Estimate – which was the basis for the Congressional Joint Resolution to Authorize the Use of United States Armed Forces Against Iraq – were “not supported by the underlying intelligence.”

Hence, the committee has essentially accused Director of Central Intelligence George Tenet with “misleading Congress.”

But the committee has implicitly accused Tenet of committing a far more serious crime – dereliction of duty.

You see, it’s the DCI’s duty to keep the president and Congress fully informed about threats to our national security. And as the committee documents on page after page, Tenet made no attempt to correct that October 2002 NIE – despite rapidly accumulating evidence that it was fatally flawed – in the months immediately preceding Gulf War II.

Members of Congress say that if they had known then – meaning in October 2002 – what they now know, they would never have voted for the resolution.

But, the critical thing is not what Congress knew when it voted for the resolution. It’s what Congress knew – or ought to have known – when it was called upon to accept or reject Bush’s Determination of March 18, 2003, that Saddam Hussien posed an immediate threat to our national security and had to be eliminated that very day.

As the select committee notes, there is some excuse for some assessments in that NIE being wrong. After all, until 1999, their assessments had been – necessarily – largely based upon reports by the U.N. inspectors on the ground in Iraq. But in December 1998, the U.N. inspectors had been recalled and as of October 2002, had not returned.

But even back then, DCI Tenet had allowed President Clinton to publicly question the accuracy of the U.N. reports on which U.S. assessments were based.

By mid-1998, the U.N. Special Commission had verified that the “intelligence” provided UNSCOM, IAEA, CIA and MI6 in 1995 by Iraqi defector Gen. Hussein Kamel was correct. Kamel had been in charge of all Iraqi WMD programs, and his orders – in the immediate aftermath of the Gulf War – that all WMD programs be discontinued and all WMD and associated materials be destroyed, had been obeyed.

Of course, you soccer moms knew nothing of Kamel’s “intelligence” until the eve of Gulf War II. But Tenet had known all along and it was his duty to have kept the president and the select committee fully informed.

By mid-1998, on the basis of UNSCOM and IAEA reports, the majority on the U.N. Security Council judged Iraq to have complied with the disarmament resolutions and wanted to lift the sanctions imposed in 1991. But Clinton wouldn’t allow it. He would never allow sanctions to be lifted so long as Saddam Hussein was in power.

So, in December 1998 – to the horror of most members of the Security Council –Clinton launched a pre-emptive strike against Saddam’s presidential palaces. His rationale? Tenet’s assessment that WMD must be beneath them, since the U.N. inspectors had not been allowed to search there.

Of course, they weren’t there or anywhere else. But for a while – thanks to Tenet – Clinton thought he had killed Saddam – which was, of course, his true objective.

Now, fast forward to Dec. 21, 2002, to a meeting in President Bush’s office wherein DCI Tenet was to present the WMD “case” against Saddam.

By then, the U.N. chembio inspectors under Hans Blix and the nuke inspectors under Mohamed ElBaradei had been on the ground in Iraq for almost a month, had checked out virtually every site at the top of the CIA-supplied WMD-suspect list, and had already made their first report to the Security Council on what they had found.

Nothing.

So after Tenet’s “case” – which hardly depended on the by-now discredited October NIE – was made for immediately attacking Iraq and removing Saddam Hussein, it is hardly surprising that President Bush reportedly asked Tenet “Is this the best we’ve got?”

That’s when Tenet told Bush not to worry; it was a “slam-dunk case.”

As the select committee notes, Blix and ElBaradei continued to make report after report, right up to the eve of Gulf War II, casting doubt on – or outright refuting – virtually every assessment in the October NIE.

So did DCI Tenet do his duty?

Did he rush up to Capitol Hill to retract the thoroughly discredited October NIE, assessment by assessment? Did he set Congress straight?

No.

Result of Tenet’s dereliction of duty?

Gulf War II.