Book’s anecdote true, Tenet says

Times Staff Writer

After a weekend barrage to promote his new book, former CIA Director George J. Tenet was on the defensive Monday, answering criticism over his claim that the Bush administration had settled on blaming Iraq for the Sept. 11 attacks from the very start.

In the opening anecdote of “At the Center of the Storm: My Years at the CIA,” Tenet wrote that he had encountered Pentagon advisor Richard N. Perle at the White House on Sept. 12, 2001 -- the day after the terrorist strikes -- and that Perle told him: “Iraq has to pay a price for what happened yesterday, they bear responsibility.”

The problem, critics say, is that Perle was in Europe on Sept. 11 and has said he didn’t return to the United States until Sept. 15. Perle previously has denied making such a comment to Tenet, and was unavailable for comment Monday.

Tenet tried to deflect the growing criticism during an appearance on NBC’s “Today” show Monday. During an interview, former “NBC Nightly News” anchor Tom Brokaw asked the ex-CIA chief about the factual discrepancy in the Perle story. Tenet conceded: “I may have been off by a couple of days. The encounter occurred. The conversation occurred.... So I may have gotten the days wrong, but I know I got the substance of that conversation correct.”


Publicist Tina Andreadis said Monday that HarperCollins -- which reportedly paid Tenet a $4-million advance for his book -- had fact-checked the material in it.

In “At the Center of the Storm” -- which had a first printing of 300,000 copies -- Tenet blasts the administration, saying it had no firm rationale for going to war, and accuses the White House of trying to shift blame to the CIA.

But William Kristol, editor of the conservative Weekly Standard, is one of those who has thrown criticism back at Tenet. In the magazine’s latest issue, Kristol questioned the veracity of Tenet’s account, asking: “How many other facts has George Tenet invented?”