Tenet: Bush administration twisted 'slam dunk' quote


By Richard Willing, USA TODAY
Former CIA director George Tenet says in an interview to be aired Sunday that the Bush administration made him the scapegoat for the Iraq invasion by twisting his words to make it seem he was certain Iraq had weapons of mass destruction (WMD).

Tenet says in a 60 Minutes interview that after no weapons were found, the administration planted stories that the United States invaded Iraq based on the erroneous intelligence Tenet provided.

President Bush and other officials seemingly had decided to invade Iraq by late December 2002, when Tenet briefed them on Iraq's chemical, nuclear and biological weapons, Tenet tells Scott Pelley in the TV interview.

Then, after U.S. forces failed to find Iraq's WMD stockpiles, administration sources told author Bob Woodward that Tenet had assured them on the eve of the war that finding such weapons would be a "slam dunk."

Tenet says he believed Iraq had WMDs but never considered the intelligence to be a "slam dunk." Tenet says he used that description to show how easy it would be to build a public case for war, given that Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein had used chemical weapons and had performed nuclear-weapons research in the past.

"And the hardest part of all this has been just listening to this for almost three years, listening to the vice president go on Meet the Press on the fifth year (anniversary) of 9/11 and say, 'Well, George Tenet said slam dunk,' " Tenet says. "As if he needed me to say 'slam dunk' to go to war with Iraq."

"They never let it go," says Tenet, who resigned in 2004 and teaches at Georgetown University. He gave the 60 Minutes interview in advance of the Monday release of his memoirs.

"I was a talking point — 'Look at the idiot (who) told us to go to war.' Well, let's not be so disingenuous," Tenet says.

CBS released parts of the interview Thursday.

Gordon Johndroe, spokesman for the National Security Council, said Bush decided to invade Iraq "for a number of reasons," including a national intelligence estimate that concluded Iraq had a WMD program and because of "Saddam's own actions."

In his 2004 book, Plan of Attack, Woodward wrote that Tenet made the "slam-dunk" comment while briefing Bush and Cheney in December 2002, three months before the invasion of Iraq began.

A fourth person at the meeting, then-CIA deputy director John McLaughlin, did not return a call.

During the interview, Tenet also defended the CIA's "high-value detainee" program, under which targets in the war on terrorism are interrogated at secret locations. At times, officials used what the CIA terms "enhanced interrogation techniques."

Tenet says the program has "saved lives" and has yielded more valuable intelligence than that gathered by the CIA, FBI and National Security Agency.