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It's About Time By: Frank J Gaffney Jr.
FrontPageMagazine.com | Friday, June 04, 2004

The announcement that CIA Director George Tenet had decided to spend more time with his family was received with mixed emotions in Washington. For some, it simply evoked the cynicism that usually greets such claims, feeding rumors that he was actually fired and arousing intense speculation about which of the myriad intelligence acts of omission or commission on his watch prompted this step.

For others, the departure is seen as a transparent - if welcome - effort to designate Tenet as the chosen scapegoat for recent intelligence failures. Within this group, there will be those who hope it is the beginning of a wholesale house-cleaning that would result in the cashiering of much of President Bush's national security team. The rest, though, will argue that the rolling of this particular head should spare those of the remaining Cabinet and sub-Cabinet appointees, particularly during wartime.

There is a third school, to which I belong. Our response to the Tenet resignation was, in a word, a relief. At last, someone who should have been removed from office at the very outset of the George W. Bush administration will be departing. By so doing, we can not only hope to avoid perpetuating the sorts of intelligence mistakes for which this DCI bears ultimate responsibility. More importantly, the way could be cleared for long-overdue corrective actions.

While George Tenet's political obituaries are full of shortcomings with which he can fairly be associated, four should long ago have been regarded as firing offenses: 

1) The failure to change the CIA and intelligence community "culture" that has long deprecated the value of human intelligence. Such change requires not simply talking about it and adding funding, both of which Tenet (and, to varying degrees, his predecessors) did. It also requires an ability forcefully and credibly to shake things up, to challenge assumptions and to monitor and insist upon performance, even where that might erode one's popularity with subordinates. The extent of the shortfall in these areas to date can be gleaned from private comments by knowledgeable officials to the effect that the penetrations of target groups and various hostile intelligence services have declined precipitously during the Tenet years.

Unfortunately, the true dimensions of this ominous trend have, in part, been obscured by the dubious practice of "sharing intelligence" and cooperating on collection activities with so-called "liaison" services. Such organizations that are, at best, unreliable. At worst, as in the case of Communist China, the liaisons are actively working to undermine and penetrate our intelligence apparatus, and influence policy-makers who rely upon it.

2) The failure to comprehend the true character of American interests in Iraq. Going back to the early 1990s, the CIA's view was like that of its clients elsewhere in the Arab world: Democratizing Iraq was to be resisted at every turn. The Agency favored simply replacing Saddam Hussein with another tyrannical dictator, in the interest of promoting local and regional "stability." The virulent and ongoing effort to discredit Ahmed Chalabi springs forth from the systematic hostility George Tenet fostered, or at least tolerated, towards Free Iraq.

3) The tendency until fairly recently, to underestimate the danger posed by the radical subset of the Muslim faith known as Islamism. Once the artificial "Wall" that impeded information-sharing between U.S. intelligence and law enforcement was finally removed after 9/11 by the Patriot Act, it became easier to facilitate such "dot-connecting." (The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence will reportedly publish shortly a report that harshly criticizes Tenet for his failure to have done more to facilitate such info flows before the Fall of 2001. This incoming salvo is widely reported to have influenced the decision for Tenet to resign, voluntarily or involuntarily, at this particular juncture.)

Still, even now, Tenet's CIA is steadily resisting efforts to establish the connections between nominally secular organizations and rogue state regimes (notably, Saddam Hussein's Iraq) on the one hand, and, on the other, Islamist terrorist groups operating in Iraq. We simply can no longer afford such myopia.

4) An uncorrected institutional blind-spot about proliferation. Born in part, it appears, of an excessive CIA confidence in the effectiveness of various arms control regimes, George Tenet's agency had shown itself to have missed evidence of WMD-related developments in North Korea, India, Pakistan, Iran and the PRC. Given, in particular, the importance candidate Bush properly placed on ending America's vulnerability to missile-delivered WMDs, it should have been obvious that a new DCI was in order.

In short, much of what has fed criticism of the Central Intelligence Agency during the present administration had its roots in Director Tenet's tenure during the previous one. His replacement cannot come too soon and should be someone who has demonstrated an ability to learn from past institutionalized mistakes, not somebody who persists in them. 

I would encourage President Bush to recall to service former CIA Director R. James Woolsey, a man who is extraordinarily robust, especially for a professed Democrat. He should be given a second chance to run the Intelligence Community. Just think what Mr. Woolsey could do this time around if, unlike during his first stint under Bill Clinton, he were to enjoy the support of a president who would actually meet with him...and wants him to succeed!


Frank J. Gaffney, Jr. is the President of the Center for Security Policy in Washington.

Frank J. Gaffney, Jr. is the founder, president, and CEO of The Center for Security Policy. During the Reagan administration, Gaffney was the Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security, the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Nuclear Forces and Arms Control Policy, and a Professional Staff Member on the Senate Armed Services Committee, chaired by Senator John Tower (R-Texas). He is a columnist for The Washington Times, Jewish World Review, and Townhall.com and has also contributed to The Wall Street Journal, USA Today, The New Republic, The Washington Post, The New York Times, The Christian Science Monitor, The Los Angeles Times, and Newsday.

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