- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 24, 2002

With all the understandable hysteria about the stock market dive, an important report of continued CIA failings has barely received any notice. Last week, the House Intelligence Committee released a public summary of the proceedings of its ongoing bipartisan secret investigation into intelligence failings prior to September 11. One of its subcommittees, chaired by Rep. Saxby Chambliss, Georgia Republican, disclosed that one of the reasons the CIA failed to get any informants close to Osama bin Laden can be traced back to a 1995 CIA directive that effectively blocked CIA field agents from recruiting unsavory characters.

This foolish restriction foisted on the CIA by the Clinton administration had been extensively reported over the last few years. It arose as a result of an emotional over-reaction to the claim that a CIA informant a Central American colonel had been present during the torturing of a Guatemalan insurgent.

As a result, our agents around the world could only hire local informants with bad human-rights records if the agents were prepared to risk their careers. The decision to hire such characters had to be approved by the most senior levels of the CIA in Langley. Not surprisingly, no agents risked establishing such contacts.

The subcommittee concluded that this policy created a risk-averse culture in the CIA, which in its glory days had been effective as a band of agents possessed of desperate courage. Last October, this deficiency in operational procedures was supposedly corrected by a cable to CIA field stations informing them that the old guidelines could be ignored. Even then, the CIA officials misleadingly asserted that the old guidelines and rules "were never an impediment to the CIA's ability to recruit terrorist informers."

This much had been generally known prior to the current secret investigation. What should have been seen as a shocking revelation last week was the report that even after the October cable, agents in the field felt intimidated by the rule because the 1995 guidelines had remained on the books in violation of law.

These continuing facts were revealed to the secret committee investigation by testimony of CIA field agents over the last few months presumably without their Langley masters present for the secret testimony. As a result of these revelations, the chairman of the Intelligence Committee, Rep. Porter Goss, Florida Republican himself a respected former CIA field operative who remains devoted to the agency he served so well made public the contents of a stern letter he has recently sent to CIA Director George J. Tenet.

In that letter, he complained that the agency had obviously ignored a specific directive of Congress, enacted in this year's authorization bill, which mandated that the agency formally rescind the 1995 rule. The chairman emphasized that the October cable "did not satisfy the requirement [of law]."

The bipartisan nature of these views was pointed out by the New York Times last week, when it reported: "The ranking Democrat on the panel, Representative Jane Harman of California, said the CIA's leadership imposed too many bureaucratic restrictions on its case officers, making them reluctant to gamble on recruiting terrorist insiders."

This continuing resistance by Mr. Tenet and several of his senior officials and lawyers to reforming the culture of their agency even in the face of the mortal threat now facing American citizens is not only disturbing, but almost inexplicable.

While many important people including some former CIA high officials had been calling for Mr. Tenet's head after the September 11 agency failure, President Bush has continued to publicly and privately express his full confidence in the director. Moreover, Congress has lavished extra billions of dollars on the agency. While its budget is rightly kept secret, congressional sources suggest that the CIA and other intelligence agencies were authorized to spend more than $35 billion dollars for the next fiscal year, over and above the extra billion dollars they received from the president and Congress immediately after September 11.

The money is needed. But even more than money, what is needed is CIA leadership that will use all its resources both human and material with an aggression, cunning and ruthlessness that the times demand.

Bureaucratic foot-dragging 10 months after the attack (and how many months or weeks before the next attack?) constitutes a disgraceful indifference to duty or incompetence at the highest levels of the agency. How much longer must this vital defensive shield of the Republic be fumbled before other more able men are given a chance to protect us?

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