Rich Lowry

George Tenet is a man of passion. One of the things he is most passionate about is never seeing unflattering portrayals of himself in the press. Hence he managed to be the second-longest-serving CIA director in history, despite presiding over massive intelligence failures.

Tenet is livid over the frequent quoting of his statement in the Oval Office prior to the war that the case that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction was a "slam-dunk." Absent his saying those words -- or, presumably, them being reported -- Tenet says he might not have written his new book, "At the Center of the Storm." Alas, Tenet felt forced to take a $4 million advance for a book settling scores against his bureaucratic enemies and putting his failures in the best possible light. Poor, poor George.

Tenet doesn't dispute that he said "slam-dunk," although he doesn't remember saying it, displaying the Washington art of never recalling anything inconvenient. He says his remark was taken out of context, the other Washington dodge for anyone quoted saying something he wishes he hadn't.

Tenet maintains that he meant that strengthening the public case that Saddam Hussein had WMD was a slam-dunk, not the intelligence itself. This is a distinction with a difference only to someone trying to slither out of what he said. Actually, Bob Woodward correctly reported the context in his original account, noting that "the meeting was for presenting 'The Case' on WMD as it might be presented to a jury." Also, as Woodward writes, "a public case for war could hardly be a 'slam-dunk' if the CIA director did not believe that the underlying intelligence was also a 'slam-dunk.'"

Nonetheless Tenet told "60 Minutes" that he called a White House official after the Woodward report appeared and complained that the leak was "the most despicable thing I've ever heard in my life." If so, Tenet has lived a sheltered life, because there are many more despicable things to hear in the world than someone quoting George Tenet in an unwelcome way. "There are no private conversations, even in the Oval Office," Tenet complains -- on Page 363 of his insider tell-all Washington memoir.

Tenet should get over it. Being at the center of a major national embarrassment is going to be embarrassing. He quotes an underling for the proposition that his remark "was no more than a passing comment." This doesn't matter. He could have whispered it or used sign language, the comment still reflected the certainty that the intelligence community had about Saddam's WMD.


Rich Lowry

Rich Lowry is author of Legacy: Paying the Price for the Clinton Years .
 
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