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Ex-CIA officers slam former boss on Iraq, bin Laden

Story Highlights

• Ex-CIA chief Tenet accused of not speaking out on doubtful prewar intelligence
• White House says CIA was not alone in faulty intelligence about Iraqi WMD
• Former CIA officer says Tenet "less than truthful" on targeting bin Laden
• Tenet, author of new book, outraged over White House use of "slam dunk" phrase
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- In the period leading up to the Iraq war, the head of the CIA didn't speak out loudly enough about U.S. intelligence that said Saddam Hussein did not have weapons of mass destruction, said a former CIA officer Monday.

Ex-CIA intelligence officer Larry Johnson responded to comments by former CIA Director George Tenet which aired on CBS' "60 Minutes" on Sunday. Tenet said the consensus in the U.S. intelligence community was that Iraq did possess WMD, which the Bush administration said was its reason for invading in March of 2003.

Johnson told CNN on Monday that although Tenet knew intelligence indicating that Iraq had WMD "was a problem," he still played a role in the Bush administration's message to the American people that Iraq was a threat. (Watch how Tenet's comments have stirred up a hornet's nest on the U.S.-led war in Iraq Video)

"In fall of 2002, he was told specifically that there was a high level source in Saddam's government that was saying, 'We don't have WMD,' " Johnson said. "George Tenet's hands are just as bloody as everybody else in this administration in helping gin up what was an unfounded case for war."

Johnson is a registered Republican who voted for Bush in 2000.

Tenet, who's authored a new book on his tenure at CIA titled, "At the Center of the Storm," told CBS that he was outraged that senior officials, including Vice President Dick Cheney and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, used Tenet's "slam dunk" reference to bolster Bush's decision to launch the war. (Read about how Rice said Tenet's 'slam dunk' comment didn't lead to war)

Johnson said Tenet "was willing to tell the president, 'Yeah I'll go out and help manipulate public opinion to build the case for war.' That's not the role of an intelligence chief. The role of the intelligence chief of the United States government is to tell the facts to the president and to the Congress regardless of what the political import of those are."

White House spokesman Tony Snow said Monday that while much attention is on Tenet's "slam dunk," comment, the CIA was not alone in its assessment of Iraq's WMD capability.

"There doesn't seem to be any dispute about the fact that the best intelligence available to the United States, the intelligence committees on Capitol Hill, to intelligence services around the world, was that Saddam had some weapons of mass destruction he was pursuing further weapons of mass destruction," said Snow.

On Saturday, Johnson and five other ex-CIA officers released an open letter to Tenet calling their former boss "the Alberto Gonzales of the intelligence community," and describing his book as an "admission of failed leadership." (Read more about the letter and its accusation that Tenet was a "failed leader")

The letter calls on Tenet to return the Presidential Medal of Freedom he received from President Bush and to donate royalties from his book to U.S. military casualties of the war and their families. The letter also says Tenet should have resigned to protest rather than participate in the administration's buildup to the war. (Read a PDF text of the letter)

"He could have stood up and spoke out when he had the job," Johnston said Monday. "He could have changed the course of American history. Instead he kept silent."

The writers accused Tenet of having helped send "very mixed signals" to Americans and their legislators before the war.

"CIA field operatives produced solid intelligence in September 2002 that stated clearly there was no stockpile of any kind of WMD in Iraq," said the letter. "This intelligence was ignored and later misused." In addition to Johnson, the letter was signed by Phil Giraldi, Ray McGovern, Jim Marcinkowski, Vince Cannistraro and David MacMichael.

Ex-CIA official: Tenet 'less than truthful' about bin Laden

Another ex-CIA official, Michael Scheuer, who headed a unit tasked with capturing Osama bin Laden, agreed Monday that Tenet should have resigned rather than participate in the buildup to the war.

Scheuer told CNN that during Tenet's interview with CBS, the former CIA chief was "less than truthful certainly in regard to Osama bin Laden, saying that we didn't have the opportunity to kill him."

Tenet writes in his book about Scheuer's unit and an operation targeting bin Laden that was canceled.

"Every one of the senior operations officers above Mike recommended against undertaking the operation," Tenet writes in "At the Center of the Storm." "They believed the chances of success were too low." (Read excerpts from Tenet's bookexternal link)

Scheuer called that statement "a lie."

"The entire program was approved by everyone above me. It was canceled at the last moment for reasons unknown."

Scheuer said there were eight different chances for the U.S. military to kill bin Laden between May 1998 and May 1999.

"It seems to me if Mr. Tenet didn't speak up for the nature of the intelligence that was available to the United States government, some blame has to fall on him."


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"George Tenet's hands are just as bloody as everybody else in this administration," said former CIA officer Larry Johnson, right.

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