Sunday, Jun. 15, 2003
Spook On The Spot
Can the CIA chief effectively lead the search for weapons of mass destruction?
By TIMOTHY J. BURGER AND JAMES CARNEY
After weeks of pressure to explain what it knew about the alleged weapons of mass destruction (WMD) in Iraq before launching the war there, the Bush Administration has placed the issue in CIA Director George Tenet's lap. Administration officials have been subtly pointing the finger in his direction, saying all their knowledge of Iraq's weapons programs came from Tenet's agency. That apparently didn't apply to a British intelligence report, cited by President Bush in his State of the Union speech, that claimed Iraq had tried to purchase uranium from an unnamed nation later identified as Niger. The report has since been discredited, having been based on forged documents. The CIA had, in fact, looked into the report in February 2002 and found it dubious. At first the White House claimed that the CIA, if it had had any reservations about the intelligence, had not communicated them. Then, after other U.S. officials revealed that the CIA had sent a cable to the White House in March 2002 that cast doubt on the Niger report, Bush aides insisted the warning was too vague to raise red flags.
Now Bush has put Tenet in the hot seat, placing him in charge of the hunt for the wmd. Tenet announced last week that he was bringing in former U.N. weapons inspector David Kay as his adviser in the search. Sources tell Time that Kay will be in overall charge of the operation of 1,300 soldiers and civilians, which was previously overseen by the Pentagon, and will report directly to Tenet.
All this responsibility may or may not be what Tenet is seeking. On July 11 he will become the third longest-serving CIA director, and sources tell Time he had been mulling retirement before the weapons controversy. The new assignment offers him a chance to go out either as a hero--or a scapegoat. "The spin is that somebody's got to be in charge so that it's being done in an organized fashion," says an intelligence official. "The more cynical view is that they have handed the whole bag of s___ to him."
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