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Tenet's Testimony: Insulting Our Intelligence

Monday, 11 February 2002 12:00 AM

When Director of Central Intelligence George Tenet appeared before the Senate Select Intelligence Committee, he forcefully asserted his right to speak directly to the American people. Addressing the senators, he stated: "You get to speak to the American people. So do I, and I think it's important that they hear us on this question."

The DCI visibly bristled at the use of the word 'failure' in reference to the U.S. intelligence community and Sept. 11.

"It was not the result of the failure of attention and discipline and focus and consistent effort, and the American people need to understand that," the DCI argued. And he continued, "When people use the word 'failure,' failure means no focus, no attention, no discipline – and those were not present in what either we or the FBI did here and around the world. And we will continue to work at it."

Somewhat emotional and slightly incoherent (good qualities in a DCI), Mr. Tenet obviously takes offense at the suggestion that Sept. 11 was an intelligence failure. Mr. Tenet also implied in his statements that to "paint" Sept. 11 as a major intelligence failure would be an injustice to the "competent men and women who risk their lives and undertake heroic risks" to protect America.

Well, Mr. Director, Sept. 11 was a catastrophic intelligence failure. It's a simple fact, get used to it. Just as the DCI rightfully claims that the attacks that have been prevented were major intelligence successes, Sept. 11 was a major intelligence failure.

Furthermore, most critics who are labeling Sept. 11 an intelligence failure are not blaming the rank-and-file members of the intelligence community. They're blaming the leadership and senior management of the community.

Is it so difficult for a Director of Central Intelligence to understand or accept that a major defeat in a war is going to be partly due to major intelligence failure? If it is, then critics demanding a new DCI are right.

Someone unable to understand and accept reality is not going to be a good DCI, whereas someone who has simply failed is still more than capable of being a great leader, a great DCI. Dulles, Helms, Bush, Casey – each had his failures. But, as Mr. Tenet alluded to in his testimony, the art of intelligence work is not going to be 100 percent successful. Intelligence failures happen.

When a DCI demands his chance to speak directly to the American people, as Mr. Tenet did, he needs to be honest and straightforward in what he chooses to say to the public. Mr. Tenet wasn't.

Just as honest and straightforward as the president was, the DCI should have told the American people something to the effect: "We had a major intelligence failure. We will not always be successful, but the commitment and ability of our intelligence community has never been stronger."

While critics may argue with the latter part of the statement, at least, the DCI wouldn't have undermined the public's confidence in his ability to report simple facts either to them or the president. He also would have avoided insulting the American public's intelligence by refusing to call a failure what it was: a failure.

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When Director of Central Intelligence George Tenet appeared before the Senate Select Intelligence Committee, he forcefully asserted his right to speak directly to the American people. Addressing the senators, he stated: You get to speak to the American people.So do I,...
Tenet's,Testimony:,Insulting,Our,Intelligence
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2002-00-11
Monday, 11 February 2002 12:00 AM
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