- The Washington Times - Monday, October 7, 2002

In a bygone era, when faced with dishonor or failure, a gentlemen routinely resigned high office. But today in an age when dishonor or failure is too often merely looked on as a temporary inconvenience an interlude before the revival of a tarnished reputation it would be refreshing to see a gentleman step aside before being pushed out. CIA Director George Tenet should take heed of that alternative. Mr. Tenet should go not so much because of the past harm he has done as the harm he will do in the future.
Make no mistake. Mr. Tenet's tenure at the CIA already includes enough failings to have prompted an honorable man to resign. Recently, we learned that although Mr. Tenet declared "war" on al Qaeda in 1998, Cofer Black, his CIA counterterrorism director, was forced to cut his budgets by more than 30 percent in 1999. In congressional testimony, Mr. Black complained that he lacked sufficient resources, yet in 1998 Congress funded increases for the CIA's directorate of operations.
Where did the increased budget for operations go? Mr. Tenet managed to find the resources to fight Richard Holbrooke's and Madeline Albright's Balkan wars, using CIA resources to arm and train Kosovar guerrillas, hunt war criminals, rig elections in Yugoslavia and arrest Slobodan Milosevic and others for trial in The Hague. Meanwhile, despite tracking Flight 77 hijacker Khalid Almidher from an al Qaeda meeting to the United States, the CIA recommended no action be taken against the terrorist plotter. The war Mr. Tenet cared about was in the Balkans; he simply wasn't paying sufficient attention to terrorism.
Meddling in Balkan nation-building while al Qaeda made plans to attack us here is not the only instance in which Mr. Tenet's focus has been wrong. He embraced Bill Clinton's plan to use the CIA operations directorate to "monitor" the Wye Agreement between Israel and the Palestinians. He spread the CIA thin in peacekeeping and nation-building missions, as well as taking on new wars against drug smugglers and organized crime. This mission creep further diluted CIA's focus and resources.
Mr. Tenet was a willing partner in Sen. Bob Torricelli's congressionally mandated purge of thousands of CIA spies with questionable human-rights records. Although the law allowed a narrow exception to recruit "dirty" spies, a senior CIA official says that, as of September 11, 2001, Mr. Tenet had not authorized a single such recruitment. Even after Congress ordered Mr. Torricelli's policy reversed this year, Mr. Tenet still dragged his feet.
Before September 11, Mr. Tenet's most spectacular blunder was the failure to detect India's 1998 nuclear tests. CIA spokesman William Harlow's explanation was that the CIA had been hoodwinked by India's "denial and deception" campaign to hide its test preparations. Translation: We had no human agents in place to tell us the truth, and the clever Indians foiled our satellites and technical eavesdropping. In response, Mr. Tenet appointed an internal review team to find out how he had been fooled. This is the man we trust to keep us informed about nuclear developments in Iraq.
Mr. Tenet's other failing is the politicization of intelligence. Insiders have long complained that to please his political patrons, Mr. Tenet has compromised intelligence collection and analyses. A case in point is the transfer of chemical and biological weapons technology from South Africa to Libya during the late 1990s. Moammar Gadhafi literally purchased entire dual-use factories from Nelson Mandela's government and reassembled them in Libya. When CIA field officers tried to raise the alarm, their reports were downplayed at the headquarters level. Israeli intelligence has confirmed the Libyan program.
These past failings are bad enough, but the real problem is the future. In a candid interview in February 2001, National Security Agency Director-General Mike Hayden said that Osama bin Laden "has better technology" than the NSA. Mr. Hayden admitted that the NSA was "behind the curve in keeping up with the global telecommunications revolution."
Mr. Hayden was referring to the $3 trillion-a-year global telecommunications industry and the availability of its sophisticated products across the globe, and the leveling effect it has had on the NSA's once-legendary technical prowess. In the 1970s, America's technological lead was quantum, and the "take" from satellites and technical collection was superb. But now, the pendulum is swinging back; global advances in communications overwhelm the NSA's ability to analyze data, while countermeasures make it harder to effectively target adversaries. NSA insiders say there is no "killer application" on the research horizon that will restore America's edge anytime soon. Moreover, to defeat technical spying, al Qaeda and others are resorting to human couriers for their most sensitive messages.
The leveling trend of technology, the growth in volume of electronic communications and the return to low-tech methods of communication will combine to force a greater reliance on human spying in the 21st century. The three decades between 1970 and 2000 were the heyday of the technical spies; if we want an edge now, it will have to come from revitalizing human intelligence.
Mr. Tenet's past tenure as CIA director shows he is not the man to oversee this transformation of the agency. Mr. Tenet himself had expressed doubts about his qualifications for such a large position at such an early age. The future demands a more assertive, intellectually agile and forceful leader who will resist the temptation to cater intelligence to serve the whims of his political patrons. The stakes are high, and as an honorable man, Mr. Tenet should consider withdrawing from the field.


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