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At the Center of the Storm: My Years at the CIA Hardcover – Bargain Price, April 30, 2007
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Top Customer Reviews
Anyone who claims this book is former CIA director George Tenet's self-exonerating backlash against his former agency or his one-time boss, President George W. Bush, has not yet read At the Center of the Storm, and is in for a surprise. If no other part of this book is read, I'd urge anyone to turn to the chapter entitled "They Want To Change The World" and then defy anyone to walk away without feeling slightly less secure. Yes, Tenet does give his side of the story for his now-infamous "slam dunk" remark, and has select critical words for the current administration, particularly Secretary of State Rice, and Vice President Cheney, but instead of using this work as a vituperous denunciation of Washington insiders, he makes what I found to be a responsible criticism of exactly what was mishandled in the time between September 11, 2001, and the period that followed the end of the (first stage of the) Iraq War, and what has come to be termed the occupation of that country.
Still, what kept me glued to these pages, what frightened and disturbed me, and what is sure to outshine the revelations on the conduct of the Bush administration and be most discussed in weeks ahead, is Tenet's revelations on the tenacity of the west's greatest foe, al-Quida (to use this book's spelling), its murderous ambitions, and the scope of what he maintains are some of its plots for mass-homicide. In At the Center of the Storm, Tenet writes of al-Qaida's 2003 plans for a gas attack on New York City's mass transit system. He tells of that organization's efforts to persuade scientists in Pakistan to sell it nuclear materials, and Tenet writes with a chilling detachment as he tells of bin Laden's meetings with Pakistani leaders with a goal of attaining that same technology. Most disconcerting of all is Tenet's statement that these meetings, including a face to face session between bin Laden and the Pakistani president, took place in the summer of 2001, mere weeks before 9-11, leading to the conclusion that things could actually have been so much worse than they were.
Tenet also has a mixed opinion on the Saudis as partners in the fight against global terrorism. On one hand he is critical of Prince Naif's frequent unwillingness to provide names of suspects, and accuses him of indifferent vacillation, and yet Tenet also has praise for (now) King Abdullah, and writes that without Saudi cooperation, US efforts to defend itself would be greatly hampered, perhaps past the point of effectiveness.
At the Center of the Storm is an engrossing read written by a credible source who one feels is coming clean here, as well as telling his side of things. Part insider's take on recent politics and policy, part revelation of the state of danger in our tumultuous world, it will become a best seller, and deserves to be.
The book loses one star for a lack of prior context. George Tenet was Staff Director of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (SSCI) for many years, and then Intelligence Director for Bill Clinton. He avoids any mention of his long-standing role in helping dismantle the very IC he ended up leading, and he is terribly deceptive when he says he asked for more funding for anti-terrorism, but fails to mention his inability to redirect funds within the $35-40 billon he had at the time. Today the IC has $60-70B and we are no safer--these clowns cannot even put together a consolidated accurate terrorist watchlist five years after 9/11.
The bottom line on the author is that he is a big-hearted staffer, not a leader and not a strategic thinker. He was a place-holder in a job that two presidents saw fit to relegate to losers--a mouse, a pit-bull, and a turtle.
He takes credit for months of redesign dialog but fails to point out that there was no substantive contact with iconoclasts, published author-practitioners. I am especially angry that he placed Buzzy Krongard in as Executive Director. In my view, Krongard was there to look out for Wall Street interests and ensure Brown and Root did not get caught smuggling drugs into the USA through New Orleans and heavy equipment being returned to the USA "for repairs." I've come to the conclusion, after thirty years in this business, that there are four CIA's: 1) White House sychophants; 2) Wall Street support via Carlyle Group and a small network of retired intermediaries; 3) the "front" of earnest people working out of official installations, incapable of actually doing serious spying (I was part of this group); and finally, a multinational "dirty deeds" arm that does terribly immoral and illegal things with Saudi money, Egyptian sodomy of children (photographed so as to force them to spy on their fathers), and so on.
In many ways, this book is a capstone account of the death of US secret intelligence. It's gone. The DNI, DCI and USDI are earnest men, but they will fail because they simply do not comprehend the "paradigms of failure" (essay online) and are not willing to contemplate a clean-sheet fresh-start. On page 26 the author confirms that "time and technology [have] passed us by."
As fascinating as his claims are of ramping up on Bin Laden, I go with Michael Sheuer's damnation as published by the Washington Post. Condi Rice blew off warnings, Dick Cheney focused on energy conspiracies with Enron and Exxon, and the plain truth is that the CIA refused to read the book by Yossef Bodansky or view the PBS broadcast in 1994 by Steve Emerson. They closed themselves off from open sources (called "Open Sores" within the now near-moronic secret world).
The middle of the book is sensational. Chapter Thirteen on "The Threat Matrix" and the succeeding chapters in Part II of the book are superb and contain many nuggets that restored much of my respect for the author.
The author damns Cheney on page 138 for taking over the National Security Council and it is clear that if there is one person to be impeached for high crimes and misdemeanors, it is not the President, but rather the Vice President.
On page 317 he tells us that "Policy makers have a right to their own opinions but not their own set of facts."
He slams Rumsfeld for blocking several 737's full of State people and language-qualified individuals specifically trained and organized to get the post-war reconstruction off to a good start. He does not mention Rumsfeld's idiocy in allowing Pakistan to evacuate 3,000 Taliban and Al Qaeda people from Tora Bora, but he does mention that General Tommy Franks refused to put the Rangers in Bin Laden's path, claiming he needed weeks to set it up (this is of course baloney, they could have been air-dropped in 24 hours with a 3-day resupply 24 hours after arrival).
He defends himself on the "slam dunk" as applying to the presentation plan for the UN, not the intelligence. I want to believe this, but the fact that he took imagery and other materials to the first NSC meeting, significantly on Iraq rather than terrorism, gives me pause. I certainly do believe that Dick Cheney hijacked the White House and closed out the entire policy process, but George Tenet, Colin Powell, and our generals all failed us by not resigning and screaming out at the top of their lungs against the high crimes and misdemeanors they witnessed Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz, Doug Feith, and Steve Cambone commit, day after day.
He lays bare Cheney's misbehavior in stating on 26 August 2002 that "there is no doubt" on Iraq's having weapons of mass deception but very strangely does not mention that both Hussein's son-in-law who defected to the US, and every one of the 25+ line crossers that Charlie Allen sent in, all said the same thing: kept the cook books, destroyed the stocks, bluffing for regional ego's sake.
He slams Paul Bremer for de-Bathification and confirms that "Iraq came at exactly the right time for Al Qaeda."
The author avoids major criticism of Stephen Cambone, Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence, but he reveals the DoD operations against Iran. He tells us about Chalabi hoaxing DIA for millions, and that President Bush ordered Chalabi off the payroll.
He confirms Paul William's view on Al Qaeda having nuclear capabilities.
Pre 9/11 air travelers believed "be calm, see Cuba" when hijacked. Pre 9-11, and today still, our senior government executives are still confusing loyalty with integrity. We can do better. We need, right now, a "Smart Nation."
On Intelligence: Spies and Secrecy in an Open World
Intelligence Failure: How Clinton's National Security Policy Set the Stage for 9/11
Bin Laden: The Man Who Declared War on America
First In: An Insider's Account of How the CIA Spearheaded the War on Terror in Afghanistan
Jawbreaker: The Attack on Bin Laden and Al-Qaeda: A Personal Account by the CIA's Key Field Commander
A Pretext for War: 9/11, Iraq, and the Abuse of America's Intelligence Agencies
Osama's Revenge: THE NEXT 9/11 : What the Media and the Government Haven't Told You
The True Cost of Conflict/Seven Recent Wars and Their Effects on Society
The Sorrows of Empire: Militarism, Secrecy, and the End of the Republic (The American Empire Project)
THE SMART NATION ACT: Public Intelligence in the Public Interest
To be sure, this is not any easy book to read. It is certainly long, and at times tedious, but that is the nature of this type of book. The names of the al-Qa'dia (as spelled in the book) members alone are enough to twist the brain, however those names are important to understand how the organization moved people through and around the world.
Two chapters that were fascinating to me were "They Want to Change History" and "Casus Belli". They contained information that changed, in some ways, how I perceive just what has happened, and how what happened did happen. I won't reveal more, as I think it is important for people to read the actual book.
Unlike so many people that are condemning the book before reading it, I found it to be as well balanced as any autobiography is. Mr. Tenet spreads blame to himself, as well as to a number of other people for failures that occurred. And it is important to realize that, while he made mistakes, others made larger and more costly mistakes, including Saddam himself.
This book has good information that will be helpful to the historians that will eventually write the entire story of this administration and the history of the world after 9/11. I realize this review won't change the minds of most people, but to condemn the book without reading it would be a shame.