Byline: Jamie Dettmer, INSIGHT
George Tenet has been on the offensive all winter, defending the CIA's recent record as more details emerge of his agency's failures from overstating Saddam Hussein's weapons-of-mass-destruction programs to not fully appreciating the extent of the work undertaken by Libya and Iran to develop nuclear weapons. In speeches and in congressional testimony, the U.S. Director of Central Intelligence (DCI) has sought cautiously to shift blame elsewhere, suggesting that high administration officials may have ignored equivocations in intelligence reports concerning Iraq and elected to highlight worst-case scenarios. The New York Times' interpretation of Tenet's testimony, quickly denied in official circles, is that at least three times he had to advise Vice President Dick Cheney to restrain himself when making the public case for war against Saddam and urged him to soften his claims about the immediacy of an Iraqi threat.
Tenet hardly has shifted his ground since the terror attacks struck New York City and Washington on 9/11. In the wake of the attacks he insisted, "Failure means no focus, no attention, no discipline and those were not present in what either we or the FBI did here and around the world." Subsequently, he has admitted to a mistake here or there, and he has acknowledged that CIA headquarters in Langley, Va., needs to improve its skills when "connecting the dots." But he still won't concede that Sept. 11 represented a massive failure on the part of the agency he heads.
Despite Tenet's spirited defense, grave questions remain about the CIA, its recent performance and what is to be done to improve it. A report due soon by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence on 9/11 intelligence failures, currently undergoing a final edit, reportedly delivers a devastating verdict on the CIA performance. Sen. Carl Levin of Michigan said of the report: "It's shocking," and added, "There has to be accountability."
The report is bound to fuel calls for reform …