News & Politics

The Intelligence Blame Game

The most prominent theory behind CIA Director George Tenet's resignation is that he's the designated fall guy for pre-9/11 intelligence failures.
Yesterday, President Bush accepted the resignation of CIA Director George Tenet. In Slate, Fred Kaplan asks the central question: "Why now?" The most prominent theory: "Bush is making Tenet the fall guy for pre-9/11 intelligence failures and for the inability to find Saddam's supposed arsenal." While the White House pushed the story that Tenet's resignation was for personal reasons, allies of the president who "sensed tension between Tenet and the White House believed his resignation was not unwanted." Bush's quick acceptance of Tenet's resignation suggests "some White House officials see political benefit in his departure at a time when there are growing calls for top-level accountability for U.S. failure in Iraq." Stansfield Turner, former CIA director for Jimmy Carter, said, "I think he is being pushed out. The president feels he has to have someone to blame."

Tenet's departure comes shortly before the Senate Intelligence Committee is expected to release "a still-classified report that...[offers] a scathing assessment of the CIA's prewar intelligence on Iraq." At issue: the belief "that Iraq had chemical and biological weapons [which] provided the basis for the Bush administration's case for war." The core criticism of Tenet is that "he acquiesced to a White House that wanted a certain type of evidence in Iraq and was surprisingly less concerned about evidence that North Korea and Iran were making far more progress toward nuclear weapons than Mr. Hussein." In his resignation speech yesterday, Tenet acknowledged that his record during his seven years as director of the CIA was "not without flaws." Nevertheless, at times, Tenet "was a restraining influence on a White House that often seemed inclined to turn tips into facts, and theories into evidence."

Tenet's resignation comes as the CIA "has engaged in a continuing feud with the Pentagon over Defense officials' efforts to take over important intelligence work." Tensions between the CIA and the Pentagon have flared in recent days "over public accusations that Iraqi exile leader Ahmad Chalabi, a Pentagon favorite, had learned that the U.S. had broken secret Iranian codes and leaked the sensitive information to Iran." Yesterday Chalabi "accused Mr. Tenet of spreading groundless allegations about him" and "backing failed coup attempts against Saddam Hussein that caused the deaths of hundreds of Iraqis." While publicly striking more measured tones, "Pentagon officials privately suggested officials at the CIA...were using the Chalabi furor to mount a smear campaign against individuals in the Pentagon." Pentagon officials also "denied reports that the FBI was conducting lie-detector tests on Pentagon employees who might have disclosed intelligence to Mr. Chalabi" and "suggested these reports were put out by the CIA." It is possible that Tenet's departure "opens the way for the Pentagon to exercise even greater influence over intelligence work."

As the administration's national security apparatus falls into disarray, National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice seems oblivious to the problems. Yesterday Rice insisted Bush "will one day rank alongside such towering pillars of 20th-century statecraft as President Franklin D. Roosevelt and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill." The comparison to FDR and Churchill -- who forged strong international alliances -- stands in stark contrast to Bush's "go-it-alone approach to diplomacy that has strained U.S. alliances and divided world opinion rather than uniting it." Sen. Richard Lugar (R-IN) acknowledged yesterday that, after three-and-a-half years of Bush statecraft, around the world, "Not many people agree with us or like us or, for that matter, are prepared to work with us."
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