WASHINGTON - When CIA Director George Tenet uttered the now-infamous phrase "slam dunk" at a 2002 White House meeting, he says he was referring broadly to the case that could be made against Saddam Hussein - not his alleged weapons of mass destruction.
"We can put a better case together for a public case - that's what I meant," Tenet said, explaining his remark for the first time in an interview to air Sunday on CBS' "60 Minutes." The phrase "slam dunk" was associated with Tenet after it was leaked by a senior administration official to author and journalist Bob Woodward. According to Woodward's book "Plan of Attack," Bush turned to Tenet during the meeting and asked if the information he had just presented on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction was the best Tenet had.
"It's a slam dunk case," Tenet replied, according to Woodward.
Bush administration officials used Tenet's "slam dunk" line to show that U.S. spy agencies had intelligence to support the main facet of the administration's argument for invading - that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction.
In the "60 Minutes" interview, Tenet said the administration misrepresented his comment and used it to shift blame as the debate heated up about the legitimacy of the Iraq invasion. Tenet, who served as CIA chief from 1997 to 2004, called the leak to Woodward "the most despicable thing that ever happened" to him.
Tenet said the hardest part has been listening to Vice President Dick Cheney and others repeat the phrase. "I became campaign talk. I was a talking point. 'Look at the idiot [who] told us and we decided to go to war.' Well, let's not be so disingenuous," he said. *