Monday, July 14, 2003

CIA Director George J. Tenet has no plans to step down as agency chief despite calls by critics for his ouster due to a string of intelligence lapses, U.S. officials said yesterday.

“Director Tenet plans to keep on doing his job,” an agency official said. “That is what he is focused on.”

Meanwhile, the agency’s inspector general has begun an investigation of how tainted intelligence on Iraq’s nuclear program found its way into a presidential speech, said officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

A U.S. official said that CIA Inspector General John Helgerson has begun looking into the intelligence on uranium at the request of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.

The probe is focusing on a national intelligence estimate, a consensus report of 15 member agencies of the U.S. intelligence community, that included the reference to Iraqi procurement of uranium from Niger, Somalia and Congo.

Officials have said several documents on the uranium-purchase effort were later found to have been forged.

Britain’s government, which is facing its own inquiry on whether intelligence on Iraq was hyped to support going to war, has stood by its reports on the Niger uranium.

Asked whether Mr. Tenet should resign over the uranium intelligence, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice said Sunday that Mr. Bush “has confidence in George Tenet. This was a mistake.”

Mr. Tenet, 50, is a former Democratic Senate staffer who worked in the White House as intelligence director for the National Security Council staff during the Clinton administration from 1993 to 1995. He moved to CIA as deputy director in 1995 and took the top position in July 1997.

In his sixth year as the top intelligence official, Mr. Tenet is one of the agency’s longest-serving directors and has been in charge of a string of intelligence lapses, including the September 11 terrorist attacks.

Among the problems related to intelligence that have occurred during his tenure are the following:

• U.S. intelligence failed to identify Indian preparations for an underground nuclear test in May 1998. The test took the CIA by surprise and triggered the first nuclear tests by neighboring Pakistan.

• The CIA falsely identified a target it “nominated” for bombing by U.S. and allied forces in May 1999 in Belgrade, Yugoslavia, as a weapons agency. It turned out to have been the Chinese Embassy and was mistakenly bombed.

• Mr. Tenet was faulted for mishandling a security investigation of former CIA Director John Deutch, who had compromised highly classified intelligence on a laptop computer. An investigation of the matter found that Mr. Tenet failed to “forcefully” involve himself in the probe. The investigation would have triggered a special counsel investigation of Mr. Deutch if it had been reported to the Justice Department as required.

• The CIA had no permanent officers based in Afghanistan before September 11, despite knowing that the country was the main operating base for al Qaeda terrorists behind the bombings of the World Trade Center and Pentagon.

• The CIA missed North Korea’s nuclear fuel-rod reprocessing, a key “red line” in the communist nation’s break from a U.S.-North Korean agreement, until after the reprocessing was mentioned in April 2003 during talks in Beijing.

Sen. Richard C. Shelby, Alabama Republican and until recently the chairman of the Senate intelligence panel, said Sunday that Mr. Tenet should be replaced.

“There have been more failures of intelligence on the watch of George Tenet than anybody in recent history as director of the CIA,” Mr. Shelby said on CNN’s “Late Edition.”

Larry Wortzel, a former military intelligence officer, said in an interview that the intelligence lapse is “a serious question.”

“It really sort of brings up the propensity of the intelligence community to want to meet the policy desires of the decision-makers,” said Mr. Wortzel, now with the Heritage Foundation.

Mr. Wortzel said the legalistic excuses offered by the CIA director for not taking the intelligence on Niger uranium out of the president’s speech “indicate people knew even the British information was tenuous.”

“In the end, a great victory in a solid policy decision by the president is being obscured by this desire to pile on evidence” of Iraq’s weapons programs, Mr. Wortzel said.

“I think it reflects poorly on the administration, the propensity of the intelligence community to try to satisfy senior policy-makers, and it is why the intelligence community always needs great oversight,” he said.

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