On the radio show Fresh Air this Wednesday, Terry Gross interviewed George Tenet, former Director of Central Intelligence, who is hawking his new book about his time at the CIA (you can listen to the streamed audio at that link, or download it as an MP3 file at this link).
I have to say that Mr Tenet did not come across well, at least as I heard it. He portrayed himself, much as Oliver North did in the Iran/Contra affair: as an innocent victim, a scapegoat for the Bush administration, someone who just did his job and looked neither left nor right.
The thing is, I can't accept that from a senior manager. Mr Tenet wasn't a low- or even middle-level manager, taking care of his corner of the agency and having insufficient power to take a stand. He headed the agency, some six or seven management levels up from the first line folks. Organizationally, he was only one level removed from the president; operationally, he reported to the president daily. Yet he presents himself as someone who provided information only, leaving, as he said, policy to the policy makers.
Ms Gross asked him several times about what he thought or what he would have done, and he consistently evaded the question, repeating the “leave policy to the policy makers” mantra. At one point he said something that very much recalls Lt Col North's speech about dutifully marching up the hill and doing his job (which in North's case involved shredding documents):
Look, Terry, I had thousands of people working for me. Al Quaeda was a full-time job. Afghanistan came along. Iraq came along. We had people on the ground. We're writing the president's daily brief every day. We've got liaison relationships around the world. I had plenty to do. People always want to put you in the moment. I had enough to do and worry about in terms of my own responsibilities; I didn't think very much about these issues at the time. People have asked me, contemporaneously, well what did you think. Well, you know what? Not part of my day, not part of how I thought about my life, I had plenty to do. I believe that I was responsible for providing intelligence to this administration, I did it faithfully, and the rest... God only knows.Iraq didn't “come along”; Mr Tenet's boss used the information that Mr Tenet's agency was providing in order to bring Iraq along. Are we really to believe that he never thought about that, never considered whether the policy decisions followed reasonably from the information he was providing? And near the end of the interview, he says this:
The issue for me, Terry, is that I was the Director of Central Intelligence. I'm agnostic on policy issues. I'm not a hero. It's not my job to make policy, I didn't go into the president and say “Don't do this.”
No, I don't buy it. When you're that high up in management, you do have both an opportunity and a responsibility to say what you think should be done. Even if you don't make policy, you have the ears of the people who do. If you really think the information you're giving them is being misused or ignored, you have a responsibility to say so. It is part of your job at that level, and it's also part of your moral job as a citizen and a person.
And Mr Tenet, sacrificial lamb though he might be, just comes across as trying to slough off any responsibility. No, sir. If you didn't agree with what they were doing with the information you gave them, and you didn't try to change it... then you're complicit.