- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 28, 2004

Glaring flaws in the nation’s intelligence-gathering apparatus were revealed yesterday with the testimony of former chief U.S. weapons inspector David Kay to the Senate Select Committee. His statement, “It’s quite clear we need capabilities that we do not have with regard to intelligence,” constitutes a prima facie case for a prewar failure by the CIA. It demonstrates how critical it is for the rot that has accumulated in the CIA before and during George Tenet’s tenure to be purged, and for fundamental reforms to be started.

This is not Mr. Tenet’s first failure. He was at the helm on September 11 and was there in May 1998, when the agency failed to predict India’s nuclear weapons tests. Mr. Tenet agreed to fire thousands of operatives with questionable human-rights records and put the agency on a politically correct footing that continues to this day.

In the fall of 2002, this page ran a series of editorials pointing out reforms required in the intelligence community. One was that the CIA return to a meritocracy. The agency’s insistence on diversity has had a pernicious effect on personnel, raising unqualified individuals into positions they are incapable of filling and lowering the morale of high performers who realize their excellence will not be rewarded. Conditions had so deteriorated by September 11 that the agency had to call in long-retired agents — now in their 60s and 70s — to train new agents. The CIA should return to a greater reliance on NOCs, agents with non-official cover, and eliminate the cutoff age of 34 for case officer trainees, in order to do so. The CIA’s reduced reliance on NOCs stems from the near-mortal wounds inflicted upon them by the Church Committee, the Pike Report and the leaks and blown agents that accompanied them in the 1970s.

But despite that congressional blood-letting, and many periods of misguided leadership, thousands of intelligence officers continue to give all that they have — often at great cost — in silent service to the nation’s security. Those patriotic individuals cannot and should not be blamed for the shortfalls of their agency.

Because every war starts as a come as you are party, and with the war on terrorism so suddenly thrust upon him, it is understandable that President Bush had been reluctant, initially, to propose major changes to the CIA. Reform itself can initially degrade effectiveness. However, fundamental reforms are clearly needed throughout the agency, and Mr. Kay’s testimony gives the president both the rationale and the opportunity to finally get them started.

Returning the CIA to its elite status will take five to 10 years and will require constant pressure from the White House and Congress. They must start at the top, where Mr. Tenet has set the tone and direction of the CIA for almost a decade, largely to the agency’s — and the nation’s — detriment.

The nation’s security is at stake, and notwithstanding Mr. Tenet’s personal decency and hard work, his retirement will be the beginning of necessary reforms.

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