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In book, ex-CIA chief assails Cheney on Iraq invasion

Tenet contends he was scapegoat

George J. Tenet says Bush administration officials pushed the country to war.

WASHINGTON -- George J. Tenet, the former director of central intelligence, has lashed out against Vice President Dick Cheney and other Bush administration officials in a new book, saying they pushed the country to war in Iraq without ever conducting a "serious debate" about whether Saddam Hussein posed an imminent threat to the United States.

The 549-page book, "At the Center of the Storm," is to be published by Harper Collins on Monday. By turns accusatory, defensive, and modestly self-critical, it is the first detailed account by a member of the president's inner circle of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the decision to invade Iraq, and the failure to find the unconventional weapons that were a major justification for the war.

"There was never a serious debate that I know of within the administration about the imminence of the Iraqi threat," Tenet writes in a devastating judgment that is likely to be debated for many years. Nor, he adds, "was there ever a significant discussion" about the possibility of containing Iraq without an invasion.

Tenet admits that he made his famous "slam dunk" remark about the evidence that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. But he argues that the quote was taken out of context and that it had little impact on President Bush's decision to go to war. He also makes clear his bitter view that the administration made him a scapegoat for the Iraq war.

A copy of the book was purchased at retail price in advance of publication by a reporter for The New York Times.

Tenet described with sarcasm watching an episode of "Meet the Press" last September in which Cheney twice referred to Tenet's "slam dunk" remark as the basis for the decision to go to war.

"I remember watching and thinking, 'As if you needed me to say "slam dunk" to convince you to go to war with Iraq,' " Tenet writes.

As violence in Iraq spiraled beginning in late 2003, Tenet writes, "rather than acknowledge responsibility, the administration's message was: Don't blame us. George Tenet and the CIA got us into this mess."

Tenet takes blame for the flawed 2002 National Intelligence Estimate about Iraq's weapons programs, calling the episode "one of the lowest moments of my seven-year tenure." He expresses regret that the document was not more nuanced, but says there was no doubt in his mind at the time that Hussein possessed unconventional weapons.

"In retrospect, we got it wrong partly because the truth was so implausible," he writes.

Tenet expresses skepticism about whether the increase in troops in Iraq will prove successful. "It may have worked more than three years ago," he wrote. "My fear is that sectarian violence in Iraq has taken on a life of its own and that US forces are becoming more and more irrelevant to the management of that violence."

Asked about Tenet's assertions, a White House spokesman, Gordon D. Johndroe, defended the prewar deliberations yesterday.

"The president made the decision to remove Saddam Hussein for a number of reasons, mainly the National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq and Saddam Hussein's own actions, and only after a thorough and lengthy assessment of all available information as well as congressional authorization," the spokesman said.

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