According to DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s Washington sources, President George W. Bush believes that two senators are responsible for the profoundly intrusive approach to American intelligence adopted by the congressional inquiry – the Republican Richard Shelby, whose relations with CIA director George Tenet are adversarial, and a leading Democratic presidential nomination hopeful, Bob Graham.
The 28 critical pages cover not only Tenet’s term as CIA director but go back to an earlier period when he served as deputy director. Full publication could end his career in the CIA. With American forces hunting Saddam Hussein in Iraq closing in on their quarry, this would be the worst possible moment for the president to be confronted with a crisis at the top of US intelligence.
Tenet is also a key figure in the team made up also of secretary of state Colin Powell and national security adviser Condoleezza Rice for raising international troops to back up American forces in Iraq. The president has bought their thesis that foreign troops will only be forthcoming in conditions of relative calm in Iraq and neighboring Middle East countries. Any upsets in Syria, Lebanon, Israel or the Palestinian Authority, they say, will set Iraq on fire again. This is why Tenet acted to abort steps by John Bolton, secretary of state on disarmament, to pressure Damascus to give up the secrets of Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction concealed in Syria and the Lebanese Beqaa Valley.
Vice president Richard Cheney, defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld and his deputy, Paul Wolfowitz – just back from touring Iraq – do not oppose cooling the pressure in principle as long as it gets results. But they believe military and diplomatic heat will produce more from the Syrians and Iranians. They are certain that the uncovering of Saddam’s unconventional weapons arsenal in Syria, or exposure of his illegal weapons programs as a part of a shared project financed additionally by Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Libya (See separate article on this) would turn developments round and vindicate their line of approach. In the meantime, all three are holding their peace out of loyalty to the president.
Bush himself treads carefully between the two camps. His plan to persuade former secretary of state James Baker to undertake defined tasks in Iraq – such as the rehabilitation of the national oil industry and the management of US-Iranian interchanges over Iraq – has run into serious obstacles.
Baker performed a number of unsung diplomatic missions for previous presidents, notably George Bush senior. He carried out the transformation of Mongolia from a sterile buffer between China and Russia into a thriving pro-American enclave and key American electronic intelligence-gathering base in that part of the world. Baker failed in his attempt to effect a similar metamorphosis in Western Sahara. At 73, he is not sure if he wants to undertake a physically taxing, long-term mission in Iraq.
The president is also loath to convey the impression that he cannot cope and needs to call out his father’s cavalry.
The 9/11 report has made a Baker appointment even less likely.
Its fallout will undoubtedly lead to demands for further inquiries against politicians and intelligence heads from the early 1990s, a Pandora’s Box best left unopened if possible. Recalling to government service a senior figure, who would have to face searching questions that might delve into his past intelligence associations, would play into the hands of the president’s rivals, chiefly Senator Graham of Florida.
Bush is certain that Graham, a central figure in the congressional inquiry, steered its conclusions towards a controversy that would dominate his bid for the presidency. The president axed the key 28 pages in order to prevent Graham holding them up as proof of the ineffectiveness of both presidents Bush in coping with al Qaeda and Iraq – not only in 2003, but as far back as 1991.
No part of the congressional report, including the blocked out section, answers the most important question: Has the American intelligence community reorganized and purged itself of the hostile intruders who snarled its operations up until the September 11 disasters? If it has, is US intelligence now capable of anticipating future terrorist attacks in time to take preventing action?