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CIA Director George Tenet: The right man, but is he in the right job?

By Paul M. Weyrich
web posted November 25, 2002

Central Intelligence Agency Director George Tenet

The incoming chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Senator Richard Shelby (R-AL), a man widely respected in that body, believes that Central Intelligence Agency Director George Tenet must be replaced. He said so over and over again as the new administration took power. Back then, Republicans had a tenuous hold on the Senate with only 50 votes. They had to depend on Vice President Richard Cheney to break ties. Then came Senator Jim Jeffords (VT). His switch to "Independent," and his decision to caucus with the Democrats, left the Democrats in control for the rest of the 107th Congress. Senator Bob Graham of Florida thus became chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee. So Shelby's one-man crusade to have Tenet replaced at the CIA was effectively put on hold.

Now comes the 108th Congress. Republicans will have at least 51 seats. They could even have 52 seats depending on the results of the election in Louisiana on December 7th.

Regardless, Senator Shelby will again be Chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee. It is likely that he will resume his efforts to get Tenet removed as CIA director.

It is not good to have the widely respected chairman of that committee hostile to one of the most important people with whom it has to deal. Still, President George Bush has grown rather fond of Tenet. And Bush is nothing if not loyal to the people he likes. The President has to realize that having Shelby constantly calling for the removal of Tenet is not good either at home or abroad. Asking the fiercely independent Shelby to quit his crusade would be counterproductive.

Colin McNickle, the editorial page editor of the Pittsburgh Tribune Review, has come up with a very constructive idea to solve the Tenet problem. Tenet, we would remind you, is a holdover from the Clinton Administration. And while he is no doubt the best we could have expected from Clinton, there are many security experts available to George Bush who have superior credentials to Tenet's, and better judgment as well.

McNickle, in an editorial on November 12th, opined that "perhaps Tenet's time is past him at the CIA, which he has headed since 1997. But the simple fact is that Tenet does enjoy a good relationship with George W. Bush. And his intelligence experience is quite deep. Considered an expert in threat assessment, Tenet also has valuable experience as a legislative assistant for national security matters for the late Sen. John Heinz of Pittsburgh.

"This nexus of circumstance and experience prompts us to wonder (as it has some wags with whom we regularly converse) if there isn't a right job looking for the right fellow. And lo and behold there appears to be. Might Tenet be a sound choice to head intelligence for the new Department of Homeland Security?

"Sometimes people simply have to find the right niche in life. Perhaps a move to the DHS is George Tenet's."

McNickle has the right idea. Tenet does have significant abilities. Moreover, his relationship with President Bush is extraordinary. Still, the President must understand that it is not helpful to have the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee constantly expressing his lack of confidence in Tenet, who he believes is in over his head as director of the CIA.

Since President Bush wants him, why not take McNickle's suggestion. That new agency is going to have to have outstanding intelligence work. If Tenet is appointed to that position, he can still brief the President daily. In some ways, that job will be more important than Tenet's current position.

If the Department of Homeland Security is not the ticket, perhaps there is another position that would suit Tenet better. Only President Bush would know this. We admire the President's loyalty. It is highly commendable. By all means keep Tenet. Put him in a position where he can ably serve President Bush. But remove him from the post that has the highly respected Shelby constantly casting doubt on Tenet's abilities.

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

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