The C.I.A. Report

August 23, 2007

Editorial (NYT)

The C.I.A. Report

The C.I.A. inspector general’s report on the agency’s failures before Sept. 11 was devastating — but not because it showed that America’s spies missed the rise of Al Qaeda. George Tenet, then the director of central intelligence, rang the Qaeda alarm. He sent a memo to the entire intelligence community saying that he wanted no effort spared in the “war” with Osama bin Laden. He took on the president’s closest advisers to agitate for a strike on a Qaeda base in Afghanistan.

The disturbing thing was that this all happened under President Bill Clinton. When George W. Bush won the White House, Mr. Tenet seems to have shifted his priorities. The C.I.A. chief suddenly seemed consumed with hanging on to his job.

The Bush team was so busy in 2001 trying to upend America’s global relationships according to a neo-conservative agenda that the then national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, did not see any urgency in reports that Al Qaeda was determined to strike in the United States. Mr. Tenet later helped hype the “slam dunk” intelligence that Mr. Bush used to justify diverting the military from the war of necessity against Al Qaeda in Afghanistan to the war of choice in Iraq.

Another disturbing aspect of the report released on Tuesday was its date, June 2005, which neatly sums up Mr. Bush’s policies on transparency and accountability — he doesn’t believe in either. Perhaps it’s not surprising that the report wasn’t released in 2005. Mr. Bush had just given Mr. Tenet the Presidential Medal of Freedom for his “pivotal” role in fighting Al Qaeda.

But it’s distressing that the director of the Central Intelligence Agency, Gen. Michael V. Hayden, still says that he would not have released the report if the Democratic-led Congress had not required it. Like his predecessor, Porter Goss, who also quashed the report, General Hayden does not seem to have much confidence in the American people. “It will, at a minimum, consume time and attention revisiting ground that is already well plowed,” he said, adding that the inspector general’s office cannot do its work unless it is hush-hush.

We could not disagree more. The recommendations of the inspector general were tepid — a panel should decide whether senior leaders should be called to account on relatively narrow issues — and the administration has already refused to comply. But more broadly, the obsession with secrecy and refusal to accept public scrutiny have made a tragic mess of national security policy.

Americans still don’t have the full story of how Mr. Bush hustled them into a war in which United States soldiers are trapped without hope of victory. Congress has rushed to pass profoundly dangerous changes to the constitutional fabric — the Patriot Act, the Military Commissions Act of 2006, recent changes to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act — without real deliberation.

The good news is that Senator Jay Rockefeller, Democrat of West Virginia, now runs the Senate Intelligence Committee, and he forced the release of this report. He also is pushing the committee to finally finish its investigation into the creation of the myth of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction.

This is not about plowing old ground. Ignoring the mistakes of the past dooms a nation to repeat them. Just look at the comparison Mr. Bush drew yesterday between Iraq and Vietnam. The only lesson he found in the nation’s last foreign quagmire of a war was that it ended too quickly.

An earlier version of this editorial incorrectly cited the changing of the name of the C.I.A. headquarters building as a sign of shifting priorities by its former director, George Tenet, after President Bush assumed office in 2001. The building was renamed in honor of George H.W. Bush, the current president’s father, in 1999.


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