Ex-CIA chief says "slam dunk" Iraq quote misused

NEW YORK (Reuters) - A former U.S. spy chief accused President George W. Bush’s administration of ruining his reputation by misusing a “slam dunk” comment he made during a White House meeting ahead of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq.

Former CIA director George Tenet told CBS Television’s “60 Minutes” that the administration leaked his comment as opposition to the war grew when no weapons of mass destruction were found in Iraq.

“You don’t do this. You don’t throw somebody overboard just because it’s a deflection. Is that honorable? It’s not honorable to me,” Tenet said in an interview to be broadcast on Sunday.

Tenet said his comment did not refer to whether Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction, but related to what information could be used to make a public case for the war.

The “slam-dunk” comment first surfaced in journalist Bob Woodward’s 2004 book, “Plan of Attack,” which portrayed Tenet as assuring Bush that finding weapons of mass destruction in Iraq would be a virtual certainty.

“We can put a better case together for a public case. That’s what I meant,” Tenet told “60 Minutes.”

“I’ll never believe that what happened that day informed the president’s view or belief of the legitimacy or the timing of this war. Never!” said Tenet, whose memoirs “At the Center of the Storm” are due to be published next week.

White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said she had not seen the book and would not comment on it.

The expression “slam dunk,” used originally to describe a basketball move, has come to mean something which can be done with near certainty.

The 2003 Iraq invasion was justified largely by intelligence that Saddam Hussein had such weapons. No such weapons were found, and the prewar intelligence effort has since been condemned by a presidential commission as one of the most damaging failures in recent U.S. history.

Tenet, who served under Bush and former President Bill Clinton, resigned in July 2004 amid widespread criticism over intelligence lapses that also involved the September 11 attacks on New York and Washington. Tenet had been appointed in 1997.

Tenet -- whom Bush awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest U.S. civilian award, in December 2004 -- said he does not know exactly who leaked his comment, but that “it’s the most despicable thing that ever happened to me.”

He said the most difficult part was continuing to hear senior administration officials such as Vice President Dick Cheney and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice refer to his comment as though they had to hear him “say ‘slam dunk’ to go to war with Iraq.”

“You listen to that and they never let it go. I mean, I became campaign talk. I was a talking point. ‘Look at the idiot (who) told us and we decided to go to war.’ Well, let’s not be so disingenuous,” Tenet said.

“Let’s everybody just get up and tell the truth. Tell the American people what really happened,” he said.