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Richard Clarke Is Being Too Nice to George Tenet

Richard Clarke Is Being Too Nice to George Tenet

By David Swanson
August 16, 2011

Former National Coordinator for Security, Infrastructure Protection, and Counter-Terrorism Richard Clarke suggests that former CIA Director George Tenet blocked the sharing of information within the government on two members of al Qaeda in the United States, information that Clarke believes could have prevented 911. The CIA admits it knew about the two future hijackers but claims the Director was not informed.

"In early 2000, a number of more junior personnel (including FBI agents on detail to CIA) did see travel information on individuals who later became hijackers but the significance of the data was not adequately recognized at the time."

Clark claims to have been very close to Tenet and to find this impossible to believe. Clarke maintains that the Director must have been informed and must have made the decision not to share the information with Clarke and others. Clarke speculates that the presence of these two al Qaeda members was kept secret because the CIA had tried to recruit, or "flip," those al Qaeda members and failed. Yet he has no evidence of such attempts.

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But why not report that you tried to recruit someone and failed? What is the reason not to report that?

It seems more likely to me that Clarke is going easy on Tenet. "The September 11th attacks could have been prevented" has an "Obama could have fought for progressive principles" ring to it; it builds in the assumption that those involved WANTED the attacks to be prevented. Whatever this other new report ends up meaning, the history of Able Danger, and of White House inaction, and of Clarke's earlier revelations begins to suggest a pattern.

I hate to underestimate incompetence and petty infighting as explanations for things, but I also hate to accept as the only possible explanation Clarke's theory -- of which he himself does not seem at all convinced -- as to why Tenet apparently withheld information. I asked FBI whistleblower Sibel Edmonds what she thought, and her reply suggested a level of contempt for both Clarke and Tenet: "I think sometimes it takes one evil fighting another evil to get to the truth. In this case, the clash of two guilty egos has helped unearth some truth on 9/11. Hope to have more clashes."

I turned to Pentagon whistleblower Karen Kwiatkowski. She ought to have a sense of how accurate Clarke's description is of standard practice versus inexplicable deviation from it. She seemed to think this new angle fit an existing pattern:

"[This] is just one more unanswered question regarding our own government's involvement and possible complicity in the events. There are more gaping questions that lend credence to the theory that the U.S. government or parts of it were supportive and facilitated the 9/11 events (and the subsequent Amerithrax case). One, why was there no investigation of and no discussion of WTC 7 in the 9/11 commission report? And why has the case of the Israeli 'art students' (actually agents) who were tracking and had detailed operational intelligence on a significant number of the purported hijackers in this country in the months leading up to 9/11 never dealt with in a big way by any commission or any government agency? The after-the-fact lack of interest in these events kind of confirms the before-the-fact activities of those who were in a position to stop the attacks."

Note that Karen does not here suggest, and neither do I have much use for theories to explain away what we know, theories that suggest there were no airplanes, no hijackers, etc., etc., some of which theories are extremely valuable but purely as entertainment. Rather, Karen is asking questions about things we don't know, and things our government has gone to considerable lengths to avoid making known. When it comes to such matters, it's hard to do better than turning to retired CIA officer Ray McGovern. I've just done so, and he hasn't disappointed. Here's a comment of McGovernian length and perception that he's sent me:

"Withholding critical intelligence from the makers and implementers of security policy can be worse than lying. Of lying, we have plenty of evidence that former CIA director George Tenet is a serial offender — as is his long-time spokesman, Bill Harlow.

"But withholding intelligence on two of the 9/11 hijackers would have been unconscionable — the epitome of malfeasance, not just misfeasance. That's why Richard Clarke's conclusion that he should have received information from CIA about al-Hazmi and al-Mihdhar, 'unless somebody intervened to stop the normal automatic distribution' is a most serious charge, given the role of the two in hijacking of American Airlines Flight 77 on 9/11.

"Tenet has denied that the information on the two hijackers was 'intentionally withheld' from Clarke, and has enlisted former CIA operatives Cofer Black (more recently a senior official of Blackwater) and Richard Blee (a more shadowy figure) to concur in saying, Not us; we didn't withhold.

"Whom to believe? It is a no-brainer. One would have to have been born yesterday to regard the 'George is right' testimony from Black and Blee as collaborative.

"Tenet is the same fellow who provided the 'slam dunk' on the existence of 'weapons of mass destruction' in Iraq, as well as the 'artist renderings' of equally non-existent mobile laboratories for developing biological warfare agents, based on unconfirmed information from the imposter code-named (appropriately) 'Curveball.' Tenet is the fellow who, under orders from Bush and Cheney, ordered up and disseminated a fraudulent National Intelligence Estimate on WMD in Iraq to deceive our elected representatives out of their Constitutional prerogative to authorize a war of aggression. Not small infractions.

"After a five-year investigation by the Senate Intelligence Committee, Chairman Jay Rockefeller described the intelligence adduced under Tenet to 'justify' attacking Iraq as 'uncorroborated, contradicted, and non-existent.' Good enough to win Tenet the Presidential Medal of Freedom, though. It worked just fine for the purposes of George W. Bush and Dick Cheney, thank you very much.

"It is a matter of record that Tenet lies a lot — on occasion, demonstrating a sort of chutzpah on steroids. Recall, for example, Tenet telling Scott Pelley on '60 Minutes,' five times, in five consecutive sentences, 'We do not torture people.'

"Tenet has lied about 9/11 too. The joint statement from Tenet, Black, and Blee, provided by Bill Harlow, concludes: 'We testified under oath about what we did, what we knew and what we didn't know. We stand by that testimony.' Almost made me laugh….almost.

"In his sworn testimony to the 9/11 Commission on April 14, 2004, Tenet told the Commission under the prime-time klieg lights that he had not spoken to Bush — even on the telephone — during the entire month of August 2001.

"But Tenet did visit fly to see the President in Crawford — not once, but twice during August 2001, and briefed Bush again in Washington on the 31st. After the TV cameras at the 9/11 Commission hearing were shut off, Bill Harlow phoned the commission staff to say, Oops, sorry, Tenet misspoke. Even then, Harlow admitted to only Tenet's August 17 visit to Crawford (and to the briefing on the 31st).

"How do we know Tenet was again in Crawford on August 24? From a White House press release quoting President George W. Bush to that effect — information somehow completely missed by our vigilant Fawning Corporate Media (FCM).

"Funny how Tenet could have forgotten his first visit to Crawford. In his memoir, At the Center of the Storm, Tenet waxes 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 now.'

"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 can 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 in cash.

"It is an open question — if a key one — whether Tenet told Bush about the two hijackers, al-Hazmi and al-Mihdhar, while keeping that key information from the person who most needed it — White House counter-terrorist czar Richard Clarke. Clarke finds the only plausible explanation in his conclusion that Tenet was personally responsible. Clarke says:

"'For me to this day, it is inexplicable, when I had every other detail about everything related to terrorism, that the director didn't tell me, that the director of the counterterrorism center didn't tell me, that the other 48 people inside CIA that knew about it never mentioned it to me or anyone in my staff in a period of over 12 months.'

"But Tenet's aide-de-camp Bill Harlow has branded Clarke's statements 'absurd and patently false.' The statement Harlow shepherded for Tenet, Black, and Blee adds 'reckless and profoundly wrong…baseless…belied by the record…unworthy of serious consideration.'

"And Harlow never lies. Right. I'm reminded of Harlow's reaction to Newsweek's publication on February 24, 2003 of the remarks of Saddam Hussein's son-in-law, Hussein Kamel, who had been in charge of Iraq's nuclear, chemical, biological and missile programs for almost a decade before he defected to Jordan in 1995. Kamel did provide some information on residual, closed-down sites relating to WMD, and that information proved correct.

"Kamel ALSO said that after the first Gulf War in 1991:

"'I ordered the destruction of all chemical weapons. All weapons — biological, chemical, missile, nuclear were destroyed.'

"This was not at all what Bush, Cheney, and — by extension — Tenet wanted Newsweek readers, or the rest of us, to learn just three weeks before the U.S./U.K. attack on Iraq, ostensibly to find and destroy those threatening, non-existent weapons.

"So Bill Harlow rose to the occasion, telling the FCM that the Newsweek story was, 'incorrect, bogus, wrong, untrue.' And the FCM said, Gosh, thanks for telling us.

"By all indications, Harlow is still able to work his fraudulent magic on the FCM, which has virtually ignored this major story since it broke several days ago. If Harlow says it's not true…and throws in still more pejorative adjectives to dismiss what Clarke says, it is surely Richard Clarke who is not telling the truth. No matter Clarke's well deserved reputation for honesty and professionalism.

"And so it goes."

Yes, it is as likely as that the sky is blue that Tenet knew and that Tenet is lying about what he knew. But I'm interested in why. Did he try to convert two members of al Qaeda to his team and fail, and then choose to keep quiet about it, despite his established habit of trying to "cover his ass"? Wouldn't his ass have been better covered by sharing the information? And wouldn't we all then be better off, in particular the million Iraqis and thousands of Americans and Afghans who've paid for this malfeasance with their lives?

But what if, just as Obama's actions make sense when we stop fantasizing about him being a liberal, Tenet's actions make sense when we stop assuming his top priority was protecting the people of this country?


David Swanson is the author of "War Is A Lie"


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