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Perle: Tenet trying to shift blame for 9/11

Story Highlights

• Ex-deputy defense chief says ex-CIA director's book is inaccurate
• "He makes up things I never said," Richard Perle tells CNN
• Tenet's book claims Perle immediately blamed Saddam Hussein for 9/11
• Perle says Hussein, bin Laden had links but denies Tenet account
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Richard Perle said Friday that former CIA Director George Tenet is attempting to "shift responsibility" for his failure to anticipate the September 11, 2001, attacks and recognize the threat terrorists posed to the United States.

The former assistant secretary of defense, singled out in Tenet's book for immediately linking former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein with the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, disputed Tenet's recollection.

"He simply makes up things I never said and places them on a date I wasn't even in the country," Perle said on CNN's "The Situation Room." (Watch Perle call Tenet "sloppy by nature" Video)

In Tenet's book about his tenure at the CIA, "At the Center of the Storm," he writes that the day after the 9/11 attacks, Perle told him, "Iraq has to pay the price for what happened. They bear responsibility." (Watch Tenet say he was a fall guy Video)

"It never happened," Perle said Friday. "I never said the things that he attributes to me."

He said he was in France at the time of the attacks and did not see Tenet until a week later, when he encountered the CIA director coming into the White House as he was leaving. "We didn't converse at all," Perle said.

"He's just got it completely wrong," Perle said. "I never believed Saddam Hussein was responsible for 9/11, and by the time I returned to the U.S., it was pretty clear that it was [Osama] bin Laden. Indeed, bin Laden was claiming credit."

He told CNN's Wolf Blitzer that Tenet's book is "riddled with inaccuracies" and that the former CIA director is "uncomfortable, as he should be, with the failure not only to anticipate 9/11 specifically, but the failure to understand the extent of the terrorist threat, and so he wants to shift responsibility."

On September, 16, 2001, Perle, in a CNN interview, said that even if it couldn't be conclusively proved that Hussein and bin Laden were involved in the attacks, there were ties between the two. He stood by those comments Friday, saying the relationship between the two has been documented.

"I had been in favor of removing Saddam for a long time before 9/11, because it seemed to me he posed a danger to the U.S., and the sense of danger he posed was made far more acute by 9/11, because we discovered on 9/11 that we had waited too long to deal with a known threat -- with Osama bin Laden, with al Qaeda. We had been watching al Qaeda prepare for an attack on the U.S., and we did nothing."

Perle added: "You can't replay history and judge today what Saddam might have done if he had been left alone. It's easy to say he was in his box, but the sanctions that kept him in that box were very fragile and would not have survived, at least I don't believe they would have."

Perle was a vocal supporter of the invasion of Iraq aimed at deposing Hussein. He did not apologize for that Friday, but said he felt the war had been mishandled.

"I'm sorry that after removing Saddam, we did not hand things back to the Iraqis," he said. "I'm sorry that we embarked on an occupation that became the basis for an insurgency against us. I think the right thing to have done -- and I said it at the time -- was to hand things to the Iraqis as soon as Saddam was removed from office."

Asked who bears responsibility for that, Perle said ultimately it would be President Bush and his closest advisers.

"They made the decision, I think wrongly, that we send thousands of Americans to Iraq and try to administer that country," he said. "They did it with good will and good intentions, I certainly don't fault them for that. But it was politically inept and I think it contributed to the situation we're in today."


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Former Assistant Defense Secretary Richard Perle says he wasn't even in the country on September 12, 2001.

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