In This Review

At the Center of the Storm: My Years at the CIA
At the Center of the Storm: My Years at the CIA
By George Tenet with Bill Harlow
HarperCollins, 2007, 576 pp.
On the Brink: An Insider's Account of How the White House Compromised American Intelligence
On the Brink: An Insider's Account of How the White House Compromised American Intelligence
By Tyler Drumheller with Elaine Monaghan
Carroll & Graf, 2006, 304 pp.

It is understandable that this first memoir from a top figure in the Bush administration has been judged and found deficient in terms of what it says about the Iraq debacle. But the bulk of the book makes for an interesting and generally candid read about the CIA's role in contemporary U.S. foreign policy. There is a lot, for example, about Tenet's substantial engagement with the Israeli-Palestinian issue, and the chapters on the efforts to make sense of Islamist militancy and track al Qaeda's plots are riveting and illuminating. The problem with the book is that Tenet has allowed a criticism to sting and divert him -- especially that the CIA allowed far too much weight to be placed on flimsy intelligence on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction. His "slam dunk" remark, as reported by Bob Woodward, clearly haunts him. Although Tenet mounts a strong defense of his July 2001 briefing to then National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice on the possibility of an imminent attack, the fact remains that whatever misgivings he had about Iraq, he never risked his political position by voicing them.

That is the basic charge made against Tenet by Drumheller, a senior CIA figure who was largely marginal to the Iraq story except for the fact that he was in Germany dealing with the Iraqi defector known as Curveball. Drumheller claims to have warned that far too much reliance was being placed on this doubtful source, notably before then Secretary of State Colin Powell's much-regretted intelligence presentation to the UN Security Council in February 2003. Tenet devotes many pages to refuting this claim, not wholly convincingly. In other respects, these books have a lot in common. Drumheller recognizes Tenet's personal qualities and talks about the CIA with the same affection and concern for its future as does his former boss.