- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 4, 2002

The latest debacle at the CIA Newsweek's report that the agency was tracking two of the September 11 hijackers for nearly two years while failing to inform either the FBI or the INS that the pair had entered the United States is just the latest evidence that the agency desperately needs new leadership. In early January 2000, the CIA learned that Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda organization was holding a summit in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, where members planned future attacks against the United States. At the request of the CIA, Malaysian security agents agreed to follow and photograph nearly a dozen al Qaeda operatives, among them Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi, who would later be aboard the plane that crashed into the Pentagon on September 11.
What occurred immedately after the terrorist parley in Kuala Lumpur can only be described as an intelligence failure of staggering proportions: The CIA followed Alhazmi as he flew from Malaysia to Los Angeles. Agents also discovered that Almihdhar (who, they later learned, had flown to the United States on the same flight as Alhazmi) had already been granted a "multiple-entry visa" allowing him to visit and depart the United States as he saw fit. "Yet astonishingly, the CIA did nothing with the information. Agency officials didn't tell the INS, which could have turned them away at the border, nor did they notify the FBI, which could have covertly tracked them to find out their mission," Newsweek reported.
"Instead, during the year and nine months after the CIA identified them as terrorists, Alhazmi and Almihdar lived openly in the United States, using their real names, obtaining driver's licenses, opening bank accounts and enrolling in flight schools" until the morning of September 11, according to Newsweek. When Almihdhar's visa expired, the State Department, which hadn't been informed he was a terrorist, issued him a new one last June. The FBI didn't know it was supposed to be searching for the pair until less than three weeks before the hijackings. That was when George Tenet, worried that an attack on the United States was imminent, ordered agency analysts to review their files. But, by then, it was too late.
Unfortunately, judging from his performance as director of central intelligence and deputy director during the Clinton and Bush II administrations, a large part of the problem is Mr. Tenet. To cite but a few examples, he helped oversee the Clinton administration's disastrous failed effort to overthrow Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein. 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 an incorrect CIA map. More recently, William Safire of the New York Times made a compelling case that Mr. Tenet, who has been a go-between for Israeli and Palestinian security officials, had been suckered into promoting Palestinian security boss Jibril Rajoub, who has been up to his eyeballs in the recent terror campaign against Israel. It's time for President Bush to relieve Mr. Tenet of his position as CIA director.


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