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Bush - 'I want Bill Casey for the CIA'
Meeting in Oval Office. President George W. Bush and CIA director George Tenet. February 2003.
Bush: Great to see you my good friend, George. I like talking to you because you aren't all wound up like Rummy. I still call Powell "Mr. Secretary" because he is an icon. Carl Rove tells me you are going to give me an important briefing on Iraq before we decide to kick ass there.
Tenet: Mr. President, I am going to give you straight talk on intelligence in Iraq as the CIA sees it. We deem this to be the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.
First, we do not know diddly about Saddam's chemical and biological programs. All our information is outdated U.N. stuff going back to when the inspectors were kicked out. We haven't got the slightest clue where it is or what it is. We have absolutely no intelligence on whether Saddam has actual chemical or biological weapons.
Bush: Rummy says Saddam has tons of anthrax and all sorts of chemical and biological stuff and it is weaponized and ready to go. Rummy says he will use it against our troops and maybe against Israel.
Tenet: With all due respect, Secretary Rumsfeld wants to believe Saddam has it weaponized and will use it. The wish is father to the thought. Mr. President, your dad was once director of the CIA. He can tell you that intelligence isn't as precise as physics. It can be slanted and tilted.
Do you remember Bill Casey, President Reagan's CIA director? Your dad had to endure him when your dad was vice president. Casey slanted intelligence on Nicaragua and El Salvador to conform with President Reagan's preconceptions and wishes. Old Bill used to mumble like Casey Stengel, and Congress could never figure out what the hell he was saying.
Bush: Rummy says that Iraq will have the bomb within a year and we've got to take out Saddam immediately.
Tenet: Mr. President, Iraq's nuclear program is virtually nonexistent. Mr. President, I must tell you that Iraq poses no threat to any nation, especially no threat to the United States. Iraq is a disaster case.
Bush: Rummy says Saddam got uranium from Niger or Nigeria or wherever.
Tenet: That is a complete forgery, and the Defense Department has been so informed.
Bush: Richard Perle and Paul Wolfowitz say Israel is in imminent danger and so are we.
Tenet: With all due respect, Perle and Wolfowitz want to wage war all over the Middle East and convert Islamic nations to U.S.-style democracies. Iraq isn't "imminent" about anything except its own disaster.
Bush: What's Saddam doing with bin Laden?
Tenet: Mr. President, we have no reliable intelligence on any connection.
Bush: Rummy says that if we invade Iraq, it will be a piece of cake and that we can turn over the government to Ahmad Chalabi, draw down our forces to a minimum, and see democracy in Iraq in the not-too-distant future.
Tenet: With all due respect, Chalabi is a crook. He's wanted on an indictment in Syria. He has been feeding invented intelligence to Secretary Rumsfeld, slanting it to suit his own personal ambitions. He hasn't been in Iraq for 40 years and is totally out of touch. Secretary Powell agrees with me on this.
Bush: George, you are depressing me. What will happen after we win the war?
Tenet: Chaos. Mr. President, Iraq will be in shambles. Iraq hasn't spent a dime on its infrastructure since the U.N. boycott in 1991. The electricity, the water supply, the oil wells are all a mess. Mr. President, when we take over Iraq, we are in "deep doo-doo," as your dad used to say.
Bush: But, George, they will greet us as liberators. They will love us.
Tenet: Mr. President, things will be OK in the north with the Kurds. We keep them happy with lots of money. The Shiite south will be violently against us. Remember, your dad double-crossed them. He encouraged them to revolt but then hung them out to dry. Some of the hard-line Sunnis will stick with Saddam. Mr. President, we may have more fatalities in Iraq after you declare victory than we will incur in the war itself.
Bush: George, I like you personally. I do not like your truth. I like Rummy's truth. You are fired. On the way out, tell Carl Rove to come in. He's got to find me a mumbling CIA director like Bill Casey.
Thomas Eagleton of St. Louis is a former U.S. senator from Missouri.