Friday's must-reads


Geraldine Sealey
June 4, 2004 5:41PM (UTC)

Tenet: Taking one for Bush?
Newsweek says even George Tenet's friends and colleagues were surprised at the timing of his announcement to resign, since he had signaled he would stay on at the CIA until after the election. With two damning reports of the intelligence community on the way, a source muses that Tenet's stepping down could have been timed to help the Bush's political future.

"'This seems to have as much to do with the president's re-election as anything else,' says one veteran intelligence community official who has long been close to Tenet. 'George is a fighter and it's not in his character to walk away like this. I think he read the tea leaves' that the White House wanted him to leave, the official said. Bush today praised Tenet, saying 'he's done a superb job on behalf of the American people.' But the intelligence community official said 'the point is the president didn't stop him' from resigning by asking him to stay on."

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The rap on Tenet
The New York Times assesses the gathering criticisms of George Tenet's tenure even as Washington generally praises him for being hard-working and congenial.

"At the core of the criticism of Mr. Tenet -- and by extension Mr. Bush -- are two central arguments. One is that Mr. Tenet failed to exercise the proper skepticism about what capabilities Saddam Hussein had in hand. But the second, perhaps more damaging one, is that he acquiesced to a White House that wanted a certain type of evidence about Iraq and was surprisingly less concerned about evidence that North Korea and Iran were making far more progress toward nuclear weapons than Mr. Hussein was."

" ... Perhaps the most damning but indirect critique of Mr. Tenet has come from an old friend and ally: Secretary of State Colin L. Powell. In an interview last year, Mr. Powell warmly described his relationship with Mr. Tenet as that of two kids from the streets of New York who 'watch each other's back.'"

"But in recent days, Mr. Powell has demanded answers about how he could have been led so astray before he went to the United Nations with Mr. Tenet sitting behind him to describe mobile biological laboratories and other weapons programs that no one has located."

Rummy: Better intel would have stopped 9/11
Without naming the outgoing CIA director George Tenet, Donald Rumsfeld used the day of Tenet's announcement to say he thought Sept. 11 would have been prevented with better intelligence, the AP reports.

"Rumsfeld posed the question, 'Is it a terrible failure that we did not' have sufficiently good intelligence to stop the worst terrorist attack ever on American soil? His answer was that it simply is not possible to prevent every conceivable attack, and that is why the United States has taken a more aggressive approach to disrupting terrorists before they strike."

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"... When a Marine asked Rumsfeld whether he thought there had been enough intelligence information to prevent the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, Rumsfeld replied that the congressionally chartered commission investigating the matter has not finished its work. 'We lacked the intelligence that might have prevented it,' he said, citing testimony given to the commission. 'That is to say, we did not have a source inside the group of people that had planned and executed those attacks ... Had we had a source inside there we undoubtedly would have been able to stop it. We did not. It would have been terrific if we had.'"

Al-Qaida trainee told FBI of plane plot in 2000
The Wall Street Journal spoke to a "British Muslim who claims he was trained as a hijacker for Osama bin Laden but surrendered to the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation about 18 months before the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in the U.S."

"Niaz Khan, a British subject of Pakistani descent, said in an interview that he was recruited by Islamic radicals in England and trained to hijack airplanes at a school in Pakistan before being sent to New York to await orders. There is no independent confirmation that Mr. Khan, 30 years old, trained to be a hijacker. But there is abundant evidence that in April 2000, he described to FBI agents in Newark, N.J., plans to hijack U.S. airliners. Mr. Khan said he was lured into joining a group of Islamic radicals who offered to pay off his gambling debts. It isn't clear why Mr. Khan decided to go to the FBI."

" ... If true, Mr. Khan's story represents one of the strongest warnings about al Qaeda's hijacking ambitions received by U.S. investigators prior to Sept. 11. FBI officials say they are familiar with Mr. Khan's allegations but decline to say whether they believe them or will investigate further. A spokesman for the 9/11 Commission, the independent panel investigating the attacks, said it would be premature to comment, but the commission is reviewing everything gathered in the congressional inquiry."

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"... Mr. Khan's claims clearly were investigated in the U.S. In interviews with The Wall Street Journal, he produced tattered business cards from two FBI counterterrorism agents with whom he said he spent about two weeks in 2000. According to records and law-enforcement officials, he passed two FBI polygraph tests of his story. He eventually was turned over to British police. Mr. Khan and law-enforcement officials familiar with the matter said they have no indication that since Sept. 11, either the FBI or British agencies have investigated whether the Pakistani hijacking school existed or who sponsored it. A spokesman for the London Metropolitan Police declined to comment."

Rumsfeld restricts access to Boeing documents
Knight-Ridder reports that Donald Rumsfeld "has sharply limited the information he is willing to let Congress see on a controversial defense contract that is the focus of multiple investigations."

"Senators, led by John McCain, R-Ariz., have been demanding that the Air Force hand over internal e-mails and other communications on negotiations with Boeing and efforts to slide the deal through Congress. Critics contend that the deal was laden with conflicts of interest and that the planes may not be needed. In a letter to Sen. John Warner, R-Va., chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Rumsfeld said Warner's committee would get only a sharply limited release of internal Air Force e-mails and documents. McCain said Rumsfeld's response would 'eviscerate the responsibility of Congress to provide oversight in such matters. There is not one single element in that letter which is acceptable to me,' he said."

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"The e-mails and other materials concern a proposed lease of 100 Boeing 767 aerial refueling tankers for some $30 billion. After criticism, the deal was changed to a lease of 20 tankers and purchase of 80 for $23 billion."

Kerry: Bush imposing "backdoor draft"
The Washington Post reports on John Kerry's remarks on the future of the military, including his charges that Bush is instituting a "backdoor draft" by extending tours of duty.

"Sen. John F. Kerry said here Thursday that he would increase the active-duty Army by 40,000 soldiers, including a doubling of U.S. Special Forces; speed development of new technologies and equipment to meet threats posed by terrorist networks; and better integrate the National Guard into the nation's homeland security strategy."

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"The Democratic presidential candidate said that, to cover part of the cost of his proposals, he would cut back current funding levels for a national missile defense system, which he characterized as 'the wrong priority' at a time when the nature of the threats has changed."

"Kerry repeated his charge that the Bush administration has instituted a 'backdoor draft' to deal with a military stretched thin by deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan, and pledged as president to expand and transform the armed services to handle more effectively the unconventional threats of the 21st century. Kerry seized on Wednesday's Pentagon announcement that it will extend tours of duty for thousands of soldiers whose units may be heading to Iraq and Afghanistan, part of the administration's effort to deal with a much higher level of violence than they had anticipated."


Geraldine Sealey

Geraldine Sealey is senior news editor at Salon.com.

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