George Tenet, former CIA chief, in his remarkable memoir, At the Center of the Storm, provides literally damning evidence about 9/11 and the Iraq War beginning with his description of a meeting with Condoleezza Rice, then national security adviser, two months before the 9/11 terrorist attacks. This meeting was called because of intelligence that Tenet received on July 10, 2001, about an al-Qaeda threat that he claims, “literally made his hair stand on end.”

According to At the Center of the Storm, Tenet with his counterterrorism deputy, Cofer Black, and a briefer known only as “Rich B” insisted on meeting with Rice and informed her at that time that “There would be a significant terrorist attack in the coming weeks or months,” with Black emphasizing that the attack would be “spectacular.” Black then added “This country needs to go on a war footing now and President Bush should give the CIA new covert action authorities to go after Osama bin Laden and his al-Qaeda organization.” After the meeting, Tenet’s contingent felt that they had finally gotten the full attention of the administration.

However, Tenet who met almost daily with President Bush to update him on threat reports was asked during a CBS “60 Minutes” television interview, with Scott Pelley, “Why he wasn’t telling the president, ‘Mr. President, this is terrifying; we need to respnd now’?” In response, Tenet replied because the “United States government doesn’t work that way, because the president is not the action officer; instead you present the action to the national security adviser and people who decide on policies they’re going to implement.” In effect, this meant that Tenet who had been CIA director since 1997 was hobbled by the traditional chain of command and was convinced that the CIA director’s “most important relationship with any administration official is generally with the national security adviser.” Nonetheless, Tenet successfully oversaw and executed the paramilitary assault to dislodge al-Qaeda from its Afghanistan sanctuary in the weeks and months after 9/11 using essentially the action he had proposed to Rice in the meeting of July 10, 2001.

Included in chapter 14, “They Want to Change History,” is Tenet’s compelling case that terrorism inside the United States is not over as he lays out al-Qaeda’s and other terrorist groups’ persistent efforts to obtain strategic weapons of mass destruction, including nuclear devices. Tenet then chillingly provides documentation supporting a claim that the Bush national security team was dysfunctional and that their appalling lack of communication was evident in their indecision over when to go to war actually stating, “One of the great mysteries to me is when Bush decided to go to war.”

Another example of this poor communication was seen on Aug. 26, 2002, 5-weeks before the National Intelligence Estimate revealed that “Baghdad has chemical and biological weapons,” when Vice President Cheney, tread on Tenet’s territory when he claimed in a speech before the Veterans of Foreign Wars that “Saddam Hussein has weapons of mass destruction.”

The most interesting chapters are those describing Al Qaeda’s desire to build a nuclear weapon, the global response against Al Qaeda after 9/11 and the interlinking nuclear proliferation networks of Pakistan and Libya.

Tenet’s compelling narrative then turns to the war in Iraq providing dramatic insight into what occurred prior to the invasion including the president’s 2003 State of the Union address which claimed that Saddam Hussein had sought to purchase uranium from Africa and the CIA’s critical role in an administration predisposed to take the country to war. Tenet provides information about top administration officials’, saying that they were itching for a showdown with Saddam as shown by their defying of any respectable or honest piece of intelligence that proved contrary to their beliefs that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction, while clinging onto flawed and downright unreliable sources, such as the infamous “Curveball.”

The book’s most important lesson is about our fractured intelligence services, which includes these points:

  1. The significance of maintaining a politically neutral central intelligence firm.
  2. Throwing billions more dollars at these agencies will not guarantee American security.
  3. The severity of unsupportable assertions and claims that wind up as fact by the policy makers whose ulterior motives are suspect deserve serious investigation. Finally,
  4. The grave results from said facts being used to support failed policy cannot be tolerated.

Nonetheless, Tenet’s book makes at least three major positive contributions: It…

  1. Relates the heroic story of how the CIA, just 16 days after 9/11, inserted its first teams into Afghanistan, and in less than 2.5 months with a limited number of Special Forces took back Afghanistan.
  2. Implicitly or explicitly corroborates about other key players – Bremmer, Feith, and Rice (who he portrays as incompetent and also as being a serial liar).
  3. Provides an entirely different perspective on his “Slam Dunk” response to the President that ultimately calls into question (again) the integrity of Bush’s assistants via their effort to blame Tenet for Bush invading Iraq.

Overall, Center of the Storm recounts George Tenet’s time as chief of the Central Intelligence Agency, revealing a look at the inner workings of the most important intelligence organization in the world during the most challenging times in recent history. Candid and gripping, Tenet illuminates the CIA’s painstaking attempts to prepare the country against new and deadly threats while offering explosive new information on the deliberations and strategies that culminated in the U.S. invasion of Iraq. Through it all, Tenet paints an unflinching self-portrait of a man caught between the warring forces of the Administration’s decision-making process, the reams of frightening intelligence pouring in from around the world, and his own conscience. Furthermore, this book provides is a fascinating and revealing glimpse into the secret world of intelligence, and the inner workings of the CIA.

[tags]War in Iraq, 9/11, George Tenet, nonfiction, historical, book, At the Center of the Storm: Central Intelligence Agency, CIA, Bush, Misguided intelligence, Saddam Hussein, al-Qaeda, terrorist attacks, Condoleezza Rice, Rumsfeld[/tags]