George Tenet's Tale

  • Share
  • Read Later
Eric Draper / AP

George Tenet, second from left, gives President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney, back to camera, an update on the status of military action in Iraq.

In an exclusive book excerpt, former CIA director George Tenet alleges that Bush Administration officials kept the CIA in the dark on some of their most important decisions in Iraq, sometimes dismissed the advice and intelligence of CIA officers in Baghdad and harbored a "schoolgirl" crush on exile Iraqi Ahmed Chalabi.

TIME has obtained first serial rights to the book, titled At the Center of the Storm. An excerpt will be posted on on Sunday night at 8pm.

On Friday, initial press reports about the book, reported that Tenet acknowledges that he made his storied remark about the prewar intelligence on Iraq being a "slam dunk," but that other U.S. officials shared his comment with Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward — many months after the fact — out of context in an effort to shift the blame for the war's costs and direction from the White House to the CIA. Tenet describes watching an episode of Meet the Press in 2006 in which Vice President Cheney cited the "slam dunk" comment as a critical reason behind the U.S. invasion of Iraq and recalls thinking: "As if you needed me to say 'slam dunk' to convince you to go to war with Iraq."

At the Center of the Storm is the first book written by a member of the President's inner circle after Sept. 11, and it was written in part because Tenet believes the "slam dunk" remark has became an unfair epitaph for his CIA tenure. In its 549 pages, Tenet defends his actions and is highly critical of the decision-making process that led to the Iraq war. "There was never a serious debate that I know of within the administration about the imminence of the Iraqi threat," Tenet writes. He adds that there was also no "significant discussion" about dealing with Saddam Hussein short of war.

Tenet chronicles the tension between himself and Vice President Cheney, as well as his arguments with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, but has mostly kind words for President Bush. Of Bush's leadership after Sept. 11 he writes, "He was absolutely in charge, determined, and directed." Still, Tenet is skeptical about the outcome of the war in Iraq, particularly about the so-called surge strategy. "It may have worked more than three years ago," he writes. "My fear is that sectarian violence in Iraq has taken on a life of its own and that U.S. forces are becoming more and more irrelevant."

On this morning's Today show, Presidential advisor Dan Bartlett complimented the former CIA director as a "fine American" and "a patriot," but denied there was a lack of discussion or debate prior to the invasion of Iraq. "The President did wrestle with those very questions," Bartlett said.