You could see what was in the works for CIA Director George Tenet by the way Bush administration officials promoted Bob Woodward's Plan of Attack. Woodward, playing the role of court historian, portrays President Bush as dissatisfied after a briefing by Tenet and his deputy on weapons of mass destruction in late 2002.
''This is the best we've got?'' asks Bush.
Tenet reportedly assured Bush that it was ''a slam-dunk case'' that Iraq had such weapons, and National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice, who was present, has confirmed Woodward's account. This provides useful yarn for White House spinners attributing the debacle in Iraq to faulty intelligence and absolving Bush. The slam-dunker is left hanging on the rim of the basket twisting in the wind, so to speak, until he falls of his own weight.
You would not know from Woodward's book that the Oct. 1, 2002, National Intelligence Estimate on Iraqi WMD -- used with Congress to hype the threat -- was written several months after the administration decided to make war on Iraq.
That decision had little to do with such weapons. It had very much to do with the imperative seen by Bush's neoconservative advisors to use military force to gain dominant influence over oil-rich Iraq and to eliminate any possible threat to Israel's security.
Secretary of State Colin Powell has admitted that the target audience for the hyped-up NIE was Congress. That estimate and its various drafts formed the centerpiece of the successful campaign to persuade our elected representatives to relinquish to the executive the war-making power vested solely in them by the framers of the Constitution.
Always eager to please, Tenet put the intelligence community to work in support of his masters' effort to play fast and loose with the Constitution. Virtually all of the NIE's conclusions have since been proven wrong. But no matter; it achieved its primary purpose.
Sadly, this is what happens when a CIA director lets himself become ''part of the team'' in the way that the president's political advisors are part of the team. Such behavior is antithetical to the director's statutory duty to tell the emperor when he is wearing no clothes. In an unguarded moment a few months ago, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich -- like Vice President Dick Cheney a frequent visitor to CIA headquarters -- told the press, ``George Tenet is so grateful to the president (presumably for not firing him on Sept. 12, 2001) that he will do anything for him.''
''Anything'' now includes taking the fall for the policy and human disaster of Iraq. As things there go from worse to worse, even some Republican leaders are saying that those responsible must be held to account.
Tenet is the first sacrificial lamb because -- team player that he is -- he can be counted upon to set a good example by taking his ''superb'' performance appraisal and leaving quietly -- burning no bridges. And when in the coming weeks the Senate Intelligence Committee and the 9/11 Commission issue reports strongly critical of the performance of U.S. intelligence, administration spokespersons will stop the buck at Tenet's desk, saying, ``Yes, it was a bad show, but now he's gone.''
This will blow convenient smoke over the actual reasons for the war and protect its neoconservative authors.
For Tenet, though, it renders a certain poetic justice, because the unforgivable sin in intelligence analysis is telling policymakers what you think they want to hear -- in the case of Iraq, justifying with cooked ''intelligence'' what they have already decided to do.
Sycophancy has no place in intelligence work -- and especially not on issues of war and peace.
Ray McGovern was a CIA analyst for 27 years and is the author of A Compromised CIA: What Can Be Done?, which will be published next month.
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