"I am not a policymaker"


Tim Grieve
June 4, 2004 12:06AM (UTC)

George Tenet may well have resigned for <a target= "new" href=""personal reasons," although we doubt it. But by leaving now, Tenet spares himself -- and the White House -- the embarrassment that's sure to come when the Sept. 11 Commission issues its final report.

The commission's staff has issued two reports on the intelligence community Tenet led -- one on intelligence policy and another on the performance of the intelligence community prior to Sept. 11. In both reports, Tenet is portrayed as a focused and hard-working leader, but ultimately an ineffective one.

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Early on, Tenet recognized the threats that Osama bin Laden posed. But through the limitations imposed on the CIA and his own management failings, the commission's staff said, Tenet was unable to neutralize bin Laden or prevent him from orchestrating attacks on the United States.

In December 1998, Tenet issued a directive on international terrorism in which he declared: "We are at war. I want no resources or people spared in this effort, either inside the CIA or the [Intelligence] Community." It appears no one listened. "Unfortunately," the commission staff wrote, "we found the memorandum had little overall effect on mobilizing the CIA or the Intelligence Community."

The commission staff concluded that Tenet's intelligence team failed in four key areas. First, while there were "many reports" on Osama bin Laden and al-Qaida, there was "no comprehensive estimate of the enemy, either to build consensus or clarify differences" on how to respond to the terrorist threat. Second, except for cases involving weapons of mass destruction, "the methods developed for decades to warn of surprise attacks were not applied to the problem of warning against terrorist attacks." Third, the Intelligence Community never engaged in a "comprehensive review" of what it knew and didn't know and it made not "community-wide plan to close those gaps." And fourth, while Tenet focused on the CIA, he was unable to manage the larger intelligence community in an effective fashion. "As a result," the staff said, "the question remains: Who is charge of intelligence?"

For his part, Tenet downplayed his responsibility. "I am not a policymaker," he told the commission, explaining that he simply provides information and analysis to the President and his team. "It is their job to figure out where I fit into the puzzle."


Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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