I heard an interesting discussion on Terri Gross’ “Fresh Air” on NPR with the filmmakers of a documentary called “The Spymasters.” The filmmakers, two French brothers, happened to have been in the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001, making a film about a firefighter’s life. The new documentary is about the CIA and its role in dealing with terrorism. It appears until 12/26 on Showtime on demand (free). The film consists of interviews with 12 former directors of the CIA and some retired counterterrorism personnel.


I watched it and found it a fair and balanced discussion. I read the 9/11 report when it was published and was reminded that the CIA found Bin Ladin during the Clinton administration, but was stopped from attacking him because of Attorney General Janet Reno’s objections. She wanted him captured, not killed. Bin Ladin had already claimed credit for the bombings of two American embassies in Africa that killed a large number of people, as well as other deadly attacks.


George Tenet said that the agency became very alarmed about an impending attack on the U.S. in the summer of 2001. He said he called for an emergency meeting with Condoleeza Rice and President Bush in July 2001 and briefed them. After the meeting, nothing happened. Later Rice wrote that she ignored the meeting because she heard threats every day. Tenet made clear that this was no ordinary briefing or warning but a belief that an attack was imminent. But nothing happened.


Tenet also reviewed what the CIA knew about Iraq. He says that the CIA believed Iraq had “weapons of mass destruction,” as did other intelligence services. But he also said that the CIA did not support the invasion of Iraq, as there was no evidence that Iraq was tied to 9/11. He implies–loudly–that Iraq was a diversion from what he thought was a successful strategy of driving the Taliban out of Afghanistan and pursuing Bin Laden.


There is a lengthy discussion of torture–when and if it is ever justified–and drone strikes.


The documentary raises important questions about the role of the CIA and doesn’t answer them. These are questions we should all think about.