Press Room: Interviews

Tenet's Resignation

The Washington Post | 06-04-04

CIA Director George Tenet announced his resignation citing personal reasons and will leave the agency in July. President Bush accepted the resignation and praised Tenet for his dedicated public service in the war on terrorism.

Mel Goodman, senior fellow at the Center for International Policy and co-author of "Bush League Diplomacy," was online Friday, June 4 at 11:30 a.m. ET to discuss Tenet's resignation.

Editor's Note: moderators retain editorial control over Live Online discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions.

Mel Goodman : Good morning. George Tenet's resignation was long overdue. His stewardship includes the two greatest failures in the history of CIA" 9/11 and the Iraqi war. Also, Tenet crossed the line into policy advocacy on many occasion. By resigning, he now does not have to answer to the many congressional and independent and even CIA reports that point to Tenet's overwhelming number of failures. So let's get started:


Culverstone Green, Kent, U.K.: Wasn't the authority of the CIA Director underminded by Chaney, et al when they designated and direct CIA staffers to keep them informed? Did that not represent an opportunity to get information slanted in a direction preferred by Chaney?

Mel Goodman : The job of the CIA is to keep policymakers such as VP Cheney informed. But the agency's job is to provide the intelligence with the bark on....and not to tailor (as John le Carre would say) or slant the intelligence to please the policymaker (which Tenet did on too many occasions).


Concord, NH: Mr. Goodman:

I saw Trent Lott on TV last night saying, essentially, that Tenet had to go, not necessarily because of anything he did or did not do himself, but becasue the intelligence system is so broken that it requires a new leader to fix it. Can't this same argument be applied to the Administration, both on intelligence specifically, and on foreign policy generally, where Bush's penshant to make everything personal has rendered him incapable of reparing our relations with Europe and others?

Mel Goodman : Agree! Bush has walked away from the bipartisan policy of the past sixty years, particularly containment and multilateralism...and thus put the nation at risk. We are far more threatened now then when Bush took over...or in the wake of 9/11 when we had the support and sympathy of the international community. We are facing a national crisis in national security affairs and the Bush neoconservatives are very responsible for that.


Arlington, Va.: Mr. Goodman,

I saw a headline saying that Bush will be appointing John McLaughlin to run the CIA as Tenet's successor. Why isn't this bigger news? This is a disaster! I've been watching McLaughlin's TV show on and off for years, and he's always been a loudmouth know-it-all. Can you imagine him sitting in a Cabinet meeting and shouting "WRONG!" when someone disagreed with him? What can the President possibly be thinking? CIA's New Acting Director Is Known for Analytical -- and Magic -- Skills (Post, June 4)

Mel Goodman : Wrong McLaughlin. Not the loud mouth from TV....but the quiet one from the CIA. Your John McLaughlin would be a disaster.....the CIA's McLaughlin is not strong enough for the job and has failed to tell truth to power....but probably won't be a disaster. Although this is a very bad time for such a weak director of central intelligence.


Arlington, Va: Isn't it typical that Tenet is painting himself as the fallguy for Administration failures when in fact, he was more culpable than most? I mean, Rumsfeld didn't say taking Baghdad was a ""slam dunk."

Mel Goodman : Agree. Tenet is very culpable. The "slam dunk" remark was a total betrayal of the role of DCI, which is to tell truth to power....and not to politicize intelligence (which he did) and to advocate policy (which he did). Tenet should have resigned after 9/11 and should have been forced to resign after writing SecState Colin Powell's speech to the UN, which is a violation of the CIA's charter and mandate.


New Orleans, La.: What was Tenet's "official" posture on the Wilson Leak incident? My feeling is that he should been "livid " about it and should have publicly assigned high-rank CIA resources to the investigation in order to pursue it wherever it might lead.

Mel Goodman : To be fair to Tenet, he did eventually inform the Justice Department which began an investigation, which led to a grand jury, which led to the president seeing a lawyer. So Tenet did the right thing...although it took him to long to address this venal and corrupt act of the Bush administration against an agency operative.


Westcliffe, Colo.: But no nominee to take his place, right? Frist doesn't want to have to go up against Daschle, the guy he dissed when he went polital hobnobbing in South Dakota for the dude running against the Minority Leader? Frist doesn't want to see a band of Dems bring up all the Tenet failures in the hearings for the new guy. At least, not until January when we know if there's a new sheriff in town. Right?

What goes around, comes around. Famous political aphorism that many Republicans are re-learning.


Mel Goodman : Agree. The Bush administration cannot afford a controversial congressional confirmation process. Let's face it: the credibility of the Secretary of Defense is plumetting; Powell says he will go at the end of the year; Condi Rice is intimating she has had enough; and there appears to be a cover-up underway of the torture and abuse issue that will rival (and probably) overwhelm Watergate.


Dallas, Texas: I'm sure you've heard the expression "better to have him inside the tent -relieving himself]out than outside the tent, etc...". Don't you suspect that's why the Administration kept Mr. Tenet around for so long rather than making him a fall guy that much earlier, that is, that he knew too much about which he could render criticism, and just now the heat is getting bad enough for it to be convenient for him to leave? What he knows could make Paul O'Neill's book look like a cakewalk, I'm sure.

Mel Goodman : Takes someone from Texas to remember one of LBJ's better comments....although it suffers greatly from your editing....but you are not totally right here. The Bush administration is still in the line of fire for 9/11 and the Iraq War.....and Tenet's testimony before the congress suggests that he lacks J. Edgar Hoover's memory and staff support. Let's face it: Tenet is culpable....and the president and vice president are even more culpable...and the great thing about the United States is that we eventually learn the facts.


Arlington, Va.: Could you float a few names, political or non-political, that you believe would be a good CIA Director?

Mel Goodman : Former Ambassador Thomas Pickering is one.....Norman Augustine is another....Admiral Zinni is a third....


Deming, N.M.: Does George Tenet escape testifying before Congress by resigning? Would he still be called upon to testify as a civilian, would be decline if so called, and could and would Congress subpoena him to testify?

Mel Goodman : Tenet has probably gotten himself off the hook unless congress chooses to subpoena him, which is unlikely....he is much too defensive and far too much into denial to offer much of value in any event.


Virginia: Was Deutch the worst CIA director? Bush has one longer than Clinton's combined 4 directors.

Mel Goodman : Casey was the worst by a great distance....followed by Tenet


Washington, D.C.: The country needs a senate-confirmed DCI immediately. We're fighting a war on terrorism and neither al Qaeda nor al-Sadr are going wait until after the election.

It is inconvenient to confirm a DCI in the midst of a re-election campaign, but soldiers in the field are also having their enslistments automatically extended for additional full tours because of the country's need. Senate approval of a DCI is essential to the United States war effort and also to sound constitutional leadership.

Mel Goodman : Agree....this is simply the wrong time (a national security crisis) to be without a congressionally-confirmed CIA director....Porter Goss would be an easy confirmation although he has done a mediocre job as chairman of the House Intelligence Committee....


Madison, WI: I am increasingly seeing speculation from commentators in the press that the Valerie Plame outing, the 9/11 commission investigation, the Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse scandal, and the Chalabi mess are all connected, in the sense that they are the surface signs of battles in a titanic struggle going on between Pentagon/Dept. of Defense (incl. Cheney, Wolfowitz et al.) on the one hand and CIA/State Dept. on the other, for control of U.S. foreign policy. To those who see it this way, Tenet's resignation is another rumble drifting up from the battlefield in this conflict. I would assume that if there really is this kind of internecine warfare going on, Tenet's resignation could hardly fail to be directly connected to it. What do you think?

Mel Goodman : I strongly believe that the country is facing a national security crisis, without a National Security Council developing strategy for foreign policy and without an inter-agency policy to direct and implement policy. The national security situation is in the hands of five or six people who have put the country at great risk. See my "Bush League Diplomacy: How the Neoconservatives are PUtting the World at Risk" or James Mann book on the Vulcans.


Little Rock, Ark.: It's pretty obvious that Tenet is going to be set up as the fall guy--even though his tenure was indeed a disaster. The administration is going to spin it as "ok Tenet's gone, well he's the one who got us into this mess."

Do you think the administration's mouthpieces might start extending this by emphasizing that Tenet was a holdover from the Clinton years and that, in effect, Clinton is responsible (a la Ashcroft's testimony before the 9/11 commission)?

Mel Goodman : There has been too much damage to national security from the top to make Tenet the scapegoat. He did an egregiously poor job of managing the CIA, but there are others out there , especially Cheney, Wolfowitz, and Rumsfeld, who have much more hard to the country's security situation.


Portland Ore.: I am intrigued by the choice that President Bush is now faced with. Will he appoint a new CIA director or allow deputy McLaughlin to remain in charge through November? It would seem that the CIA needs strong leadership and focus as we move into a summer where intelligence on terrorism will be at a premium.

Thank you for taking my question.

Mel Goodman : I think McGlaughlin will remain the interim director to avoid a confirmation hassle.....that there will be protests from the congress and the media because McGlaughlin is not up to the challenge....that a confirmation will be forced on the president...and that Porter Goss will be named because he is former CIA and a member of the congress....and therefore will beconfirmed with little scrutiny.


Topeka, Kansas: Is there any information that the timing of the resignation of CIA Director George Tenet is related to possible indictments for the disclosure of Valerie Plame as a CIA Agent?

Mel Goodman : Very unlikely.....the blame for Plame is in the White House, probably Cheney's office, probably Scooter Libby.


Washington, D.C.: "Your John McLaughlin would be a disaster..."

You complain about Tenet for shaping the intelligence to fit the policy, but you don't think McLaughlin could handle the task. Interesting.

In fact, and to not tailor the truth, the CIA would be a disaster under John McLaughlin but McLaughlin would not be a disaster as head of CIA.

Mel Goodman : Your are suffering from an overload of McLaughlin's....I'm talking about the quiet one...and not the noisy one from TV's vast wasteland....


Glen Ridge, N.J.: How does this resignation help George Bush?

Mel Goodman : It doesn't help Bush and I don't believe Bush wanted adds to the picture that the wheels are falling off the cart....Rumsfeld is discredited because of Abu Ghraib; Powell is almost gone; Rice will follow; and Cheney cannot come out in public for many reasons that have little to do with personal security.


Bend, Ore.: Do you think that Mr. Tenet was ever told by the administration something like, "That is not what we want to hear. You need to bring us information that proves what we believe to be the facts."

Mel Goodman : Definitely.....Cheney told him what to say; Rumsfeld told him what to say; and Rice applied pressure....even Powell went out to the CIA for his UN speech and now disingenuously crises that he was "deliberately misled" by the that's a hoot!!


Washington, DC: I saw the speech the President gave about Tenet's resignation on TV and it seemed to me that it was extremely awkward, with many long pauses, and was not a heartfelt thanks. Do you think the President was trying to send a message with the speech?

Mel Goodman : The president rarely handles these situations well, but this one was particularly inept....indicating that this is a poor time for Tenet to go. After all, this is the one week in the past two months when he thought he had some good news (the Iraqi government) and now he has to deal with more of the intelligence crisis and scandal. Picture of disarray will now dominate the press and the Sunday talk shows. Not what the White House spinmisters wanted.


Anonymous: Coincidentally, many times Tenet erred on the side of reinforcing policies the White House already supported. Not that unusual in government (or maybe outside, too). If the correct information on WMDs had been given to the White House, would Bush not have taken us into war, or just taken more time to get UN backing (which some Republicans call "asking permission to defend ourselves") or would he simply have found another excuse?

Mel Goodman : There was not stopping Bush from going to war....this was his decision before 9/11...but 9/11 provided a pretext...and now we are all paying the price, particularly the young men and women on the ground in the Middle East.


Chicago, Illinois: Wasn't Tenet in a no win situation? The administration wanted to go to war with Iraq and wanted the CIA to give them the pretext for doing so. Wouldn't he have been pushed out had he not given the Bush administration the needed justification? Now that the pretext (weapons of mass destruction) has been found false, he is being made the fall guy.

Mel Goodman : Tenet should have resigned when Clinton pushed him into the policy of the Middle East peace process in 1999; he should have resigned after 9/11 because of the intelligence failure; and he should have resigned when the White House dictated the kind of intelligence it wanted. Tenet stayed because he wanted to please his can never win in the bureaucracy when you start to tailor the intelligence. Slippery slope!!!


Birmingham, Ala.: I enjoyed your appearance on "Democracy Now" this morning. I hope Amy Goodman has you on more often.

My question is related to the case of "outing" CIA operative Valarie Plame last year.

I fully support journalists' right to maintain the confidentiality of their sources, but in the coverage of the Plame incident, I have not heard anyone question the Justice Department about their lack of consistency in dealing with journalists and their sources during grand jury investigations.

In 2001, Ashcroft's justice department jailed Houston journalist Vanessa Leggett for 168 days for not revealing sources to a grand jury. She was only released because the grand jury ended its term--not because of a change in Justice Dept. policy.

Has the Justice Department explained why they haven't jailed Bob Novak--the person responsible for reporting Plame's identity?

Mel Goodman : Novak is not a journalist but a polemicist. But he broke no laws; he was merely unsavory. The laws were broken in the White House (1982 statute that provides for jail terms up to 12 years) and it is up to the president to force the resignations of the ones involved....unless it reached to the highest levels of the White House itself. Bush has talked to a lawyer. Has Cheney talked to a lawyer??


Copyright 2004, Washinton Post. Read original interview here