Dereliction of Duty

The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence has concluded that the “key assessments” in the National Intelligence Estimate – which was the basis for the “Congressional Joint Resolution to Authorize the Use of United States Armed Forces Against Iraq” – were “not supported by the underlying intelligence.”

Hence, the Committee has essentially accused Director of Central Intelligence (DCI) George Tenet with “misleading Congress.”

But the Committee has implicitly accused Tenet of committing a far more serious crime – dereliction of duty.

You see, it’s the DCI’s duty to keep the president and Congress fully informed about threats to our National Security. And as the Committee documents on page after page, Tenet made no attempt to correct that October 2002 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) – despite rapidly accumulating evidence that it was fatally flawed – in the months immediately preceding Gulf War II.

Congresspersons say that if they had known then – meaning in October 2002 – what they now know, they would never have voted for the resolution.

But, the critical thing is not what Congress knew when it voted for the resolution. It’s what Congress knew – or ought to have known – when it was called upon to accept or reject Bush’s Determination of March 18, 2003, that Saddam Hussein posed an immediate threat to our national security and had to be eliminated that very day.

As the Select Committee notes [pdf], there is some excuse for some assessments in that NIE being wrong. After all, until 1999, their assessments had been – necessarily – largely based upon reports by the UN inspectors on the ground in Iraq. But in December 1998, the UN inspectors had been recalled and as of October 2002, had not returned.

But even back then, DCI Tenet had allowed President Clinton to publicly question the accuracy of the UN reports on which U.S. assessments were based.

By mid-1998, the UN Special Commission had verified that the “intelligence” provided UNSCOM, IAEA, CIA and MI6 in 1995 by Iraqi defector – General Hussein Kamel – was correct. Kamel had been in charge of all Iraqi WMD programs, and his orders – in the immediate aftermath of the Gulf War – that all WMD programs be discontinued and all WMD and associated materials be destroyed, had been obeyed.

Of course, you soccer moms knew nothing of Kamel’s “intelligence” until the eve of Gulf War II. But Tenet had known all along and it was his duty to have kept the president and the Select Committee fully informed.

By mid-1998, on the basis of UNSCOM and IAEA reports, the majority on the UN Security Council judged Iraq to have complied with the disarmament resolutions and wanted to lift the sanctions imposed in 1991. But Clinton would never allow sanctions to be lifted so long as Saddam Hussein was in power.

So, in December 1998 – to the horror of most members of the Security Council –Clinton launched a pre-emptive strike against Saddam’s presidential palaces. His rationale? Tenet’s assessment that WMD must be beneath them, since the UN inspectors had not been allowed to search there.

Of course, they weren’t there or anywhere else. But for a while – thanks to Tenet – Clinton thought he had killed Saddam – which was, of course, his true objective.

Now, fast forward to Dec. 21, 2002, to a meeting in President Bush’s office wherein DCI Tenet was to present the WMD “case” against Saddam.

By then the UN chembio inspectors under Hans Blix and the nuke inspectors under Mohammed ElBaradei had been on the ground in Iraq for almost a month, had checked out virtually every site at the top of the CIA-supplied WMD-suspect list, and had already made their first report to the Security Council on what they had found.

Nothing.

So after Tenet’s “case” – which hardly depended on the by-now discredited October NIE – was made for immediately attacking Iraq and removing Saddam Hussein, it is hardly surprising that President Bush reportedly asked Tenet “Is this the best we’ve got?”

That’s when Tenet told Bush not to worry; it was a “slam-dunk case”.

As the Select Committee notes, Blix and ElBaradei continued to make report after report, right up to the eve of Gulf War II, casting doubt on – or outright refuting – virtually every assessment in the October NIE.

So did DCI Tenet do his duty?

Did he rush up to Capitol Hill, to retract the thoroughly discredited October NIE, assessment by assessment? Did he set Congress straight?

No.

Result of Tenet’s dereliction of duty?

Gulf War II.

Read more by Gordon Prather

Author: Gordon Prather

Physicist James Gordon Prather has served as a policy implementing official for national security-related technical matters in the Federal Energy Agency, the Energy Research and Development Administration, the Department of Energy, the Office of the Secretary of Defense and the Department of the Army. Dr. Prather also served as legislative assistant for national security affairs to U.S. Sen. Henry Bellmon, R-Okla. — ranking member of the Senate Budget Committee and member of the Senate Energy Committee and Appropriations Committee. Dr. Prather had earlier worked as a nuclear weapons physicist at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California and Sandia National Laboratory in New Mexico.