Tenet's Leadership, His Pride, Faces Attack From Senate Panel as He Leaves C.I.A

By DOUGLAS JEHL

The New York Times

July 11, 2004

WASHINGTON, July 10 George J. Tenet always prided himself on being a strong, inspirational leader of American intelligence agencies. But as he leaves office on Sunday, Mr. Tenet must contend with a judgment that what went wrong with prewar intelligence in Iraq reflected in large part a failure of leadership.

That was the conclusion of the Senate Intelligence Committee, whose 511-page report rarely criticizes Mr. Tenet by name but does so often by his title, as "the D.C.I.," or director of central intelligence. In that role, the report suggests, Mr. Tenet more than anyone else bears responsibility for not halting the train of misjudgments, exaggerations and unquestioned assumptions that ultimately led to the flat declaration that Iraq possessed illicit weapons.

Because he stood at the pinnacle of the intelligence agencies' chain of command, the report said, the director of central intelligence was among those who should be held to account "for not encouraging analysts to challenge their assumptions, fully consider alternative arguments or accurately characterize the intelligence reporting."

The report added the harshest indictment yet to assessments of Mr. Tenet's tenure, which has divided many in Washington. His allies point to successes, including the restoration of pride and financial support to an agency left dispirited by cuts after the cold war, and the central role played by the agency's paramilitary forces in the swift victory in Afghanistan.

But his tenure has also been marked by major failures, including the failure of American intelligence agencies to predict an Indian nuclear test in 1998 and the intelligence agencies' inability to avert the Sept. 11 terror attacks. For these and other perceived sins, some members of Congress began long before this year to call for Mr. Tenet's resignation.

An agency spokesman, Bill Harlow, declined on Friday to address the Senate criticism. But in his own farewell address on Thursday, in an emotional ceremony at the agency's headquarters, Mr. Tenet clearly anticipated it. He borrowed from Theodore Roosevelt to question the fairness of those who offered their judgments in hindsight.

"It is not the critic who counts, nor the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better," Mr. Tenet said, quoting the former president. "The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood."

"More than anything," Mr. Tenet said, American intelligence agencies constitute "a community of action, with high stakes and high risks. Where others criticize, we learn; what others discuss, we do."

At a news conference on Capitol Hill, Senator Pat Roberts, a Kansas Republican and the chairman of the panel, declined to assess Mr. Tenet's role directly. "I think it's very important that we quit looking in the rear-view mirror and affixing blame, and, you know, pointing fingers," he said.

But throughout the 511-page report are criticisms of what Mr. Roberts described as "management practices up and down the entire intelligence community," which Mr. Tenet has led since 1997, longer than anyone since Allen Dulles in the 1950's and 1960's.

"While the D.C.I. was supposed to function as both the head of the C.I.A. and the head of the Intelligence Community," the committee report said, "in many instances he acted only as head of the C.I.A."

Even in the arena that Mr. Tenet had ranked as his top concern, the panel found fault with his approach. While Mr. Tenet declared from the time he took office that rebuilding the country's human intelligence capability was his priority, the Senate committee reported that in the case of Iraq, such intelligence turned out to have been all but absent.

American intelligence agencies had no sources at all in Iraq after 1998 to collect information about either illicit weapons or ties to terrorism, the committee said. As the primary reason, it identified not the lack of money or personnel on which Mr. Tenet had focused his attention, but what it called "a broken corporate culture and poor management," in the form of an unwillingness to take the risks required to develop sources and insert operations officers.

"Such operations are difficult and dangerous," the committee said, "but they should be the norm of the C.I.A.'s activities."

That criticism prompted a particularly angry response on Friday from John McLaughlin, the deputy intelligence chief, who is due to take over as the acting director on Sunday. Any suggestion of timidity, Mr. McLaughlin told reporters, does a disservice to intelligence officers who routinely take enormous risks, including those whose recent deaths have been commemorated in stars chiseled into the marble of the C.I.A.'s main lobby.

One criticism of Mr. Tenet, within the C.I.A. and outside it, has always been that he spent more time tending his close, personal relationship with President Bush than in undertaking the hard work of managing the agency or the broader intelligence spectrum. As a former staff member on Capitol Hill, this criticism goes, Mr. Tenet was better suited to pleasing his boss than to overseeing his own agency, not to mention the broader range of intelligence agencies whose overall budget is estimated at $40 billion a year.

While Mr. Tenet met nearly every morning with Mr. Bush to listen in on his daily intelligence briefing, he rarely assembled other intelligence chiefs for a similar face-to-face, communitywide meeting. Associates say he exerted his leadership instead in sessions like a daily 5 p.m. meeting on terrorism in which, one official said, he would regularly "bark orders" and exert hands-on control.

But in other areas, Mr. Tenet was slower to assert authority, when he did so at all. Some of what the C.I.A. under Mr. Tenet assured Congress about its full sharing of intelligence on suspected weapons sites in Iraq with United Nations inspectors there in 2002 and 2003 turned out to be "factually incorrect," the committee said.

Perhaps most striking, it was not until recently, intelligence officials acknowledged on Friday, that the C.I.A. adopted changes designed to avert a repeat of the mistakes of the Iraq experience.

The most significant among these is a mandatory requirement that National Intelligence Estimates, unlike the one on Iraq in October 2002 that was never subjected to an internal or external challenge, be subjected to concerted second-guessing before they are published.

Such a "Red Team" approach is hardly novel; it has long been common in the military and even the intelligence agencies, as Senator John D. Rockefeller IV of West Virginia, the committee's top Democrat, pointed out on Friday.

That Mr. Tenet did not include it as part of his standard practice might have been inexplicable, one Congressional official said, except that it would have clashed so directly with the kind of blunt certainty that Mr. Tenet often made a habit to express.

According to a written statement issued by Senator Rockefeller and other Democrats on the panel, Mr. Tenet also chose not to intervene directly when subordinates told him that they felt under pressure as they were preparing assessments on Iraq.

Their complaint was focused on administration officials who they said were bombarding them with repeated requests to explore possible links between Iraq and Al Qaeda, an approach that Republicans on the committee defended as prudent and justified.

"In his interview with the committee, Director Tenet confirmed that some agency officials raised with him personally the matter of the repetitive tasking and the pressure it created during this time period," the Democratic statement said.

Mr. Tenet gave no indication that he had asked administration officials to back off from an agency whose mission is to remain independent. Instead, "the director's counsel to those who raised the issue was to `relieve the pressure' by refusing to respond to repeated questions where no additional information existed."