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It's time for Tenet to go

By Paul M. Weyrich
web posted February 2, 2004

In the late 1980's, thanks to Ed Lozansky, the President of the American University in Moscow, a group of us from the Free Congress Foundation were able to do a training conference in Moscow and in Tallinn, Estonia to teach people how to win elections. We worked with the Interregional Group, an association of deputies in the old Soviet Parliament who supported democracy and freedom. I had serious discussions with the leadership of that group in Moscow, including the Secretary of the organization, Arkady Murashev. I found that many deputies believed in freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of religion, an end to the Soviet empire and that Ronald Reagan was right in wanting to develop an anti-missile system.

I returned to Washington amazed at what I had seen and heard. Thanks to then Bush Chief of Staff John Sununu, I was able to discuss my experiences with the President. At the time, this country was caught up in a love affair with then Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev. I told President George H. W. Bush (Bush 41) that Gorbachev was hated in the Soviet Union. I said, "If he is replaced he is likely to be replaced by someone who is even friendlier to the United States such as Boris Yeltsin."

Bush told me that his intelligence people told him just the opposite. "I live in fear everyday that Gorbachev will be replaced by a Stalin-like person," Bush told me. He said I couldn't be right about what I was telling him because his intelligence people were unanimous in telling him that Gorbachev was the best we could hope for and Gorbachev was under terrible pressure from the hard line Communists.

President Bush told me he had heard nothing of the democracy movement that I had reported. He suggested that perhaps I had been duped. I knew I hadn't been duped. Stalin told President Roosevelt that he lived in fear that the people would lose their fear of him for just five minutes. It was clear that Members of the Interregional Group had no fear of Gorbachev. Even print media had already begun to be critical of the Soviet leader. Some cartoons even ridiculed him.

So who was duped? I believe President Bush was. He did not see the collapse of the Soviet Union coming. Because he did not understand what was happening, he was not prepared to take advantage of a remarkable opportunity in history. The United States was the loser. My colleagues Bill Lind and Charles Moser had predicted the end of the Soviet Union in the mid-1980's. If they could be right, why not our intelligence services?

I mention this again because the issue has come up with respect to Iraq. The President based his decision to go to war in Iraq on reports from his intelligence services that indicated that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction (WMD) which they were prepared to use, perhaps imminently. Now David Kay, who also believed there were WMD in Iraq, says there are none and there may never have been any. Kay was selected by the Administration to look for them because of his enthusiasm for the notion that they could be found. We ought to listen to what he says about our lack of human intelligence.

Once again our intelligence services have failed their President. In subsequent trips to Russia (I made about 30 trips to the former Soviet empire) I repeatedly asked members of the democracy movement if someone in the CIA had ever approached them. They repeatedly said no. This movement even included chess grand master Gary Kasparov, who was a frequent visitor to the West and who could have easily been questioned.

Bush 41 didn't have the intelligence which even I could bring him because his people on the ground never went beyond official sources who, who of course, wanted to paint a very different picture from reality.

President Bush 43 had a different problem. The Clinton Administration had destroyed almost all human intelligence, preferring to rely on high tech devices to monitor what was going on. But high tech devices can't infiltrate groups aimed at destroying this country. If we had human intelligence, President Bush would have learned what David Kay learned from Iraqi scientists. The scientists duped Saddam, telling him they were developing weapons when they were using the money for other things. True they did have programs which would have been turned into WMD, but not nearly as swiftly as the Administration represented.

It pains me to be in league with the Democrats running for President or with Senator John McCain (R-AZ) but they are correct in demanding an independent investigation of what went wrong with our intelligence services. That probe should go at least as far back as the collapse of the Soviet Union. The Administration's position that such a probe is not needed because the CIA is already conducting its own investigation is not defensible. The CIA, which has failed in its reportage in Africa, in Viet Nam, in Russia and now Iraq is hardly in a position to make an objective assessment of what happened.

CIA Director George Tenet

I admire President Bush's loyalty. It is rare in politics these days. But his loyalty to CIA Director George Tenet is misplaced. Tenet never should have been held over from the Clinton Administration. Regardless, it is time for him to go.

The President should understand that only bitter partisans blame him over the situation in Iraq. He should also understand that if he does not get to the bottom of what happened, and he has to come to the nation to advocate military action somewhere in the world, he would lack the credibility to do so. If he insists on saying he has confidence in our intelligence services, the blame will shift to him. That would be most unfortunate. As was the case with his father, George Bush is the victim here. The President ought to shift positions and get behind an independent investigation, which can be concluded after the election so it can be above politics.

George Bush is known for sticking to his guns and most of us admire that. This is one time if he sticks to his current position both he and the nation will be the losers.

Paul M. Weyrich is Chairman and CEO of the Free Congress Foundation.

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