Friday | July 11, 2003
The heat is on Tenet
By Steve Gilliard
The West Wing is desperately trying to shift the blame for the Niger fiasco on the CIA.
They might want to reconsider such an act. CIA directors make poor fallguys.
Richard Helms, however, was not about to provide the cover for Watergate that the president expected. He had been told that Nixon planned to replace him immediately after the election, and he feared, as he told me subsequently, that Nixon also planned "to destroy [his] agency." Nixon, it will be recalled, had already excluded Helms from some meetings of the National Security Council. The director of CIA was also well aware that in the reorganization of the Investigative agencies in the narcotics program the White House strategists had twice attempted to detach CIA agents and use them for their own domestic purposes. Krogh had, fact, demanded and received surreptitious funds from the CIA to pursue his war against heroin.
Although Helms denied that he had specific knowledge of Hunt's activities on the special-investigation unit, he could not have been entirely unaware of the extraordinary nature of the relationship between Hunt and the other Plumbers and the White House. In any case, Helms saw that these White House maneuvers-and the demands being put upon his agency-could jeopardize the integrity of the CIA (and diminish its autonomy within the government). When Haldeman and Ehrlichman approached Helms with the president's suggestion that he inform the FBI that a deeper investigation of the Watergate burglary could uncover CIA activities, he pointedly refused, saying that the burglars arrested in Watergate were not involved with the CIA. The White House was thus deprived of its most expedient way of covering up the burglars.
Not only did the CIA refuse to intervene for the president to limit the FBI investigation, but Robert Foster Bennett, president of Robert R. Mullen and Company, which acted as a coordinator for Hunt in a number of his prior activities, began planting stories in the Washington Post which suggested that the Watergate burglary was directly connected to other White House activities. Indeed, Bennett sent a memorandum to his CIA case officer, Martin J. Lukasky-who controlled the covert activities of Mullen and Company-which described how he had established a relationship with Bob Woodward, of the Post, and was seeking to direct the attention of the Post to Charles Colson's activities and away from those of the CIA. In return for these stories, Bennett said that Woodward was protecting the covert activities of Mullen and Company and the CIA, according to a memorandum written to the CIA on July 10, 1972. As Colson saw material appearing in the Post which implied that he was behind Watergate, he began planting detective stories on his own behalf. The "battle of the leaks," as Colson called it, thus began to sink the Nixon administration.
Think George Tenet has read about the career of Richard Helms?
Update: Tenet takes blame for statement in SOTU, taking heat off West Wing staff and prompting the question: so if the CIA warned the British off of this statement in 2002, why did he approve it? More importantly, why did the British use the statement.
It's a marvelous game of accepting blame without responsibilty. Tenet says all I said is that it is "factually correct" to say the British say this is true. Which is it and which no one is accusing Bush of not saying. The lie, at least to those not simpleminded, was the original allegation, disproven as a forgery nearly a year before by a senior former diplomat familar with both Iraq and Niger.
Why Tenet decided to take the blame is a mystery, but also, why did he not correct the President when the statement was made? He had every reason to know it was false.
By shifting the blame to the British, which is what this does, it takes the heat off, temporarily from Bush AND the CIA. But people are going to want to know what kind of decisionmaking process took place which allowed Tenet to permit such a dubious statement to go forward.
Maybe he's protecting the staff Cheney was pressuring over this, because it just doesn't make sense otherwise. He had to know the Agency thought the statement was false or dubious at best. Letting it go forward should cost him his job.Posted July 11, 2003 02:43 PM