George Tenet

Torture Connection: 
Lord of the Black Sites
  • Born 1953, Flushing, Queens, New York.
  • B.A., Georgetown University; Master's degree, Columbia University School of International and Public Affairs.
  • Served in staff positions in U.S. Senate, including Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, 1979-93.
  • Bill Clinton applinted him to National Security Council, then as Deputy Director, CIA
  • Became CIA Director, 1997. Bush kept him on till 2004.
  • Currently managing investment bank Allen & Co.

In Tenet’s CIA, torture is for defending the agency

The 9/11 attacks placed the CIA in general and George Tenet in particular in a defensive crouch—how had the agency missed al Qaeda’s plot, and what were they doing to assure nothing similar would happen again? Tenet told Bush officials that al Qaeda was so disciplined and sophisticated that the CIA’s normal intelligence-gathering methods (for example, surveillance and infiltration) were useless. He insisted that at “terrorist training schools” al Qaeda members had learned tricks for resisting our usual interrogation methods, and that the only hope of cracking a plot lay in capturing a high-ranking member of al Qaeda and torturing the information out of him. Thus, Tenet explained away his agency’s failure by blaming restrictive laws that had prevented the CIA from torturing. The Bush administration responded immediately by lifting virtually all restrictions; Tenet’s CIA wandered the world, abducting people at will and spiriting them to secret “black sites” where they could be tortured endlessly. To protect the agency from charges of rogue brutality, Tenet repeatedly requested and received permission in writing, and he insisted that a doctor be present during torturous interrogations and that detailed records be kept, including videotapes. Alternatively, he kept the CIA’s hands clean by outsourcing torture to other governments and/or destroying evidence, including his own videotapes.

Tenet feeds false confession obtained through torture to Colin Powell, speeding the runup to war

Tenet’s agents also used torture to promote the interests of the CIA’s bosses, notably Cheney, whose top intelligence priority was linking Saddam Hussein to al Qaeda and 9/11. Cheney was so dissatisfied with CIA efforts in this regard that he had created his own intelligence service in the basement of the Pentagon. In early 2003, a few days before Secretary of State Colin Powell was scheduled to present the case for the Iraq war to the United Nations, Tenet revealed “new information” he said came from interrogation of an unnamed informant who had revealed details of a close working relationship between al Qaeda and the Iraqi government, including Iraqi training of al Qaeda operatives in chemical and biological warfare. Powell, who had reportedly been quite skeptical of the administration case, found the new revelation persuasive; Tenet’s revelation figured prominently in his speech before the U.N. Tenet did not tell Powell that the informant had produced the confession in hopes of putting a stop to waterboarding and other torture; only after the invasion would the falsehood be exposed to Powell and to the entire world.

Sources on George Tenet

Colorado Independent
The American Conservative
The Intercept
The New York Times
The Intercept
The Public Record
Fire Dog Lake
The Guardian
Fire Dog Lake
The New Yorker
Washington Post
Associated Press