The Bush administration: a bigger threat to national security than a foreign spy. That was Tom Brokaw's implicit assumption in his interview with former CIA Director George Tenet on this morning's "Today." Along the way, Brokaw accused former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld of running a "rogue" intelligence operation.
BROKAW: In the opening passage you describe conversations in the Clinton administration between the Palestinians and the Israelis attempting to get some sort of a new peace arrangement. But the Israelis were demanding the release of Jonathan Pollard, a United States military intelligence analyst who had been selling them secrets, who's in jail for life. You said if you release Jonathan Pollard, I'll resign from the CIA. And yet when you were the head of the CIA, you had Condi Rice ignoring your warnings, Vice-President Cheney exaggerating the threats repeatedly, Don Rumsfeld in the Pentagon running what effectively was a rogue CIA, his own intelligence operation, and you didn't threaten to resign then.
TENET: Well, Tom, I don't know that I agree with the premise of everything in your question, but let me say this. I had a job to do. We had a war on terrorism, we had conflict in Iraq. I thought I could best serve my country by continuing to do my job every day. A Director of Central Intelligence is agnostic on policy because we have to become objective and give them the best data and I thought it was best to serve my country by staying in my job.
BROKAW: But if the country was not getting the true story, which it's fairly clear from your book that it was not, that the Vice-President had one clear view of what was necessary in Iraq, that the Defense Department had its own intelligence operation going on, and Condoleeza Rice was not responding with alacrity to your warnings, very clear warnings, in July of 2001 that an attack was imminent, doesn't a country deserve to know that?
TENET: Well, Tom, I chose to do my job in a way in which you stay inside the system. You do your best. You push your objective analysis. You make people aware of what you believe to be true. People are asking, why are you talking now, why were you silent so long? I certainly wasn't silent within the purview of my job and the councils of the administration in terms of what we said and how we said it.
Brokaw never explained how an intelligence operation created by a Secretary of Defense who was appointed by the president, and which operation in turn reported to the president, could be considered "rogue." And while Tenet oh-so-delicately declined to necessarily agree with all of Brokaw's accusations, he pointedly did not take issue with Brokaw's stunning "rogue" allegation.
Note also Brokaw's claim that "the country was not getting the true story." The former Nightly News anchor seems to align himself with the "Bush lied, people died" crowd.
Meanwhile, what ever happened to the stiff upper lip? Aren't spymasters supposed to be the ultimate in self-abnegation; grey men who are never seen, let alone heard? Not only does Tenet write his book, he makes an overwrought, highly emotional 60 Minutes appearance to flog it. What's worse, all his sturm and drang is in the service not of promoting national security but of righting what he sees as wrongs done to him and his reputation. Tenet should have waited at least until this administration was out of office before so publicly trying to settle scores. His self-serving outburst does nothing to serve his country, and to the contrary is surely the cause of disdainful amusement at the U.S.'s expense in various quarters around the world.
Aside: Is Meredith miffed that NBC apparently didn't consider her up to handling the Tenet interview? Would Matt Lauer have conducted it had he not been off on his "Where in the World is Matt Lauer Tour" or was Brokaw always going to do the interview in any case?
Contact Mark at firstname.lastname@example.org