President George W. Bush used
to complain that being president was "hard work," but he has gotten over that.
Now he says it "has been a fabulous experience."
Why fabulous? Well, a good part of it has to do with
When Bush screwed up royally whether in his
personal or business affairs he had to suffer the humiliation of asking
his father or his father's friends (sometimes Arab friends) to bail him
But now? Wow! As president, young George has found
he can escape accountability altogether.
Now when he screws up royally, he need not call Dad;
George W. Bush is himself in control of all the levers he needs to pull in order
to bail himself out. Is this a great country or what?
An invertebrate Congress has been a big help. But
his greatest asset limiting his liability has been the kind of folk he has gotten
to work for him. The kind like Vice President Dick Cheney's former chief of
staff, Scooter Libby, whom he has no problem asking to lie for him, when required.
For Bush's powers are formidable as
he showed when Libby, convicted perjurer and obstructer of justice, was about
to go off to prison. The president commuted Libby's sentence, sending
a message to others who might be called on to lie for him to hang tough and
count on commutation or pardon.
A president's unlimited power to pardon serves
as the ultimate trump card to keep friends and associates out of jail.
Even so, one key aide, former CIA Director and Medal
of Freedom winner, George Tenet, can be forgiven for being somewhat apprehensive
these days. For he has lied under oath regarding what Bush knew about the 9/11
attacks and how early Bush knew it.
Concealing pre-9/11 warnings that Bush received might
have seemed like the smart play during the president's first term when
his popularity was high and few in Washington dared to stand up to him.
However, if the American voters choose to send vertebrates
to the next Congress or if the Justice Department starts taking seriously
its duty to require honest testimony from senior government officials
Tenet may be looking at some jail time.
With the possibility of large changes in the political
landscape early next year, all bets might be off.
As for Tenet's potential legal jeopardy, let's
leave aside for now the obviously heinous like running George W. Bush's
global Gestapo complete with secret prisons and torture chambers, a criminal
enterprise that Tenet carved out of the operations directorate of the CIA.
Let's pick a case of simpler, more familiar
white-collar crimes Libby-style perjury and obstruction of justice.
Credit to Rep. Dennis Kucinich, whose 35 Articles
of Impeachment against Bush specifically Articles 33 and 34
relating to the catastrophe of 9/11 have freshened memories, stirred
additional research and demonstrate why Tenet may be looking at some prison
Article 33 charges that the president "REPEATEDLY
IGNORED AND FAILED TO RESPOND TO HIGH-LEVEL INTELLIGENCE WARNINGS OF PLANNED
TERRORIST ATTACKS IN THE US, PRIOR TO 9/11."
The text contains a devastating run-down of the many
times President Bush was warned that an attack was coming and did nothing.
George Tenet did sound the alarm often and loudly.
But as a retroactive glance at August 2001 shows, the president, literally,
could not be bothered.
Tenet's own performance was hardly blameless.
The 9/11 Commission found numerous screw-ups within the CIA, and Tenet's
discharge of his statutory duty to coordinate the work of the entire intelligence
community was abysmal.
It was his responsibility to ensure that the FBI,
CIA and other intelligence agencies were sharing information freely on this
priority issue. Sadly, Tenet preferred backslapping to holding the intelligence
community to professional standards of work and conduct.
Article 33 of Impeachment shows that President Bush's
inaction in the face of myriad warnings prior to 9/11 constitutes utter failure
with respect to his Constitutional duties to take proper steps to protect the
Those who remember Watergate and other misadventures
will be aware, too, that the cover-up of wrongdoing constitutes an additional
and often more provable crime, especially when it involves perjury
and obstruction of justice.
That's where George Tenet comes in. Until now,
Bush has managed to escape blame for his outrageous inactivity before 9/11 because
his subordinates first and foremost, Tenet have covered up for
This is what is dealt with in Article 34 of Impeachment:
OBSTRUCTION OF INVESTIGATION INTO THE ATTACKS OF SEPTEMBER 11, 2001.
A Faustian Bargain
What did the president know, and when did he know
This double question, with Watergate antecedents,
is the one that Bush and Cheney had to guard most carefully against.
By all appearances, they had little trouble enlisting
a malleable-cum-guilty-conscience George Tenet in this effort at denial and
obfuscation. And this helps to explain some of the more bizarre episodes of
Faustian bargain? Call it mutual blackmail, if you
prefer the vernacular.
Yes, Tenet gave the president enough warning to warrant,
to compel some sort of action on his part. But Tenet's lackadaisical management
of the CIA and intelligence community was at least as important a factor in
the success of the attacks of 9/11.
The raison d'etre of the CIA had been to prevent
another Pearl Harbor. Yet, 9/11 took more lives than the Japanese attack in
As before Pearl Harbor, significant pieces of intelligence
lay around but analysts failed to put them all together.
It was long since clear to many in Washington that,
had George Tenet stayed home long enough to tend to his knitting his
management responsibilities instead of eternally hobnobbing abroad with
kings and other potentates, 9/11 might well have been avoided, even with an
Of course, Tenet should have been fired after 9/11.
But President Bush needed Tenet, or at least Tenet's silence, as much
as Tenet needed Bush, or at least Bush's forgiveness.
What developed might be described as a case of mutual
blackmail disguised as bonhomie. Bush was keenly aware that Tenet had the wherewithal
to let the world know how many warnings he had given the president reducing
Bush to a criminally negligent, blundering fool.
Were that to happen, Bush would have to kiss goodbye
the role of cheerleader/war president and so much else. Thus, Tenet
had become critical to Bush's political survival.
And Tenet? All he needed was not to be blamed
not to be fired. The bargain: I, George Bush, will keep you on and even praise
your performance; you, George Tenet, will keep your mouth shut about all the
warnings you gave me during the spring and summer of 2001. Tenet, it seems clear,
The bargain was no secret to insiders. Former House
speaker Newt Gingrich, still very much of the Washington scene, commented publicly
that Tenet was so grateful that the president let him stay on as CIA director,
that he would do anything for him.
Events proved Gingrich right. And there was even
a Medal of Freedom in it for Tenet but, alas, eventual criminal liability
Anatomy of a Deal
On Sept. 26, 2001, the president motored out to CIA
headquarters, puts his arm around Tenet and told the cameras, "We've
got the best intelligence we can possibly have thanks to the men and women of
Then-Secretary of State Colin Powell, as was so often
the case, had not been clued in.
On Sept. 23, Powell had promised a "White Paper"
that would make a "persuasive case" that Osama bin Laden was responsible
for the 9/11 attacks. His announcement met immediate resistance from the White
House, however, and, less than two weeks later, Powell actually apologized for
his "unfortunate choice of words."
There would be no White Paper, he said; rather, the
American people would have to rely on "information coming out in the press
and other ways."
It became gradually clear why Powell reneged. The
evidence against bin Laden could not be disclosed because there was simply too
much of it available for the reading well before 9/11.
To reveal this would bring extreme political embarrassment
and vitiate the Faustian bargain with Tenet.
Small wonder that the White House preferred a whitewash
to a White Paper.
And this has been a constant since the fall of 2001.
Administration obstructionism and intransigence has succeeded in hindering all
subsequent investigations into what Bush and Cheney had been told prior to 9/11.
Until now, at least.
Perjury, Obstruction of Justice
In his sworn testimony of April 14, 2004, before
the 9/11 Commission, Tenet outdid himself trying to honor his bargain with Bush.
The commissioners were interested in what the president had been told during
the critical month of August 2001.
Answering a question from Commissioner Timothy Roemer,
Tenet referred to the president's long vacation (July 29-Aug. 30) in Crawford
and insisted that he did not see the president at all in August.
"You never talked with him?" Roemer asked.
"No," Tenet replied, explaining that
for much of August he, too, was "on leave."
That same evening, a CIA spokesman called reporters
to say that Tenet had misspoken, and that he had briefed Bush on Aug. 17 and
31, 2001. The spokesman played down the Aug. 17 briefing as uneventful and indicated
that the second briefing took place after Bush had returned to Washington.
Funny how Tenet could have forgotten his first visit
to Crawford, whereas in his memoir, At the Center of the Storm, Tenet
waxed eloquent about the "president graciously driving me around the spread
in his pickup and me trying to make small talk about the flora and the fauna."
But the visit was not limited to small talk.
In his book Tenet writes: "A few weeks after
the August 6 PDB was delivered, I followed it to Crawford to make sure the president
stayed current on events."
The Aug. 6, 2001 President's Daily Brief contained
the article "Bin Laden Determined to Strike in the US." According
to Ron Suskind's The One-Percent Doctrine, the president reacted
by telling the CIA briefer, "All right, you've covered your ass
Clearly, Tenet needed to follow up on that.
Was Tenet again in Crawford just one week later?
According to a White House press release, President Bush on Aug. 25 told visitors
to Crawford, "George Tenet and I" drove up the canyon "yesterday."
Flora and Fawner?
If, as Tenet says in his memoir, it was the Aug.
6, 2001, PDB that prompted his visit on Aug. 17, what might have brought him
back on Aug. 24?
I believe the answer is to be found in court documents
released at the trial of Zacarias Moussaoui, the fledgling pilot in Minnesota
interested in learning to steer a plane but indifferent as to how to land it.
Those documents show that on Aug. 23, 2001, Tenet
was given an alarming briefing, focusing on Moussaoui, titled "Islamic
Extremist Learns to Fly." Tenet was told that Moussaoui was training to
fly a 747 and, among other suspicion-arousing data, had paid for the training
The FBI arrested him on Aug. 16 on grounds he had
overstayed his 90-day visa and the CIA was working on the case with the FBI.
This might well have been what led Tenet to go back to Crawford on the 24th.
There is no indication that the president or Tenet
ever followed up with senior FBI officials. Then-Acting FBI Director Thomas
Pickard has testified that he did not learn of it until the afternoon of Sept.
Things proceeded more quickly at the working level,
at least for this discrete part of the problem. Tenet's analysts had learned
about Moussaoui in a back-door message from the FBI Field Office in Minneapolis
enlisting CIA's help in obtaining information on Moussaoui from French
The Minneapolis case agent had already telephoned
the FBI legal attaché office in Paris, which contacted the French government
on Aug. 16 or 17.
With unusual speed, on Aug. 22 and 27, the French
provided information that made a connection between Moussaoui and a rebel leader
in Chechnya, Ibn al Khattab, and indicated that Khattab had a connection with
Osama bin Laden.
Court documents from the Moussaoui case also show
that on Aug. 30, 2001, CIA analysts were able to confirm to Tenet that Moussaoui
had ties with radical fundamentalist groups and Osama bin Laden. This would
have been good grist for Tenet's briefing of the president on Aug. 31
Nevertheless, in Tenet's sworn testimony before
the 9/11 Commission on April 14, 2004, he said he had not mentioned Moussaoui
to the president during August 2001. Tenet further testified that he did not
report on Moussaoui at the cabinet-level meeting convened on Sept. 4 to discuss
On May 6, 2007, when Tim Russert asked Tenet what
the president knew and when he knew it, Tenet replied that "everything
went silent" in August 2001.
Russert asked Tenet why he did not go directly to
the president in July 2001 after he had warned then-national security adviser
Condoleezza Rice of the possibility of "spectacular, multiple, simultaneous
attacks against US targets with little or no warning" and gotten the brush-off.
Tenet replied lamely "the president is not
the action officer."
Tenet not only was, by statute, the president's
principal foreign intelligence adviser but by all accounts enjoyed
a backslapping rapport with him. Tenet also briefed the president six mornings
It strains credulity to suggest that Tenet was afraid
to go directly to George Bush for fear of appearing to be making some sort of
end-run around his national security adviser on a terrorist threat about which
Tenet's hair was said to be "on fire?"
Tenet at Breakfast on 9/11
No one wants to believe that the attacks of Sept.
11, 2001, could have been prevented, but we do a disservice to our country,
and to one another, if we stay in denial.
No one wants to believe that President Bush had considerably
more forewarning than he acknowledges, but it is very clear that he did. It
is equally clear that George Tenet has been a prime mover in hiding the amount
of intelligence available to Bush to act on.
Reviewing the evidence on May 26, 2002, Michael Getler,
then-ombudsman for the Washington Post, alluded to one very telling
sign leaping out of a conversation between George Tenet and former Sen. David
Boren over breakfast on 9/11.
When an aide rushed up to tell Tenet of the attacks,
Tenet's immediate reaction was "This has bin Laden all over it...I
wonder if it has anything to do with this guy taking pilot training."
Getler notes for his readers that the reference is
to Zacarias Moussaoui.
A few months after 9/11, the Wall Street Journal
reported that the FBI did not tell the White House about Moussaoui until after
Sept. 11. That may be true, particularly if, as noted above, then-Acting Director
Thomas Pickard did not learn about Moussaoui until 9/11.
But the evidence is very strong that Tenet told Bush
chapter and verse.
The extraordinary lengths to which Tenet has gone
to disguise that has the former CIA director skating very close to perjury
if not over the line.
Plus, if Tenet is held accountable after Bush leaves
town to go back to Texas for good, there may be no one in the White House willing
to pardon him.