- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 25, 2001

Since the horrific events of Sept. 11, nearly everyone in Washington seems to have reached the obvious conclusion that U.S. intelligence agencies in general and the CIA in particular are failing to recruit human intelligence sources to penetrate hostile governments and terrorist groups. The congressional demagoguery and micromanaging that have crippled the CIA's ability to do its job began back in the 1970s, well before the current director, George Tenet, assumed the post. Nonetheless, Mr. Tenet certainly must shoulder much of the blame for the intelligence failure of Sept. 11 as well as a host of other intelligence failures and poor policy decisions that took place during the Clinton era.

In 1995, Mr. Tenet was appointed deputy director of the CIA. The new CIA director was John Deutch, an MIT-trained physicist who took the CIA job reluctantly after President Clinton decided not to appoint him secretary of defense. In March of 1995, then-Rep. Robert Torricelli called a sensationalistic press conference, charging that the CIA had trained a Guatemalan colonel who was complicit in the murder of a communist guerrilla in that country. In response, Mr. Deutch fired the chief of the Latin American division, Terry R. Ward. (Mr. Clinton's own Intelligence Oversight Board later found that Mr. Torricelli's charges were false.) Mr. Deutch then proceeded to implement the recommendations of Human Rights Watch, which included purging the CIA payroll of anyone deemed to be linked to "human rights abuses." This resulted in the loss of hundreds, if not thousands, of valuable CIA agents around the world.

After Mr. Deutch was forced out of office in 1996, he was replaced by Mr. Tenet. While many CIA agents praise Mr. Tenet for his professionalism and good intentions, they fault him for failing to use his leadership and solid political connections to get rid of the damaging Deutch regulations. The CIAcontinued to require agents to get special permission from senior agency officials if they wanted to recruit unsavory characters to provide intelligence information on folks like Osama bin Laden. (This discouraged agents from working for the CIA.) Mr. Tenet's failure to reverse the Deutch regulations almost certainly increased the likelihood of the calamitous intelligence failure Americans witnessed Sept. 11.

Unfortunately, when it comes to Mr. Tenet's flawed judgement and leadership, this is just the tip of the iceberg. Mr. Tenet helped oversee what columnist Jim Hoagland of The Washington Post aptly termed the Clinton administration's $110 million "covert debacle," a failed effort to overthrow Saddam Hussein. When Warren Marik, a former CIA officer who had worked on the ill-fated project, spoke about this policy failure, Mr. Tenet asked the Justice Department to determine if Mr. Marik had violated his confidentiality agreement with the agency. "Imagine Tenet as the owner of the Titanic who greets news of the luxury liner's sinking by ordering an investigation of the radio operator who sent out the distress signals, and you get the picture," Mr. Hoagland wrote.

J. Michael Waller reports in this week's Insight Magazine that, "A current CIAmanager [says] that intelligence professionals are forced to attend sensitivity-training classes and do role-playing skits to conform to politically correct social themes." Another CIAofficial complains of spending "countless thousands of hours" making "politically correct diversity quilts."

There have been other problems with Mr. Tenet's performance. The CIA failed to predict India's 1998 testing of a nuclear bomb. In 1999, the accidental bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade was blamed on a faulty CIA map. Mr. Tenet also aggressively pushed for the CIA's involvement as a go-between for Israeli and Palestinian security officials in an effort to halt terrorism and implement the 1998 peace agreement between the two sides. The subsequent upsurge in suicide bombings and other acts of Palestinian terrorism show that this policy has been a huge failure. And Mr. Tenet did not exactly engender confidence by moving so lethargically to revoke the security clearance of Mr. Deutch after it was discovered that the disgraced ex-director was downloading classified information onto non-secure personal computers.

In short, it's time for Mr. Tenet to bow out gracefully. If he refuses, President Bush should fire him.

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