The Plank

Tenet, Bush, And "slam Dunk"


Today's NYTimes has some details from Tenet's forthcoming memoir and, combined with the quotes from the CIA director's upcoming "60 Minutes" appearance, it's clear that, while Tenet has all sorts of ill will toward Cheney and Rice and Hadley, he isn't all that pissed at the President. Which boggles the mind--especially when it comes to the "slam dunk" revelation.

The "slam dunk" quote--which Tenet made in a December 2002 Oval Office meeting attended by Bush, Cheney, Rice, Andy Card, and Tenet's deputy, John McLaughlin--first came to light in Bob Woodward's Plan of Attack. In his "60 Minutes" interview, Tenet apparently says he doesn't know who leaked the quote to Woodward. But it's clear from Plan of Attack that Bush himself was one of the leakers--or, at the very least, was one of the people who confirmed the quote to Woodward, and who (more importantly) played up the importance of the quote. After all, Bush told Woodward that Tenet's "slam dunk" assurance "was very important."

So why doesn't Tenet blame Bush for being made a scapegoat for the war? The only explanation I can think of is that he basically believes Bush is a dupe. I got a view of this mindset when I did a story on Woodward's coverage of the Bush administration for GQ in which I tried to unravel just how the "slam dunk" quote got injected into the media bloodstream--since Woodward evidently didn't confirm the quote with Tenet. Tenet wouldn't talk to me for the piece (hey, if HarperCollins was paying me $4 million to give my version of the "slam dunk" story, I probably wouldn't talk to me, either), but a former intelligence official did--and this was his explanation:

"Within the White House and the vice president's office and the NSC, it's reasonable to assume that they'd decide amongst themselves what it is they wanted to highlight or not for Woodward. That's typically the way these things work. They'd get together and try to decide what information they're going to share, what documents they're going to show him, what story they're going to try to get him to tell. NSC officials, OVP officials, or White House staff would raise things with Woodward in their interviews, so that by the time he had his lengthy interview with President Bush, they knew he'd ask the president certain questions."
He continued, "Presidents are prepped for these sessions: They're told what's important, what are the key points, and then they play it back. And so the people prepping the president will say, 'Woodward will probably want to ask you about these meetings, and you remember that meeting in December when Tenet said "slam dunk," and you remember how important that was?' And the president will say, 'I guess.' And then he has the interview with Woodward, and Woodward brings it up, and the president says 'slam dunk.' It's just the way these things go. And after it comes out just the way they want it to, the people who helped plant it invite people's attention to it. So the administration is seen as the victim of bad intelligence."

And that, apparently, is why Tenet--despite saying that the "slam dunk" episode was "the most despicable thing that ever happened to me"--still likes President Bush. I guess it's hard to hate someone who you think is just a pawn in a larger, more sinister game.

--Jason Zengerle

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