NEW YORK – Disputing claims that the Bush administration was in a rush to go to war, U.S. officials are on the defensive as former CIA Director George Tenet's memoir hits bookshelves Monday.
Tenet's 549-page book, "At the Center of the Storm," published by HarperCollins, says Al Qaeda is in the United States, questions the run-up to invading Iraq and forecasts future terrorist attacks on American soil.
Tenet highlights the errors of others during his tenure from July 1997 to July 2004, such as the extraordinary efforts by Vice President Dick Cheney and others to connect Iraq and Al Qaeda. He also takes blame for other failures, such as the production of the botched National Intelligence Estimate in 2002 that was used to justify invading Iraq.
But supporters of the war effort say the White House fully reviewed reasons for going to war with Iraq.
"Force was always the last option, not the first option. There was an extended diplomatic effort on the part of the administration," said White House spokesman Tony Snow, who returned to his job on Monday after cancer surgery. "The historical record is there, there was plenty of debate about it."
Snow added there is "no such thing as a perfect war plan."
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice defended herself against Tenet's claim that he told her a terrorist attack was imminent in the summer before the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
"Well, it's very interesting, because that's not what George told the 9/11 commission at the time. He said that he felt that we had gotten it. And, in fact, the very next day or the day after, Steve Hadley, hardly a third-tier official, sat with the intelligence agencies to try and determine what more we could do," Rice told CBS' "Face the Nation" on Sunday
Rice also fought back against Tenet's claim that the Bush administration didn't have a serious debate about whether Iraq posed an imminent threat.
Rice, who was Bush's national security adviser at the time, said the administration reviewed the sanctions, went to the United Nations to strengthen them and tried to tighten the no-fly zone in northern Iraq to better police Saddam Hussein's forces.
She also said the question about the imminence of the threat was not "if somebody is going to strike tomorrow."
"It's whether you believe you're in a stronger position today to deal with the threat, or whether you're going to be in a stronger position tomorrow," she said. "And it was the president's assessment that the situation in Iraq was getting worse."
Tenet resigned as head of the U.S. intelligence agency in June 2004 amid criticism over the handling of the Sept. 11 attacks and the war in Iraq.
A Tenet associate, who spoke on condition of anonymity before the book's release Monday, said Tenet was not talking about improving the sanctions, but rather the debate about the wisdom of going to war. The associate said those debates did not happen in the presence of Tenet or other senior CIA officials, despite their participation in numerous discussions in the White House's situation room.
The memoir from the second-longest serving CIA chief covers many topics — from his attempts to help negotiate peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians during the Clinton administration, to the days surrounding Sept. 11, 2001, and to the invasion of Iraq and its aftermath.
Looking ahead, he says, Al Qaeda wants to change history and meet its top one goal of obtaining a nuclear device. Rep. Pete Hoekstra, R-Mich., seconded Tenet's claims that Al Qaeda intends to launch a nuclear attack.
"We continue to be very concerned about Al Qaeda's efforts to get nuclear weapons," Hoekstra told FOX News.
In an often defensive interview on CBS' "60 Minutes" aired Sunday, Tenet said the intelligence gained from suspected terrorists in the CIA's covert detention program and its "enhanced interrogation techniques" was more valuable than all the other terrorism-related intelligence gathered by the FBI, the National Security Agency and his own agency.
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., disagreed, saying he does not accept Tenet's assertions that the U.S. government saved lives through using some of the agency's most aggressive interrogation techniques.
McCain said the U.S. cannot torture people and maintain its moral superiority in the world. "I don't care what George Tenet says. I know what's right. I know what's morally right as far as America's behavior," the presidential candidate and former prisoner-of-war said Sunday.
McCain said he does not accept Tenet's premise that the CIA's practices save lives because torture and mistreatment historically have not worked in intelligence collection. "We've gotten a huge amount of misinformation as well as other information from these techniques," McCain said.
Tenet and the CIA deny using torture. But McCain's words suggest he believes the CIA's practices amounted to torture and were wrong.
In his book, Tenet said McCain has engaged the country in an important moral debate "about who we are as people and what we should stand for, even when up against an enemy so full of hate they would murder thousands of our children without a thought."
If elected officials believe certain interrogation actions put the country in a difficult moral position, they should be stopped, according to Tenet, once the Democratic staff director of the Senate Intelligence Committee.
FOX News' Julie Kirtz and The Associated Press contributed to this report.