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Between the Lines

June 03, 2004

Busy beavers all

I could almost write one of those "you need a lawyer" ads for DC cable TV stations. In fact, I think I will:

"Are you under investigation by a federal agency? Have you lied to FBI agents or Congress? Outed a CIA agent? Did the needles on the polygraph jump all over the place when they asked you about that little secret you let slip to your Iraqi pal Ahmed Chalabi? Friend, you could be looking at 10 to 20 on the Leavenworth rock pile – unless you call Tart, Loose & Blowsy today. Forged in the cauldron of Watergate, shaped on the anvil of Iran/Contra, our lawyers are experts in turning hard time into a golf opportunity at a Club Fed near you. You'll sleep soundly with the knowledge that we fled DC for Bermuda to avoid paying our fair share of onerous U.S. taxes and we contribute every quarter – sometimes more often! – to your friends in Congress."

Well, you did hear, I trust, that our president has been talking to a lawyer in case he needs one in connection with a federal grand jury's investigation of the outing of CIA undercover agent Valerie Plame last year. No indication that he's a "target" of the investigation. It does raise the question, so far unanswered, of whether others at the top of the administration, specifically the president's political operative, Karl Rove, Vice President Cheney, Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice have lawyered up.

Meanwhile, FBI agents with polygraph machines have been interviewing the select few officials at the top ranks of the Bush administration who would have had knowledge of the sensitive information Chalabi is supposed to have obtained from a drunk American official and passed on to his friends in the intelligence service of the Iranian Mullahs, who no doubt have our very best interests at heart.

"Officials would not identify who has taken polygraph examinations or even who has been interviewed by F.B.I. counterespionage agents. It could not be determined whether anyone has declined to submit to a polygraph test," The New York Times reports.

"No one has been charged with any wrongdoing or identified as a suspect, but officials familiar with the investigation say that they are working through a list of people and are likely to interview senior Pentagon officials.

"The F.B.I. is looking at officials who both knew of the code-breaking operation and had dealings with Mr. Chalabi, either in Washington or Baghdad, the government officials said. Information about code-breaking work is considered among the most confidential material in the government and is handled under tight security and with very limited access."

Chalabi continues to bluster that he's innocent. Maybe he is. But I don't think arguing his case before Congress (his suggestion) is going to meet the requirements of U.S. law.

Looks like fewer dog days in DC this summer.

Posted by tbrown at 03:45 PM


'Slam dunk' Tenet is going. Who's next?

The CIA director, George Tenet, is resigning "for personal reasons" and "for the well-being of my wonderful family." And for several other reasons, no doubt.

The departure of Tenet is way, way overdue, but ill-timed nonetheless. Because of election-year politics, it is unlikely that the CIA will get a chief with full authority to take the U.S. intelligence establishment in a new direction until next year. Keep in mind that the director of central intelligence does more than run the big spy shop in Langley. He also, at least nominally, oversees the budgets – secret of course – of the entire U.S. spookery operation and helps set priorities and coordinate activities among the CIA, NSA, NRO, DIA and so on through the alphabet soup of spydom. Even in normal times, nine months or so is a very long time to leave this assemblage rudderless under a caretaker administration. In the unstable world we know today, it is an eon.

Tenet is widely viewed as both a consumate bureaucrat and a nice guy, but his record over the last four years is not one you'd want to add to a resume. Though it is unfair to blame all the failings of U.S. intelligence on him alone, he is the responsible official. On Tenet's watch:

-- The U.S. intelligence community was blindsided by al-Qaida's attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on 9/11. Among the problems: the CIA didn’t share information on terror suspects with other agencies.

-- It's been widely reported that the Bush administration cooked intelligence to make the best possible case that Saddam Hussein was harboring stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction in order to justify the Iraq war. But they probably needn't have bothered. Tenet, according to Bob Woodward's new book, told Bush on the eve of war, "Don't worry, it's a slam dunk," that Saddam had the weapons. If he did, they've never been found.

-- Now there's the Abu Ghraib prisoner-abuse mess and the no doubt significant role intelligence agencies played in creating it.

The 9/11 attacks and the intelligence community's cluelessness on Saddam's WMDs are arguably the worst intelligence failures since Pearl Harbor. The bipartisan commission investigating 9/11 is going to be doing some finger-pointing in the CIA's direction when it releases its final report this summer. So is the Senate Intelligence Committee. And the Abu Ghraib and other investigations of prisoner abuse in Iraq and Afghanistan no doubt will provide still further bad news for Tenet. So it was time for Tenet to go, even if the timing was, paradoxically, bad.

Who might be next? We have no idea, but let's read some tea leaves:

"He told me he's leaving for personal reasons. I told him I was sorry he was leaving. He's done a superb job on behalf of the American people."
-- President Bush, today, on Tenet's resignation

"You are doing a superb job. You are a strong secretary of defense, and our nation owes you a debt of gratitude."
-- President Bush to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld after the Abu Ghraib scandal broke

Rumsfeld likely will be around through election day, though. But I do have one small question: what does it take to do less than a superb job in this administration?

Note: Washington Post reporter Robert Kaiser has been answering Tenet questions online.

The Post also has a collection of video clips of Tenet testimony before congressional committees and the 9/11 commission here.

Posted by tbrown at 01:03 PM




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