Blogs > Cliopatria > Tenet's Memoirs

Dec 7, 2004 8:18 pm

Tenet's Memoirs

The NYT reports this morning that George Tenet has signed a deal with Crown for his memoirs. Will he be candid? Will the memoirs be trustworthy?

I don't expect him to outright lie. But Tenet will be under a lot of pressure from Bushies to keep quiet about moments embarrassing to the president. The pressure will be intense and has already begun. Just a few days ago the White House announced that President Bush will be awarding Tenet the Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian award there is. After accepting the award, Tenet would have to be a heel to turn on Bush.

Worse, if Tenet were tempted to turn on Bush he'd face the same administration onslaught as Dick Clarke. If the Bushies could throw mud at Clarke, who was, after all, right about Iraq, imagine what they could do to Tenet, who was wrong.

Given all this, Tenet's book might be expected to be a snooze, though it is possible to write an exciting pro-Bush account if you include enough anecdotes. Just ask Bob Woodward. His first book on Bush, Bush at War, was a pro-Bush page turner.

But I am betting the Tenet book will include at least a few fireballs. After all, his publisher is counting on it, right? Tenet is receiving, says the AP, an estimated $4 million for the book. For that sum Tenet will have to deliver a few surprises.

But just how reliable are official memoirs? In the 1980s I had an occasion to call Bob Haldeman about a story I was writing that involved a lower level White House official from the Nixon years. Haldeman had made a few comments about this official in his memoirs and I wanted some more details. When I began the call by alluding to his published memoirs Haldeman politely but firmly interjected that the memoirs were crap. He did the book to make some money to help his family. It didn't contain the truth. His co-author wrote the book. Haldeman just put his name on it.

Was Haldeman lying to me now or had he lied in his memoirs? I honestly didn't know. It was like a Law and Order episode where the defense attorney asks a jury how they can trust a witness who claims to be telling the truth now about a lie he told earlier. Which Haldeman was believeable? H.R. Haldeman, the purported author of a book or H.R. Haldeman, the guy on the other end of the phone? Haldeman had been accused of many things but being a liar wasn't one of them. I was baffled and felt that I was suddenly face to face with one of those classic problems of evidence Allan Nevins discusses in his book about the historian's craft in the chapter, The Cheating Document.

What I learned from this episode--apart from Haldeman's general unreliability as a historical witness--was that memoirs are tricky, even when they appear to offer, as Haldeman's did, the confessions of a sinner.

So no matter how Tenet finally decides to present himself--as either Bush supporter or Bush critic--the historian would do well to treat his account as at best questionable.

After we see the records and hear from others we may finally begin to know whether Tenet's account is truthful or just another spin job.

comments powered by Disqus

More Comments:

Maarja Krusten - 12/14/2004

For anyone interested in reading more about archival and record keeping challenges and how they affect history and accountability, see

(1) _Archives and the Public Good: Accountability and Records in Modern Society_ by Richard J. Cox (Editor) and David A. Wallace (Editor)
Amazon site at

(2) _No Innocent Deposits: Forming Archives by Rethinking Appraisal_ by Richard J. Cox
described on Amazon at

Also of interest are a book by John Dean and one edited by Athan Theoharis. These, more than the Cox books, reflect the author's and editor's particular world views but contain some thought provoking passages:

(3) _Worse Than Watergate: The Secret Presidency of George W. Bush_ by John W. Dean
Amazon description at

(4)_A Culture of Secrecy: The Government Versus the People's Right to Know_ by Athan G. Theoharis
described on Amazon at

Maarja Krusten - 12/14/2004

You're welcome! I appreciate your taking to time to reply.

As to archival problems, they are difficult to keep track of. You have to read what is written in the mainstream media and also in scholarly journals and newsletters (such as Professor Richard J. Cox's Records & Information Management Report) and to connect the dots. If you have time, please go back and re-read what I posted in October at I present a pretty bleak picture of the the litigation surrounding release Nixon's tapes. Unfortunately, I don't see anything to keep such things from happening again -- and, had there been no court case over the Nixon tapes, you the public would be none the wiser. So too with the Haldeman diaries.

You also might take a look at which represents various postings on the H-Diplo list in 2001 by Jeffrey Kimball and others. These center around the National Archives' efforts to release State Department records. You'll see that there are vast differences in the impressions held by scholars such as Hayden Peake and people such as I.

My late sister, Eva Krusten, who died of cancer on 12/16/02, was a senior archivist in NARA's Records Declassification Division. Early in her career she specialized in State Departmenht records. She worked at the National Archives for nearly 20 years. I myself worked at NARA from 1976 to 1990. You'll see that I was one of the posters in the H-Diplo thread about State Department records.

Thanks again and best regards.

Maarja Krusten

Oscar Chamberlain - 12/13/2004

My thanks as well. I had remembered reading a review of the 1994 release of the diaries that had emphasized the extraordinary candor in them. Whe I saw Rick's post I confused the memoir with those diaries; hence, my distress at Halderman's response. I am glad you corrected that.

What is the best source for keeping track of archival problems?

Maarja Krusten - 12/10/2004

You're welcome, Mark. I appreciate the nice feedback. I'm not posting on HNN any longer except on very narrow historical issues such as this one, which relate directly to my past field of specialty. I wasn't necessarily going to jump in here after reading it on Tuesday, but after Oscar Chamberlain also gave an incomplete reference to Bob's memoirs on Cliopatria, I decided to set the record straight.

One more point regarding Bob Haldeman. Ever candid, he told us at the NARA's Nixon Project during 1986-1987 that he had wanted to use his diaries to write a second book but was having trouble finding a "name historian" to work with him Having indicated that he wanted NARA to release its copies of the diaries to the public in 1993, he had anticipated getting his own second book, based not just on the diaries but on other files as well, written and published well before then That didn't work out for whatever reason but he never told us to delay the release of the diaries. Bob agreed to be interviewed by us archivists, he gave us a wonderful series of oral history interviews around 1986 or 1987. Very candid, reflective, honest.

Ultimately, Haldeman did historians a huge favor and published the diaries posthumously in June 1994. Once he did that, NARA had no choice but to release the disclosable portions of its own version. I'll never know what NARA would have done with the diaries -- or with the Nixon White House tapes -- had Nixon not died in April of 1994.

mark safranski - 12/10/2004

Thank you Maarja ! You've shed a lot of light here on Haldeman's state of mind regarding the diaries which I found both interesting and very useful to my understanding of their contents. Much appreciated !

Maarja Krusten - 12/9/2004

Hoff refers to "Haldeman's 1993 deed of gift to the Archives." An agreement was in place long before that. I left NARA employ in January 1990 and still hoped then, that the Haldeman diaries would be released on schedule in 1993, although, as Sy Hersh later noted, there already were signs of "a rollback on public access" at the National Archives. Still, I mentioned in a public document I wrote in 1991 for an archivists' roundtable the forthcoming release of Haldeman's diaries by NARA in the mid-1990s. But, it was not to be....

Maarja Krusten - 12/9/2004

The chronology may be confusing, especially since HNNers don't delve much into archival issues. This should help illustrate the magnitude of the problem of getting at the truth, it goes far beyond the issue of memoirs cited by Mr. Shenkman here and Mr. Chamberlain on Cliopatria.

(1) While an official in the White House from 1969 to 1973, H. R. Haldeman often took notes of his meetings with President Nixon. These "H notes" are part of the White House Special Files and were transferred to the National Archives under the Presidential Recordings and Materials Preservation Act (PRMPA) of 1974. Haldeman also recorded diary entries from 1969 to 1973. The diaries cover some of the same issues as the meeting notes. However, the diaries are personal property and not covered by PRMPA.

(2) When Haldeman resigned in 1973, all his files and materials, personal and official, were seized in place. The "H notes" went to the National Archives in 1977 after the Supreme Court upheld the PRMPA. They are part of the Nixon White House Special Files. The National Archives also took custody of the original Haldeman diaries while their status was litigated. The diaries remain at NARA and Haldeman never regained custody of the originals.

(3) Without having his diaries or his meeting notes in his custody, Haldeman published his memoirs, THE ENDS OF POWER, in 1978. The legal status of the diary was not settled until later, when it was determined that it indeed was Haldeman's personal property. In 1979, the Washington Post reported that "H. R. Haldeman, who plans to write a second book about his White House years, has gone to court to get nine journals and 50 cassette tapes he wrote and dictated as a personal diary during the Nixon administration."

Subsequently, Haldeman filed another lawsuit. On July 3, 1982, the Washington Post reported that Haldeman had sued the government for having deprived him of money he could have earned had his diary been available to him. "Mr. Haldeman calculates that if he had had his diary available when he wrote his book, 'The Ends of Power,' he could have made at least $250,000 than he did." The Washington Post also reported that Haldeman envisioned a best seller that could have earned him $1 million in paperback and syndication and another $1 million in "other media use of the property."

(4) While their status was up in the air, archivists at the National Archives, I among them, screened the diaries around 1979 to see what was in them and what required restriction. We marked the restrictable portions. After the legal status of the diaries was clarified, Haldeman signed an agreement on the status of the diaries. As Hoff and Haldeman noted above, we retained the originals and gave Haldeman copies. The originals never left NARA custody from the time the government obtained them initially.

(5) Haldeman made it clear that he intended the diary to be opened in 1993. Hoff appears to have learned of this, although her account in PSQ is somewhat garbled. However, no further work was done with the diary by NARA between 1981 and the time I left the agency's employ in 1990. I stayed in close touch with NARA's Nixon Project employees until after my whistleblower testimony in Stanley Kutler's 1992 lawsuit. The sense my former colleagues conveyed was that the Archives during the Bush (I) administration was not going to take actions which would upset Nixon. The working level staff believed that Nixon's desire not to have the Haldeman diaries released would trump what Haldeman had intended. It certainly seemed that way.

(6) The disclosable portions of the Haldeman diaries were not released to the public by the National Archives in the summer of of 1993, despite Haldeman's intention, publicly noted by Hoff above.

(7) Having acquired copies from NARA of the unclassified portions of the diaries, which were legally his personal property, Haldeman worked out a deal to have them published and released to the public himself. I believe by the early 1990s it was clear to him that Nixon would resist and/or try to block the release of controversial materials by the National Archives. (Remember, only 63 of some 200 hours of "governmental abuse of power" Watergate tapes were released during Nixon's lifetime, despite a law called for disclosure at the "earliest reasonable date.") Sony published the CD Rom version of the diary in 1994.

(8) Only after Haldeman's posthumous publication of the book and CD rom versions of the diaries, and Nixon's death in early 1994, did the National Archives belatedly release in August 1994 portions of the Haldeman diaries reproduced from the originals in its custody.

(9) For more on the H notes, the now mostly released meeting notes in the WHSF at NARA that are separate in status from the diaries, see

I know HNN readers do not follow archival issues closely. So, all I can say to you is, good luck getting access to other controversial materials in the future, despite all the laws on the books and any number of donor's intentions regarding personal materials donated to Presidential Libraries! After all, did any of you even know in 1993 that Haldeman had wanted the Archives to release his diaries in 1993? Of course not. NARA certainly did not inform researchers that that was the case while Nixon was alive, did it? The balance of power is strongly weighted against the National Archives and its archivists. But historians, except for a Kutler or a Hoff, rarely weigh in on the issues in a way that helps NARA. That's too bad, as the agency desperately needs advocates for its mission.

Maarja Krusten - 12/9/2004

I described above how Haldeman would have preferred to write his 1978 memoirs based on having access to all his previously recorded diaries. (If you were writing memoirs, and previously had recorded diary entries, I am sure you too would prefer to use them to write your book. In fact, a future book often is a consideration in an official deciding to keep a diary.) However, the diaries were tied up in litigation until around 1980.

The diaries are mostly recorded on cassettes although the earliest entries are in bound journals written by hand. (Fortunately, Haldeman had beautiful, easy to read writing.) Sony released Haldeman's recovered copies of the Diaries in 1994. Only after Haldeman's posthumous publication of the diaries did the National Archives make copies available.

Here is what Nixon historian Joan Hoff wrote about the problems of gaining access to the Haldeman diaries. The passages are from her article, "Researchers Nightmare: Studying the Nixon Presidency," in _Presidential Studies Quarterly_, Winter 1996:

"With the exception of its handling of the Haldeman diaries, discussed below, and NARA administrator John T. Fawcett's honoring eighty-nine requests from Nixon representatives to remove certain segments from the tapes, NARA deserves much credit for its very professional processing and opening of these controversial papers and electronic documents.

. . . . In one instance NARA has contributed to the problem of access. After screening the seven volumes of Haldeman's handwritten diaries for national security information (six volumes covering the time from January 18, 1969 to December 2, 1970; another volume consisting of a trips journal), archivists gave him sanitized copies of these documents, along with his dictabelt diaries for the years 1971 until he left office in 1973. Despite repeated requests from researchers for the release of the seven handwritten volumes, NARA refused saying that the journals had not been completely processed.

In the early 1990s Haldeman gave these sanitized copies of both his handwritten and audio cassette diaries to Sony whose nonarchival staff proceeded to transcribe both and format them for sale on a CD-ROM. Most important for scholars, he also deeded his taped diaries and oral histories to NARA for unrestricted opening on July 2, 1993. Around the same time Putman Publishers culled the seven volumes into one for publication. Both were offered to the public in May 1994 and on May 6 NARA released a sanitized version of the seven handwritten volumes for research without public announcement. This means that researchers were not only prevented from having access to these handwritten diaries until a truncated book version appeared, but that they must now rely on transcriptions by Sony of the audio cassette portion of his diaries by personnel untrained in archival standards. If members of Sony's staff could have had access to these documents with all their private information and possibly abuse of power references for several years, it remains incomprehensible that scholars were not given access to them, until after they appeared commercially in the spring of 1994 given the unequivocal terms of Haldeman's 1993 deed of gift to the Archives. Private publication does not ensure accurate transcriptions of either the audio cassettes or handwritten notes.

In August 1994 the Nixon Presidential Materials Staff belatedly released the dictated segments of Haldeman's diaries. This release came only after the published version had been extensively reviewed in the media and several new books had appeared on Nixon in 1994 without being able to take advantage of this information. In January 1995 Director of the NPMS [William] Cunliffe indicated that archivists were re-reviewing the problematic remaining unreleased segments of Haldeman's handwritten diaries and segments of the tapes. However in October 1995, Cunliffe left as Director of the Nixon Presidential Materials Staff. And by the beginning of 1996 there was no indication when previously withheld segments of Haldeman's handwritten diaries would be released. The Clinton administration has yet to appoint another full-time director.

The major problem created by this delay in releasing Haldeman's diaries is that it allowed many journalists who reviewed the published, truncated version, to convey the impression that what they had read was new, sensational material. In fact, much of it could be found in greater detail in the voluminous handwritten Haldeman notes for meetings with Nixon or cabinet members or in the transcribed Nixon tapes. In some instances when the notes and diary entries are compared they match word for word-so why were notes released years ago, but not the diaries?"

In her article, Hoff also asks questions about some seeming inaccuracies and ethnic slurs in the Haldeman files. (She wondered if the slurs were Haldeman's rather than Nixon's.) However, I discount most of those questions although I wasn't able to warn her about them in 1996. (I had listened to the unreleased tapes as a NARA employee; she, of course, did not have access to them.) Hoff wrote her article at a time when the National Archives only had released 63 of 3,700 hours of Nixon's White House tapes. As of 2004, some 2,000 hours of tapes are open. Subsequent tape releases have by and large tracked with what is recorded in the Haldeman diaries.

Maarja Krusten - 12/9/2004

Nope, Bob Haldeman's reaction to the his earlier memoirs (_The Ends of Power_) was not based on dismay or chagrin over discrepancies. Rather, he believed that the earlier memoir had been written too hurriedly, with too much reliance on co-author DiMona, and without access to contemporaneous documentation. Haldeman would have preferred to have had access to the contemporaneous documentation needed to write a better book. Of all the Nixon associates, Bob was the one with the greatest interest in history. He WANTED to do a good job with his account. Essentially, Bob rushed the memoirs into print in order to make some money. Remember, he had incurred huge legal bills during Watergate.

Haldeman's interest in getting out the facts and the truth was genuine. This is based on conversations I had with him and on correspondence I've had with his widow, Jo. Bob told me that he read every book that was written about Watergate and the Nixon White House, marking portions that were accurate and also noting ones that were inaccurate. He was very interested in getting the original documents of the Nixon administration released, including his diaries.

(An aside: When they do discuss Presidential Libraries, historians, such as Allen Lichtman at the Clinton Library opening on CNN, talk about historians' desire to get past the gloss to find out what really happened. Yeah, like the documents magically release themselves to historians. Unfortunately, Lichtman, like others, failed to use the public forum available to him on CNN at the Clinton Library dedication, to lobby on behalf of archivists.)

As to the Haldeman diaries, they were seized by the government during Watergate. The National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), not Bob, had possession of them while Haldeman was rushing _Ends of Power_ into print. I was the senior archivist at NARA who worked on the project during the late 1970s and early 1980s to screen the diaries and to excise potentially classified portions. Bob received the unclassified portions. When Bob later came to NARA in the mid 1980s, I worked with him when he listened to some of the original cassettes. I had a chance to hear how he viewed the earlier memoirs (see above). It is to his credit that, unlike most authors who rush half baked stuff into print mostly to make money, he was honest enough to discount his own earlier effort, to me, and apparently also to Rick Shenkman.

As to why Haldeman became interested in publishing the diaries, I've always wondered if it was because of Nixon's efforts to block disclosures from his Oval Office tapes. I think Bob, unlike Nixon, was tired of the myths and the speculation about what really had happened in the White House. He wanted the documents and tapes released so they could speak for themselves.

Bob himself had expected NARA to start releasing the Nixon WH tapes after 1987. In 1988, Haldeman noted in the National Archives' journal, PROLOGUE, that processing of the Nixon White House tapes was "nearly complete" and the public soon would begin hearing the conversation. Bob wrote, "The time has finally come, almost fifteen years after the end of the Nixon administration, when one may reasonably look forward to hearing . . . portions of the White House tapes. The National Archives' processing of the tapes is virtually complete, and the agency is n early ready to go forward with a schedule of phased opening." For reasons too complicated to explain in this already long post, Nixon blocked the releases, which did not start until after his death in 1994.

To wrap up, keep in mind Bob would have preferred to write the memoirs based on more documentation. As I recall, he actually filed a lawsuit saying that lack of access to historical materials deprived him of using them for his 1978 book. Here's what Haldeman wrote in the Foreword to the posthumously published diaries about :

"When I arrived at my office the next morning [after his resignation in 1973], I found that it had been secured by the FBI, with orders that I could enter only under their surveillance. I was not permitted to remove anything-including whatever I brought in with me. This order even applied to my personal papers, files, and diaries.
After seven years of legal action, the diaries finally were admitted to be my personal property; however, they had to remain in the custody of the National Archives, where they had been stored upon removal from the White House safe. A negotiated settlement with the Archives resulted in my being provided
copies of each handwritten journal book and oral cassette in return for my "giving" the originals to the Archives (which was a little ironic, since they already had them under lock and key).

Because I unofficially marked the diaries Top Secret, they had to be reviewed by the National Security Council for classified national security material. Before I could receive my copies, all entries deemed "sensitive" were deleted. Once in my possession, the copies of the journals and tapes were put aside, and I did nothing with them until almost twenty years after my resigna­tion, when I had them transcribed.

The diaries are my personal record of each day's amazing array of events, conversations, decisions, and actions: an admixture of enormously important and incredibly insignificant matters with which the President, and I, dealt each day. The people involved are intelligent, hardworking and, at times, very human.
As a daily documentation, the diaries "tell it like it is" without benefit of hindsight or foreknowledge. Recorded are my thoughts at the time. Included are actions I would now prefer had not been taken, conversations I would now like to forget or disavow, and opinions with which I now strongly disagree. In the interest of historical accuracy, the content remains unchanged from the day it was written.
Since I now deeply believe that my diaries do, in fact, provide valuable insights for historians, journalists, and scholars, as well as the general public, I have decided to make them public."

mark safranski - 12/9/2004

mark safranski - 12/9/2004

There's something a little odd about a spy chief writing memoirs so soon out of office when in some nations, the name of the head of the intelligence agency is itself top secret.

On another note, having meticulously read through the Haldeman diaries, perhaps you caught Nixon's former Lord High Executioner at a time when he was reviewing them for eventual publication and he was dismayed or chagrinned at the discrepancy between his daily journal and his book.