'Good morning, I'm George Tenet and I'm the head of the Central Intelligence Agency ..."
And Breslin is listening to voices in this Senate hearing room, and I pick out a Queens voice, which is where Tenet is from, and this is what I heard:
"The Central Intelligence Agency is the central place for the whole intelligence community, and that is not a place where everybody lives and has the same lawns, it is a community of people who are on the payroll of intelligence agencies, of which there is nothing better because it is a top government job, with benefits and cars and good big vacations.
"Listen to what Jamie Gorelick says about me yesterday at the big hearings in Washington.
"'People in two administrations call him George because they like him so much.'
"That's right. They like me and I like my job. Two administrations? Watch my smoke. I'm going for four.
"How can you blame me for not knowing they were going to blow up the World Trade Center in Manhattan? Some people call this a failure of intelligence. Maybe somebody loses in the attack would say that. I do not. I say that I have done a wonderful job and I should stay at it. The two presidents I worked for could have done a better job. I worked hard. Maybe I didn't know bin Laden had 19 people ready to commit suicide and fly into the Trade Center. That doesn't mean I wasn't doing my job as head of the Central Intelligence Agency.
"All of us at the hearings for the last two days down here told you how good they were. You didn't hear Colin Powell call me a name and I didn't call him one, either. He said he had done a good job. William Cohen also said he was good. Not one bad word to say about Madeleine Albright and she told us how wonderful she was. Don Rumsfeld acted like he was great.
"Rumsfeld is America's Department of Defense who didn't defend us. He said he had done a darn good job.
"The reason we all liked each other at these hearings was that we all have jobs down here. These hearings may be serious to the press and the people, but you can't make anybody lose a job. That is the most important thing in Washington, D.C. Nobody should lose a job.
"No plumber ever fought for a job as hard as Donald Rumsfeld does for his. Look at his record. Good Lord, he goes way, way back to working for Nixon and Ford, and do you know how long ago that was? Rumsfeld was with the first Bush and now he is with this Bush and if you have a third, he'll be there early.
"If you put a time clock in an office to humiliate people and maybe make them quit Washington, D.C., that ka-chunk you hear every morning is Don Rumsfeld clocking in."
Lovely. We get bombed in New York and there are thousands dead and mangled and we have a wedding Mass the Saturday after the attack and there is a groom at the Mass but no bride because she is in the sky. And not one of these people in Washington, D.C., these colossal failures, as much as loses a job.
Then yesterday in the hearing room was Richard Clarke. He was the counterterrorism chief for Clinton and Bush. He already is out of a job, but he has a big book out now so he is not hurting.
But he did one thing that nobody on a government intelligence payroll ever did: He started his testimony by saying he was wrong. He addressed the families of the victims who got killed in the trade center, a few of them sitting behind him. He said he was glad to have this forum so "I can apologize. ... Your government failed you. ... And I failed you. We tried hard, but that doesn't matter, because we failed."
He had committed a felony in Washington government. How can you admit you're wrong? How do you say that to the public? I'm wrong? What are you, crazy? The public is wrong, not the government. To be fair about this, because jobs could be at stake here, Tenet and Rumsfeld and everybody else were baffled at the beginning of the Bush administration because Bush didn't go to work very often. When Bush did come back from his vacations, he didn't make terrorism the main thing on his mind. "For the first eight months, terrorism was important, but not an urgent issue," Clarke said yesterday.
Now Clarke says that in January 2001 he sent Condi Rice, Bush's new national security adviser, a note urgently asking for a big committee meeting about Osama bin Laden. Her answer was that Clarke's terrorist group should report to a deputy commissioner, not the principal, Rice. She said, "'You should not request a meeting with principals,'" Clarke said yesterday. He said this sidetracked any talk about Osama bin Laden for months.
Over in the White House, Ms. Condi Rice watched him on television. They don't let her out to be asked questions by a committee. She let out some shriek. Of course that is what they're all doing about Clarke right now because, some people on the 9/11 committee were saying after lunch yesterday, he was hurting them, and with good reason: Clarke was right and they were wrong. Yesterday, Ms. Rice had a press conference in the White House and she called Clarke scurrilous and wrong and 55 other bad things.
At day's end, there was only Lee Hamilton, a former congressman and a constant professional, asking, "Why couldn't we protect people? They didn't protest, and we lost a lot of people."
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