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In the whirlwind of accusations and recriminations that emerged in the wake of 9/11 and the Iraq war, one man's vital testimony has been conspicuously absent. Candid and gripping, At the Center of the Storm recounts George Tenet's time at the Central Intelligence Agency, a revealing look at the inner workings of the most important intelligence organization in the world during the most challenging times in recent history. With unparalleled access to both the highest echelons of government and raw intelligence from the field, Tenet illuminates the CIA's painstaking attempts to prepare the country against new and deadly threats, disentangles the interlocking events that led to 9/11, and offers explosive new information on the deliberations and strategies that culminated in the U.S. invasion of Iraq.
Beginning with his appointment as Director of Central Intelligence in 1997, Tenet unfolds the momentous events that led to 9/11 as he saw and experienced them: his declaration of war on al-Qa'ida; the CIA's covert operations inside Afghanistan; the worldwide operational plan to fight terrorists; his warnings of imminent attacks against American interests to White House officials in the summer of 2001; and the plan for a coordinated and devastating counterattack against al-Qa'ida laid down just six days after the attacks.
Tenet's compelling narrative then turns to the war in Iraq as he provides dramatic insight and background on the run-up to the invasion, including a firsthand account of the fallout from the inclusion of "sixteen words" in the president's 2003 State of the Union address, which claimed that Saddam Hussein had sought to purchase uranium from Africa; the true context of Tenet's own now-famous "slam dunk" comment regarding Saddam's WMD program; and the CIA's critical role in an administration predisposed to take the country to war. In doing so, he sets the record straight about CIA operations and shows readers that the truth is more complex than suggested in other versions of recent history offered thus far.
Through it all, Tenet paints an unflinching self-portrait of a man caught between the warring forces of the administration's decision-making process, the reams of frightening intelligence pouring in from around the world, and his own conscience. In At the Center of the Storm, George Tenet draws on his unmatched experience within the opaque mirrors of intelligence and provides crucial information previously undisclosed to offer a moving, revelatory profile of both a man and a nation in times of crisis.
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About the Author
George Tenet was the Director of Central Intelligence from 1997 to 2004. He holds a BSFS from the Georgetown University School of Foreign Service and an MIA from the School of International Affairs at Columbia University. He was appointed to the faculty of Georgetown University in 2004 and lives outside Washington, D.C., with his wife, author Stephanie Glakas-Tenet, and their son.
Read an Excerpt
At the Center of the Storm
My Years at the CIA
It was like something out of a spy movie.
The date was March 16, 1997, a Sunday. I was at home, on a rare day off, when the phone rang. "Meet me by the C&O Canal, near the Old Angler's Inn in an hour," a voice said, almost in a whisper. "Come alone." That was all. He didn't have to identify himself; he knew I would be there.
The voice belonged to Anthony Lake, who had stepped down as national security advisor two months earlier, when Bill Clinton nominated him to be director of the Central Intelligence Agency. Back in 1992, at the start of the Clinton administration, Tony had made me part of his National Security Council staff. Prior to that I had served as a Senate staffer, and for the previous four years had been staff director of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. Over the course of three years on the NSC staff, I had formed a warm personal and professional relationship with Lake and his deputy, Sandy Berger. Then, in May 1995, John Deutch, who was about to become CIA director, tapped me to be his second in command. We had gotten to know each other when Deutch was deputy secretary of defense and had even traveled together once overseas to deal with a sensitive intelligence matter. But now, after only a year and a half in the job, Deutch was leaving CIA, and my friend and former boss Tony Lake had been picked to replace him.
Tony had all the right tools for the job: intelligence, acumen, the confidence of the president, and strength of character. Outsiders who observed Tony when he was national security advisor assumed from his quietcomportment that he was some misplaced mild-mannered professor. Not so. Amid many large egos, Tony was the unchallenged boss at the NSC, a master at process and bureaucratic intrigue. He had observed up close the dysfunctional backbiting that crippled the Carter administration and had worked hard to prevent a repeat performance under Bill Clinton. A rarity in Washington, Tony had no desire to have a high profile, and he emphasized to his staff that we would succeed or fail together as a team. None of us, he stressed, had been elected to the offices we held.
All those attributes made Tony an ideal choice, I thought, to lead CIA. Selfishly, I also knew that his arrival at Langley meant that I would be able to stay on in the deputy's job—a position I was learning to love.
John Deutch—a brilliant, eccentric, and largely misunderstood figure—had an ability to translate his technical expertise into policy in a way few people could. A gregarious bear of a man, he wanted to be respected by the Agency's workforce. But shortly after he arrived at CIA, the Agency's inspector general issued a report criticizing the professionalism of some CIA officers in Guatemala in the 1980s, and John disciplined some of those named. That got him off to a rough start with the workforce. And then things got worse.
His downfall came when he told a reporter for the New York Times Magazine that he did not find many first-class intellects at the Agency. "Compared to uniformed officers," the Times quoted John as saying, "they certainly are not as competent, or as understanding of what their relative role is and what their responsibilities are." The Central Intelligence Agency is a very emotional place, and after that, John's chances of winning hearts and minds there were pretty much shot. I know he regretted his remarks. It was a valuable lesson that I would put to use later: You have to earn your employees' trust, keep your own counsel, be optimistic, and, as I always said, lead from "the perspective of the glass being always half-full."
John's tumultuous tenure at CIA ended in December 1996 when he abruptly resigned. The conventional wisdom around Washington was that he really wanted to be secretary of defense and that when it became clear that post was not to be his, he left government for good. Whatever the actual reason, after he cleaned out his desk, I became acting director.
I thought I would have to handle the two jobs for only a short while until Lake was confirmed. But four months later, the nomination was still tied up in the Senate. I figured that the delay in Tony's confirmation was behind his request to meet with me, but I had no idea why he had insisted on such an unusual location. His instructions to come alone were especially puzzling. He knew that deputy CIA directors don't go anywhere alone. Since I'd taken the job at the Agency, a heavily armed security detail had been my constant companion. Everywhere I went, I was driven around in a big, black armored SUV with a second follow car full of guys with guns. Threats against senior CIA officials by terrorists and nutcases were very real. In the four months since I had become acting DCI, the security had been ratcheted up even tighter.
Nonetheless, I tried to comply with Tony's request for discretion. I called in the chief of my security detail, Dan O'Connor, and told him that he and I needed to go for a little ride—alone. Dan, known around the Agency as "Doc," for his initials, is a big, genial New York Irishman. He would take a bullet to save my life without hesitation, but he hated the notion of our venturing out without the usual retinue of backups. His duty was to minimize the risk to me, not maximize it. Nonetheless, he drove over to my home, and the two of us headed south toward the Potomac River.
We pulled into the gravel parking lot across from the Old Angler's Inn. From there, with Doc keeping a discreet distance, I set off down a dirt path to the century-and-a-half-old canal that once carried . . .At the Center of the Storm
My Years at the CIA. Copyright © by George Tenet. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
Table of Contents
Principal Characters ix
The Towpath 3
The Burning Platform 13
Shot Out of a Cannon 29
Waging Peace 53
Beyond Wye 73
Gathering Storm 99
"They're Coming Here" 133
"We're at War" 175
Missed Opportunities 191
Into the Sanctuary 207
Threat Matrix 229
They Want to Change History 259
The Merchant of Death and the Colonel 281
Casus Belli 301
"The One Issue That Everyone Could Agree On" 321
No Authority, Direction, or Control 341
Slam Dunk 359
Taking "the Case" Public 369
Diplomacy by Other Means 385
The Hunt for WMD 401
Mission Not Accomplished 417
Sixteen Words 449