Former CIA Director George Tenet seems to be talking a lot these days, an unusual posture for the usually tight-lipped intelligence officer. If he has a reputation for anything, it is his refusal to share information.
But he's not doing much to change that rep. You'd think a $4 million book advance would have loosened him up a little. But, although his lips are moving, he ain't talking.
Tenet is making the rounds, pushing his book, At the Center of the Storm: My Years at the CIA. He has (theoretically, anyway) a story to tell, and, brother, does he avoid telling it, writing with a practiced reluctance, creating a thicket of noncommunication.
When, a few nights ago, CNN's Larry King asked him directly about several subjects, including the use of torture, Tenet repeatedly responded with words like these: "We don't torture people." When King attempted to ask about CIA techniques used against enemies of America, Tenet interrupted with: "I don't talk about techniques, and we don't torture people."
The question I would have asked was: "Why, then, are you on nationwide television?"
Tenet appeared loquacious on King's show, as he had on 60 Minutes on Sunday, as well as other programs. He allowed questions, at least, even if he refused to answer many. Neither his book nor his TV interviews have offered much that's new - and what he is willing to share appears to contradict the few ideas he expressed before publication of his book.
Many feel that Tenet, like former Secretary of State Colin Powell, lost his public voice while he worked for the Bush administration. But his book has plenty of words, lavish praise for his erstwhile subordinates at the CIA. He defends President Bush at every turn but is less charitable toward Vice President Cheney. And he defends himself in his book from charges that he refused to speak out early enough as the White House pushed to invade Iraq, a decision that has cost thousands of American and Iraqi lives in a war that has gone on for more than four years.
When Powell addressed the United Nations and offered intelligence about WMD in Iraq, Tenet sat silently behind Powell, uttering not a word about the misinformation that a misinformed Powell used to brief the world.
At that time Powell probably possessed more credibility than any other member of the administration. He put it all on the line and - along with Tenet - gave tacit support to the bad intel that led America, Congress and U.S. allies to conclusions that might not have survived had the truth been told.
In a letter released Saturday, a group of former CIA and other intelligence officials called on Tenet to return his presidential Medal of Freedom because he failed to speak out in 2002 and 2003, as the administration made its case for war on distorted intelligence reports.
"We also call for you to dedicate a significant percentage of the royalties from your book to the U.S. soldiers and their families who have been killed or wounded in Iraq," the officials wrote. "By your silence, you helped build the case for war."
Another source of criticism came from former CIA analyst Michael Scheuer, who led the agency's hunt for al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden. In an opinion piece in the Washington Post, Scheuer wrote: "The former director of central intelligence is out to absolve himself of the failings of 9/11 and Iraq. We shouldn't buy his attempts to let himself off the hook."
In February 2003, Tenet told the Senate that Saddam Hussein was harboring a close associate of bin Laden's, and Tenet approved a 2002 intelligence report that said Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction. As all the world knows, no such weapons have surfaced. And Tenet now says, forcibly, that there was no connection between Iraq and al-Qaeda.
All this makes me want to ask: Will the real George Tenet please stand up?