- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 12, 2002

In his first public congressional appearance since the intelligence catastrophe of September 11, Director of Central Intelligence George Tenet last week painted a bleak picture of the continuing threat posed by Osama bin Laden's terror network. "Al Qaeda's leaders still at large are working to reconstitute the organization and resume its terrorist operations," Mr. Tenet told the Senate Intelligence Committee on Wednesday. Al Qaeda, he said, is developing "multiple-attack plans" and moving cells into position to carry them out. These attacks could include strikes against U.S. nuclear plants or chemical industry sites with conventional weapons in the hope of causing "widespread toxic or radiological damage," Mr. Tenet warned, adding that terrorists have planned high-profile attacks against infrastructure like dams, harbors and airports.

Mr. Tenet also mentioned Iraq's ties with al Qaeda and their common hatred of America. It is particularly reassuring that Mr. Tenet did not attempt to whitewash the possibility that Saddam Hussein might still be in the terrorism business. This is particularly so in view of the fact that some of the CIA chief's underlings seem intent on "proving" the exact opposite, that the Iraqi dictator couldn't possibly have had anything to do with the atrocities of September 11. On the very morning of Mr. Tenet's testimony, the Baltimore Sun ran an article quoting unnamed "U.S. intelligence officials" as stating that the CIA has "no evidence" that Iraq has engaged in terrorism against the United States since Saddam Hussein tried to assassinate President George H.W. Bush in 1993. So what about that meeting in Prague between hijacking ringleader Mohammed Atta and an Iraqi intelligence official? Well, Mr. Tenet's underlings say they have concluded that the meeting did take place (something most of the world learned back in September), but that Saddam would never have entrusted such a meeting to a mid-level Iraqi intelligence officer. These same CIA officials also said that they are "convinced" that Saddam has not provided chemical or biological weapons to al Qaeda. Mr. Tenet, who as deputy director of the CIA presided over the Clinton administration's disastrous $110 million effort to overthrow Saddam, needs to explain whether he shares the views of the people who work for him.

During Mr. Tenet's Senate appearance last week, Sen. Richard Shelby bluntly noted the agency's "rocky history of intelligence failures," including the 1993 attack on the World Trade Center, the 1996 bombing of a U.S. military barracks in Saudi Arabia, the 1998 bombings of two U.S. embassies in Africa, and the October 2000 strike against the USS Cole in Yemen. Mr. Tenet, for his part, longwindedly denied that an intelligence "failure" had occurred and said he was "proud" of his agency's record in fighting terrorism. The key question now is whether his boss, President Bush, still believes that, in the wake of the CIA's abysmal performance in recent years, Mr. Tenet remains the best man for the job.

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