Who Lied Us Into War?
Ask George Tenet

In Bob Woodward’s 2004 book Plan of Attack, the famed Washington Post journalist details a pre-Iraq war conversation that allegedly took place between President Bush and then-CIA director George Tenet regarding whether or not Saddam Hussein truly possessed weapons of mass destruction.

According to the book’s narrative, a hesitant and skeptical Bush asked Tenet: “George, how confident are you?”

“Don’t worry, it’s a slam-dunk,” Tenet replied.

Fast forward to December 2005. New York Times reporter James Risen’s State of War: The Secret History of the CIA and the Bush Administration details another historic pre-invasion intelligence meeting involving Tenet.

Risen discloses in his book that Tenet was the source who provided Richard Dearlove, chief of British intelligence, the information that ended up in the infamous 2002 Downing Street memos. Those memos recorded Dearlove’s conclusion, communicated to Tony Blair after being personally briefed by Tenet, that “military action [against Iraq] was now seen as inevitable. Bush wanted to remove Saddam, through military action, justified by the conjunction of terrorism and WMD. But the intelligence and the facts were being fixed around the policy.”

Something doesn’t calculate here. If both Woodward and Risen are correct in their information, either Tenet was lying to Bush, or he was lying to Dearlove. After all, Tenet definitively told the former that Saddam had WMD and that the case was a “slam dunk.” But he definitively told the latter that intelligence was being fixed, which implies that Iraq did not have WMD, hence the need to make it appear that it did. So which story was true?

Given that Tenet was “resigned” by Bush after the invasion when no WMD showed up, it appears that Tenet was lying to Bush about Saddam’s supposed arsenal. Under this theory, then, it wasn’t Bush but Tenet and the Cheney/neocon cabal who “wanted to remove Saddam, through military action, justified by the conjunction of terrorism and WMD.” This, in turn, suggests they were the ones who had “fixed” the evidence around the policy – evidence that Tenet then cited to Bush as a “slam dunk” case.

Consider: when a center-left Clinton appointee admits through a back-channel pipeline to the center-left prime minister of our primary ally that the putative joint invasion is going to take place under false pretenses, he is most likely telling the truth. Why would he lie? To sabotage the invasion plans? If that’s what Tenet had wanted, he could have informed President Bush that the WMD case was weak to nonexistent.

The only scenario that makes any sense is that Tenet, who along with Clinton was allied with the British prime minister during the Balkans conflict, was sending a helpful warning to his former comrade in arms: Even though “military action was now seen as inevitable,” the truth was that Saddam did not possess WMD. Thus, Blair needed to get with the program and fine-tune his country’s trumped-up intelligence for his own political protection.

Tenet didn’t want to warn the prime minister directly, of course – that would have been far too risky for both men – so he sent word through Dearlove.

After leaving the CIA, Tenet was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, probably in the vain hope that he would keep his mouth shut about his disingenuous conduct and save the Bush administration tremendous embarrassment and possible scandal. Yet he may have unwittingly provided Americans the best evidence yet that both the U.S. and Britain were lied into war – though not necessarily by President Bush.

How so? The Bush administration categorically stated that Saddam Hussein was a threat because he had weapons of mass destruction and was linked to al-Qaeda – and cited those as the primary reasons for invasion. Accurate intelligence to which Tenet was privy must have indicated that Iraq did not have weapons of mass destruction and was not linked to al-Qaeda.

Remember, through Dearlove, Tenet informed Blair with certitude that the evidence was “fixed.” The need for fixed evidence only arises when real evidence doesn’t suffice, or points toward innocence instead of guilt. And the only way Tenet could have known the evidence was fixed (and would have passed this insider information onto Blair with such confidence) is if he knew who did the fixing.

This, then, suggests that Tenet, Cheney, and the neocons enabled the manufacture of false “intelligence” and “facts” purporting to prove that Saddam did indeed have WMD. They then presented this “evidence” to the gullible Bush and allowed him to lead the country (still raw from 9/11) into war under the “fixed” pretense of “the conjunction of terrorism and WMD.” Risky? You bet, but any group with the hubris to pull such a stunt was either supremely confident that the fix was secure enough to withstand scrutiny, or didn’t care if it did not – and thought the country wouldn’t care either.

Conclusion: Tenet, Cheney, and the neocons used the president to lie America into war with Iraq, and Tenet warned Tony Blair ahead of time that the frame-up and pending invasion were a fait accompli.

While Bush today no doubt knows he was manipulated (whether he admits it to himself or not), given his lack of intellectual curiosity and his lax habits of mind, it’s possible he didn’t realize it until well after the invasion when no WMD were found in Iraq and the media began focusing on the insiders behind the false alarms.

But besides getting rid of Tenet and Pentagon neocons Paul Wolfowitz and Douglas Feith (who, unlike the implicated Cheney and Rumsfeld, were both disposable parties to the deception), what could the president do after the fact? Inform the public that he is a fool who was duped by his own advisers in the run up to war? That’s about as likely as Congress collectively admitting it is a ship of fools that was duped by the administration.

No, unless the citizens of the U.S. and Britain demand accountability, Blair, Bush, and Congress will proceed as if they have done nothing wrong; the neocons will smirk at their own diabolical abilities and smugly plan their next grand deception; and American and British soldiers will continue to die in the Mideast for the sins and lies of a tiny cabal.

Americans must demand that George Tenet be immediately hauled before a jury to explain his deeply suspicious and, by all appearances, illegal conduct.

Author: Steve Breyman

Steve Breyman will teach "War in Afghanistan" at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute fall semester. Breyman is a veteran of the U.S. Army.