Former CIA chief Tenet: I told Clinton I would resign if he released Pollard
WASHINGTON, D.C. - Former CIA director George Tenet would have resigned had then-U.S. president Bill Clinton agreed to release convicted spy Jonathan Pollard, Tenet reveals in his new book "At the Center of the Storm."
Pollard was at the midst of a "game of chicken" during the Wye Plantation conference - then-Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu was refusing to sign a deal that did not include Pollard's release, while Tenet said he would resign were the spy freed.
Despite describing himself as an "emotional guy," Tenet recalls being very calm, "very matter-of-fact," during his closed-door meeting with Clinton during the conference. He entered with an explicit threat: If Clinton agreed to Netanyahu's demand, "I won't be your CIA director in the morning," Tenet recalls. "It's just the wrong thing to do."
Tenet requested that meeting after talking with secretary of state Madeleine Albright. Everyone already knew he was opposed to Pollard's release; he had stormed out of a conference room after national security advisor Sandy Berger had said the matter was "on the table."
"No," Tenet recalls saying, "you're wrong. Pollard is not on the table." At midnight that night, Albright came to him, "If you're going to say anything to the president about Pollard, now is the time to say it."
Albright repeated her statement, but would not elaborate: "If you've got something to say, say it now."
Tenet writes that he believed Netanyahu would not give up an agreement due to Pollard, and that special envoy Dennis Ross agreed with him.
U.S. ambassador to Israel Martin Indyk filled Tenet in on the meeting between Clinton and Netanyahu. You can't have Pollard, the U.S. president told the Israeli prime minister, because the CIA director will resign. Netanyahu announced that if that was true, then the deal - the Wye Agreement - was off. Thus began a campaign to pressure Tenet into reconsidering.
But when the story of Pollard's possible release was leaked to the press, a counter-campaign began. The White House was under fire, and Republican House speaker Newt Gingrich's opposition sealed the deal's fate.
"It was a game of chicken," Tenet says of the Israeli move to free the spy. And as he and Ross predicted, Netanyahu signed the Wye Agreement anyway.
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