Wednesday, May 2, 2007

George Tenet Slammed and Dunked

Moment of Truth
Just More Sellout?
Let's tell, let's everybody tell the truth," said our country's former Director of Central Intelligence during his interview on Sunday night's 60 Minutes. But George Tenet is over 5 1/2 years late and still seems to suffer from a terrible case of selective memory that even a $4 million book contract can't remedy.

The bulk of the job of refuting and correcting Tenet's story will have to come from former CIA and other intelligence insiders who knew him and the whole of his situation better. (See "An Open Letter to George Tenet and Michael Scheuer's op-ed "Tenet Tries to Shift Blame. Don't Buy It.") I also have a little first-hand experience that contradicts what Tenet has pulled out to explain the post 9/11 need to torture.

In the interview, 60 Minutes reporter Scott Pelley, to his credit, asked Tenet over and over about his authorizing torture. The CIA's so-called "enhanced interrogation techniques" that Tenet signed off on are said to include sleep deprivation, extreme cold and water boarding which causes a severe gag reflex, as water is continuously poured over the face. Tenet admitted losing sleep over his role in authorizing such "new territory" but refused to call it torture saying he didn't want to "engage in a semantic debate" with Pelley. (You know, trying to figure out what the meaning of the word "is" is or whether water boarding is torture, those type of semantic debates.) Anyway in the midst of their semantic debate, Tenet launched into an explanation of the "tension" he was under:

The context is it's post-9/11. I've got reports of nuclear weapons in New York City, apartment buildings that are gonna be blown up, planes that are gonna fly into airports all over again. Plot lines that I don't know - I don't know what's going on inside the United States. And I'm struggling to find out where the next disaster is going to occur. Everybody forgets one central context of what we lived through. The palpable fear that we felt on the basis of the fact that there was so much we did not know . . . 'Cause these are people that will never, ever, ever tell you a thing. These are people who know who's responsible for the next terrorist attack. These are hardened people that would kill you and me 30 seconds after they got out of wherever they were being held and wouldn't blink an eyelash. . . . You can sit there after, you can sit there five years later, and have this debate with me, all I'm asking you to do, walk a mile in my shoes when I'm dealing with these realities.
One little problem,
Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the person Tenet is discussing and who reportedly was water boarded, was not arrested until March 1, 2003, eighteen months after 9/11. His arrest and torture was post 9/11 like it will always be post 9/11. The actual context was that by March 2003, the bulk of our troops had already been diverted away from the war against Al Qaeda and the hunt for Osama Bin Laden in Afghanistan. Our troops were already poised on Iraq's borders, awaiting Bush's order to commence the invasion of a country which didn't even have ties to Al Qaeda terrorism. That's the context of the actual "tension" under which Tenet signed off on torturing Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and others. When former Attorney General Ashcroft was questioned about the "post 9-11 round-up" of innocents in New York City--after the Department of Justice's Inspector General found that hundreds of innocent people had been improperly detained for 6 to 9 months--AG Ashcroft similarly refused to apologize "for protecting the American people." But at least AG Ashcroft's explanation fit better timing-wise with the confusion and fear that existed in the immediate aftermath of 9/11 than the context Tenet said existed 18 months afterward.

It must also be remembered that we already had one actual 9/11 terrorist suspect, Zacarias Moussaoui, in custody over three weeks before 9/11. And George Tenet was briefed on the facts of the investigation surrounding his detention in August 2001 with a powerpoint entitled something like "Fundamentalist Learns to Fly." At the time, DCI Tenet inexplicably took no action and did not even seek to confer with the Acting FBI Director about the case. But Tenet IS reported to have immediately linked Moussaoui to the Al Qaeda attack on 9/11 as soon as he was informed at breakfast of planes flying into the World Trade Center.

Moussaoui was not tortured however. Nor were "enhanced interrogation techniques" ever used on him. In fact FBI agents could not even get permission to attempt a plain interview of Moussaoui which permission I asked for on 9/11/01 and again on 9/12/01. I tried to argue with the Acting United States Attorney as well as with Department of Justice attorneys that the "public safety exception" to the Miranda rule pertained, not of course to engage in any "enhanced techniques" that might coerce a confession or produce unreliable information but just to circumvent the prophylactic component of the Miranda Rule so that he might be questioned about other Al Qaeda plans to hijack planes or attack U.S. citizens. But they all said no, there was no emergency. I argued harder on the morning of 9/12/01 when the full scope of what had happened was more apparent. This caused DOJ attorneys to discuss the situation a little longer than the U.S. Attorney had the day before, but I was ultimately told that whatever emergency had existed, it was over. We were so flabbergasted about the fact we were told no public safety emergency existed just hours after the attacks that my boss advised me to document it in a memo which became the first document in the legal subfile of the FBI's "Penttbom" case.

Nothing changed after Moussaoui's laptop and personal effects were searched revealing the fact that he had collected data on cropdusting and wind patterns and establishing his connections to the 9-11 masterminds. In early July 2002, when Moussaoui was making overtures that he WANTED to talk and was still the only 9-11 terrorist in custody--it would be months more before the real masterminds of the attack, either Ramzi Binalshibh or Khalid Sheikh Mohammed were arrested--I called to both Assistant Attorney General Michael Chertoff's office as well as to FBI Director Mueller's office to renew the request to attempt a plain interview of Moussaoui. (At the time Chertoff, as head of the Justice Department's criminal division and one of the chief architects of the Bush Administration's legal strategies in the War on Terror, supervised the prosecution's case against Moussaoui. Chertoff also reportedly advised the Central Intelligence Agency on the outer limits of legality in coercive interrogation sessions.) I talked to assistants for both Chertoff and Mueller, trying to impress on them the need to interview Moussaoui, someone who would likely know of plans for a second strike. I pointed to the suspicious nature of the cropdusting information found (which of course they were well aware of) and argued we needed to find out more about that to possibly prevent future attacks. But by that time Moussaoui had been charged with the death penalty and I deduced that AG Ashcroft would not allow any potential for bargaining leverage to be injected into the case.

And so it rang hollow when these same officials, including Tenet, would constantly say they were doing everything in their power to prevent another terrorist attack, when they said in early 2003 that's why we needed, of all things, to launch a brand new pre-emptive invasion of Iraq; when I had been told there was no "public safety emergency" on the day of the attacks; and when it seemed that death penalty considerations outweighed the need to find out information about possible second strikes. It rang hollow then and it still rings hollow when Tenet pulls it out to try to explain that's why we needed to begin torturing people.

In contrast to what Tenet stated about the efficacy of the CIA's "enhanced interrogation techniques," it's also worth repeating that the considered wisdom of expert FBI investigators is that torture doesn't work to produce reliable, timely information. Interviewing, on the other hand, is more likely to produce solid information. One of the FBI's most experienced agents in Al Qaeda terrorism and one of the few Arabic speaking ones has made this same point in discussing prior successful investigations of Al Qaeda operatives.

There are certainly other questions that arise if Tenet's description of "the palpable fear that we felt (post 9/11) on the basis of the fact that there was so much we did not know" did in fact drive his signing off--and presumably the new Director of Central Intelligence's continued signing off--on the use of torture and other illegal actions. For starters, if we allow that "palpable fear" to eliminate due process, we are opening ourselves up to real mistakes. For how do we even know we are torturing true terrorists? The use of torture or "taking the gloves off" was first suggested with regard to those swept up in the post 9-11 detentions who were later shown to be innocent. Already at least two individuals who were victims of the CIA's "extraordinary renditions" and who were subsequently tortured, Khalid El Masri and Maher Arar, have turned out innocent. CIA operatives have been or are to be indicted in both Germany and Italy for violating these allied countries' laws.

It's certainly safe to say that reversing the terrible mistakes of Bush, his neo-con ideologues and those like Tenet who knuckled under to their pressure, is going to require a lot more "truth" than George Tenet was willing to provide for $4 million and a presidential medal of freedom.


  1. After getting her law degree from University of Iowa College of Law Coleen served as Special Agent with the FBI. She spent six years working in the New York Office on investigations involving organized crime. She also served in the U.S. embassy in Paris, and the consulate in Montreal. In 1990, she was assigned to the FBI's Minneapolis office where she became the chief legal adviser to the office.

    After the September 11, 2001 attacks, Rowley wrote a paper for FBI Director Robert Mueller documenting how FBI HQ personnel in Washington, D.C., had mishandled and failed to take action on information provided by the Minneapolis, Minnesota Field Office regarding its investigation of suspected terrorist Zacarias Moussaoui.

    In 2006 Coleen ran for Representative John Kline for Minnesota's 2nd District. Despite the fact that Coleen won the endorsement of Rep. John Murtha who campaigned for her, Kline achieved a 2-1 advantage in raising funds and retained his seat.

    Coleen obviously does not feel finished, and we welcome her to The Vigil for as long and often as she wishes to participate.

  2. Thanks for your contribution, Coleen.

    I'm not a lawyer like you are, but thru Googling, I've discovered that the term "depraved indifference" is an established legal concept. What prompted me is this comment on Larry Johnson's blog, No Quarter:

    To constitute depraved indifference, the defendant's conduct must be 'so wanton, so deficient in a moral sense of concern, so lacking in regard for the life or lives of others, and so blameworthy as to warrant the same criminal liability as that which the law imposes upon a person who intentionally causes a crime. Depraved indifference focuses on the risk created by the defendant’s conduct, not the injuries actually resulting.

    I can't help thinking that Tenet's and Powell's roles in this constitute depraved indifference. They deserve to be indicted for their acts (or inactions). Unlike Cheney, Bush, Rumsfeld, et al., Powell and Tenet, both, have admitted they knew it was all bullshit, but went along with it anyway. Same with Dick Durbin and the Republican AND Democratic members of the House and Senate Intelligence Committees . . . .

    Tenet and Powell standout as unprofessional fellow-travelers on Bush and Cheney's road to Baghdad.

  3. Obviously Rowley has a brain. She stood out in the crowd here in my town, Minneapolis. Unfortunately she tried politics to try to inform people of some little snippets of truth. That is a bad format for any truth telling at all in 2007 Amerika.
    Coleen Rowley then became just another part of the problem, and lost a lot of her credibility.
    -- I would say that anyone thinking that someone like the head of the American C.I.A is going to tell the 'truth' about anything, really is beyond naive...

  4. Who can match Tenet with selective misstatements and memory? Is he the Alfredo Gonzales of the C.I.A.?

  5. I still can't believe that after teaching the finer points of the Miranda rule technicalities to FBI agents for 13 years, the pendulum has swung so far the other way that we're debating water boarding and other torture. And it went so quickly from just debating to engaging in it. CIA agents and their contractors are doing these terrible things on behalf of the American people with no better rationale than the “palpable fear” excuse that Tenet provided?

    I think if you check the record, the debate about torture really began, ironically enough, with Allan Dershowitz, the famous defense attorney and Harvard professor who was previously known as a “civil libertarian.” The debate arose initially with respect to those immigrants detained in NYC post 9-11 who were later determined to be innocent. Dershowitz opened the door and pushed us down the slippery slope with his November 8, 2001 LA times op-ed “America Needs Torture Warrants” ( And he didn’t stop with one op-ed. He expanded a couple months later in “Want to torture? Get a warrant” (; in numerous interviews (see and finally discussed it in his book "Why Terrorism Works" published one year after 9/11.

    Despite what Dershowitz said about not wanting to see the widespread use of torture, his ideas had the opposite effect as it was he who first used the “ticking time bomb” theory to justify torture. Pragmatic law enforcement officers who are skilled at obtaining confessions and statements from suspects will find numerous weaknesses in Dershowitz’s arguments. For instance, I am aware of true cases like the one Dershowitz posits as a hypothetical of someone being buried alive with a certain number of hours of oxygen. But the actual cases I am aware of--where lives were saved by getting the suspect to talk--did not involve the use of torture, only use of the public safety exception to Miranda.

    There is an extremely serious legal issue involved here that involves the distinction that should be made between exercising the legally-recognized "Quarles case public safety exception" carved out by the Supreme Court to the Miranda rule (which only goes to the prophylactic aspect—what people call the "technicalities" of the rule) on a case by case basis but not authorizing from top down the use of torture which by its very definition produces involuntary confessions and statements that are inherently unreliable and so cannot be used in a court of law and actually cannot be relied upon as solid intelligence.

    Unfortunately we live in Orwellian times and can't seem to get anyone other than Dershowitz types to actually discuss or debate these kind of serious issues right now. In any case, the bottom line is: don't torture and don't buy Tenet's book.

  6. Has anyone ever learned the connection of Bush having Tenet fired from his job and then giving him the Medal of Freedom?

  7. Tenet = Gonzales One big lying ass Bitch! Anymore questions? LOL................

  8. Thank you for your service, Special Agent Rowley.


    A comment above by Mayra99 was deleted for its disruptive length and lack of materiality.

  10. ...if we allow that "palpable fear" to eliminate due process, we are opening ourselves up to real mistakes. For how do we even know we are torturing true terrorists? The use of torture or "taking the gloves off" was first suggested with regard to those swept up in the post 9-11 detentions who were later shown to be innocent.

    A concern that I have for awhile is for someone to start wanting to use torture on other non-terrorist cases such as the abduction of a child in which a suspect is being held but either does not know where the child is or is playing some game with police withholding information. "Palpable fear" in the case of a distraught parent, fearful for his or her child could be enough to motivate police to slide further down the slipper slope.

  11. Welcome back, Beach. I totally agree with you on the slippery slope of torture leading to the swampland of autocracy if not fascism. That's what it nearly did during the French war of national suppression against Algeria. Torture is like a cancerous tumor on the body politic ofd an open society.

  12. Agreeing with DB Cooper:

    I had to turn off the News Hour 90 seconds in to Tenet's interview. He was as self-ingratiating as 'Fredo'. (The only difference is that Gonzales thinks we're all idiots; Tenet's just trying to make a buck.) I don't know if I turned away more in anger at him or in embarrassment for him.

    To paraphrase Senator Mike Gravel who unconsciously made this pun last week in an interview,

    George Tenet "crawled out from under a rock (Iraq) where he was hiding."

    We can agree that George Tenet is mendacious. We can disagree on whether he is incompetent or duplicitous. But whatever we think of his sorry ass, Both sides of the Iraq-Nam argument will probably use some elements from his self-serving confessional to bolster our own on-going arguments.

  13. An actual kidnaping of an 11 month old baby in the Quad Cities of Iowa occurred in the mid 1990's. The kidnapper (LaLibertore, I believe his name was) got apprehended in the evening as he tried to pick up the ransom money. The kidnapper had put the child that morning in a duffle bag in the middle of a forest. When the kidnapper invoked his Miranda rights, an FBI agent, relying upon the Quarles "public safety exception" and motivated foremost by the need to save the baby's life, disregarded the kidnapper's invocation of his Miranda rights and was able, within an hour or so to talk the kidnapper into leading them to the baby, which they miraculously found still alive. The baby would not have been found otherwise and would have likely died. The key difference in this actual "ticking time bomb" case is that no torture whatsoever was necessary nor was any used. In fact the use of torture may well have had the opposite effect and made the kidnapper less likely to reveal the baby's location in a timely manner.

    In trying to show that torture works, Dershowitz cites the 1995 case of a terrorist suspect caught in the Phillipines who, AFTER 67 DAYS, finally revealed a plot to bring down airliners. Torture, by all expert accounts, even if it eventually produces some limited or partial information, is not a timely method. Therefore it's just very hard to see how the Dershowitz's "ticking time bomb" theory is applicable.

    The website I cited above at:, was unbelievably prescient in commenting way back in November 2001 following Dershowitz's very first op-ed. The comment said Dershowitz, with his op-ed advocating the use of torture, had "trashed his life's work and flushed his reputation down the toilet." What the webmasters didn't know at the time is how many others like Tenet, would do the same thing.

  14. I agree with what you are saying about Dershowitz. I remember at the time seeing him on T.V. making those statements, and thinking wow, this guy is a monster/bigot. I found it very old testament.
    As long as you were with the right tribal group or nation, it was perfectly O.K. to take lives by torture.
    Nice try with an attempt to reform our system. I liked some of what you were saying, but our political system is not reformable in its present incarnation.
    Check out this brilliant women, a scientist and another 'whistle blower' from India.
    Vandana Shiva's ZNet HomePage

  15. I confess to not even listening to Tenet.

    Hey, he sucked his masters', then they kicked him to the curb when he was no longer useful. Now he wants to whine and squeeze a little more play out of the matter. Another used up old 'ho.

  16. I am constantly amazed by the lack of indignation on the part of the American people. During the days of Kent State, Richard Nixon, and Vietnam the people were very involved and their voices were loudly heard. I grant that the draft was clearly unpopular, especially when used to provide fodder in an unnecessary war, 15,000 miles away, but surely that wasn't the lone dynamic. Why are there not more demonstrations in the streets and on the campuses, protesting Bush, his policies, and his henchment? Why the apparent apathy? Is it because this administration and this party has filled us with a sad and lazy despair from which we cannot escape?

  17. Despair, Hell. You kidding ? The money element, has had a field day of rolling in profits under Bush and friends. This society makes their decisions by, - 'is it making money or not'.-
    With that criteria, Bush is a champion of Wall Street, at least for now.
    All those old hippy`s,? and protesters, the majority of them are checking their retirement funds with a big grin on their faces.
    Our society 'sold out' some time ago.

  18. You make a valid point here Skip. Somehow I got left behind when those riches were being passed out to us old hippies:-)

  19. I propose that all proceeds from Tenet's book be donated to a fund benefiting the fatherless or motherless children of our soldiers, or the thousands of orphaned or maimed Iraqi children.

    Just as we prohibit murderers or rapists from profiting from their crimes, so too should Tenet, or any other future confessors, be prohibited from profiting from complicity in this illicit war.

  20. Oh really Ronnie ? Is not that a little naive on your part ?
    Would you do the same then to all of the oil company`s that have raked in multiple billions.
    -Our economy has been on life support for many years. The only way to make it function is incredible Federal spending.
    That is accomplished by holding fake wars, in this case one long long war to keep the money flowing to Corporate/Global interests.
    George Tenet is also on the payroll board of 4 separate Multinationals for which he has been 'paid' in the vicinity of 3 million dollars in the last couple years.
    "Profiting from this illicit war" you say ?
    That my friend is how America works, and has for some time. Why pick on Tenet ? Look in the mirror pal. - The whole country profited from the 'war'.
    Think the Money people care about the maimed or killed ?
    A quick bowing of the head and a 10 second prayer absolves that, and it only has to be done on 'Veterans Day'.