All Writings
February 8, 2004

Why Is CIA Director Tenet Still There?

I have no doubt that CIA Director Tenet is an honorable man and every step he has taken in his professional capacity has been motivated by his utter commitment to our national security. And there is no doubt that he, too, relied on faulty intelligence estimates submitted by subordinates whom he trusted. That said, he must bear the responsibility for the intelligence lapses that enabled the 9/11 disaster to occur, and for giving the administration ammunition in arguing its case for waging war against Iraq. We are paying dearly today for these mishaps.

The question is not how many more disasters must we endure before we stop denying the critical inadequacy of our intelligence assessments. Rather, we must ask by what standards must we judge the CIA and other intelligence agencies if we are to prevent the next disaster. Can we accept anything less than a total and comprehensive intelligence review which can easily take more than a year to complete under the same leadership at the agency, or should we seek a new leadership, one committed to change, rather than explanations of past mishaps? In the present situation, Mr. Tenet's resignation would neither be an admission of guilt nor a punishment for wrong doing; it would simply be an act of duty to his country. The best of us enjoy jobs that last for years and then leave because our time has come. Many people look back with pride at what they have accomplished, especially when they have gone beyond the call of duty by doing not only their best but also what is required of them. Director Tenet has given his nation his best and it has now become necessary for him to go. The intelligence community has been tainted by 9/11and the debacle of the war in Iraq. Something must be done now to restore the public's confidence. That the President has, in the aftermath of our chief weapons' inspector David Kaye's report ruling out the existence of WMD in Iraq before the war, finally accepted the need for a commission to investigate the quality of intelligence used to justify our invasion, suggests at the very least that something has gone very wrong.

Although the administration might have exaggerated the Iraq threat, or engaged in selective intelligence to support a predetermined policy, this should not obscure the fact that our intelligence was often murky and at times misleading. While staunchly defending his agency in a recent address at Georgetown University, Mr. Tenet acknowledged for the first time that the CIA may have overestimated Iraq's illicit weapon capabilities and its stockpiling of WMD. To suggest, however, as he did in the same address, that "When the facts on Iraq are all in, we will be neither completely right nor completely wrong" is not an acceptable standard to ever use in making decisions whether to go to war with such an ominous national security implications. Whether or not the CIA provided the administration with a balanced picture about Iraq's WMD development programs or stockpiles, its director did very little privately or publically to counsel administration officials like Vice President Cheney or defense secretary Rumsfeld from relentlessly making statements about Iraq's possession of WMD when none has been found. And they continue to base their argument on faulty intelligence while the CIA has nothing but acquiesced to the daily the distortion of the truth. Is this not a classic case of the blind leading the blind? In March 2003, Mr. Tenet himself sat behind our Secretary of State at the U.N. Security Council to lend further credibility and moral support to Mr. Powell when he stated that Iraq possessed illicit weapons and mobile chemical laboratories, which to this date have not be found.

The Bush administration is equally to blame for the tragic miscalculations that led us into Iraq. To continue with self-denial because it serves the President's immediate domestic agenda is even worse than the terrible intelligence mishaps that led to the war because that will only invite another disaster. Mr. Tenet wanted to resign a few months ago, but the President begged him to stay, fearing a resignation would be tantamount to an admission of wrong doing and have adverse political consequences for Mr. Bush, especially difficult in an election year. Mr. Tenet must go not because we need a sacrificial lamb to take the fall for the administration's misguided and dangerous policy, but because even at this stage it is clear that serious intelligence lapses occurred and that his resignation would give the American people at least the psychological comfort that something is being done to change things in such anxious times.

The security of the nation is not a political football the administration can play with in a highly political season. And Mr. Tenet should not play the quarterback by staying on the job, providing the administration with the cover it desperately wants, and thus contributing to the ongoing public deception. Mr. Tenet's duty is to his country. By submitting his resignation immediately and let the chips fall where they may, he will have rendered the most noble public service to his nation.