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George Tenet v. Bob Woodward
Former CIA Director Snipes at Author's Account, Woodward Fires Back
Mark Wilson/Getty

George Tenet's memoir At the Center of the Storm was designed to redeem the record of the former director of the CIA, but his account of key events has encouraged many critics to speak out in contradicting his recollection.

Most famously, Center of the Storm rejects Bob Woodward's account of Tenet describing pre-war intelligence on Iraq's WMD program as a "slam dunk" in his book Plan of Attack.

Tenet has admitted giving Woodward information for his books, but says the scene in question did not happen. The back and forth on the subject of the "slam dunk" comment has gotten the bulk of press regarding their differing accounts, though Woodward's criticisms have been much deeper and more wide-ranging.

As Jeffrey Goldberg writes in this week's New Yorker, "Woodward’s position in Washington is such that his view will likely be seen as the definitive word on Tenet’s career, and certainly on his memoir."

Jeffrey Goldberg reports that Tenet's main complaint about the author is Woodward's contention that the then-DCI was derelict in his duties by not going directly to the president with his fears of an imminent attack on July 10, 2001, after the CIA had received information which, as Tenet wrote in his book, “literally made my hair stand on end.”

Tenet briefed then-national security adviser Condoleezza Rice instead of the president, with whom he met with every day--a decision Scott Pelley questioned on Tenet's recent 60 Minutes appearance.

Tenet responded: “The President is not the action officer. You bring the action to the national-security adviser and people who set the table for the President to decide on policies they’re going to implement.”

Bob Woodward wrote in his Washington Post review, “Whoa! That’s a startling admission. I’m pretty certain that President Bush or any president, for that matter, would consider himself or herself the action officer when it comes to protecting the country from terrorism.”

When Goldberg mentioned Woodward’s contention to Tenet, he first responded, “You know, I don’t want to talk about Woodward. I really have no interest in talking about it.”

Then, as Goldberg recounts:

He paused for a moment, and then his view of Woodward burst forth: “I mean, the one thing I object to, you know, the one thing I really object to, is ‘You didn’t tell the President.’ There’s nothing about the threat reporting in that period that I didn’t tell the President correctly about. So there’s this one meeting that occurs—the President understood—look, it started in the spring. Look, we wrote any number of pieces about the potential for a large attack against U.S. interests. I mean, he knew exactly what we were doing overseas.” He continued, “So maybe Woodward thinks, Well if you wanted covert action, you should have gone to the President. Well, no, I’m sorry. Direct? If you wanted covert action—well, I remember directors that went directly to the President, around a policy process, to get a covert action going. That doesn’t work. You don’t jump the principals and say, ‘Give me covert action.’ So it’s good for Bob to say that, but the point is that’s how I believed this worked. There’s a disciplined process of governance. I got enough cowboy to last me a lifetime that spring and summer”—of 2001. “We’re running down people, we’re moving people, you know, there are renditions going on, we’re talking to people, we catch the guy who’s going to bomb the Embassy in Paris, we got to get him moved, there are plots against the Embassy in Rome, we got plots in Turkey, we got guys crossing the borders in Saudi Arabia with detonators and manuals—we’ve got enough going on.”

Goldberg took Tenet's explanation back to Woodward, and got a sharply-worded response:

“I hate to say this, but I think the world agrees with me. Governments and Presidents expedite things all the time. . . . President Bush told me he didn’t feel that sense of urgency, and that his blood was not boiling before September 11th. I would argue that Tenet’s job was to boil the President’s blood. That’s why you show up on the President’s doorstep. I’m raised in a culture where you don’t observe the chain of command, you go around.”

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