No worries for Tenet

October 09, 2005

Former CIA Director George J. Tenet should be writing his successor a big thank-you note. Agency Director Porter J. Goss has rejected an inspector general's recommendation to name "an accountability board" to assess the performance of Mr. Tenet and other CIA officials, past and present, in the run-up to 9/11. Mr. Tenet can reflect on his service in peace. He can polish his Presidential Medal of Freedom. It's good to have friends in high places.

In announcing his decision, Mr. Goss, a former congressman who chaired the House Intelligence Committee, also refused to make public any portions of the review that reportedly was highly critical of agency personnel. He cited the damage declassifying the report would have on the CIA's rebuilding efforts. Spoken like a true company man. As a former CIA operative, Mr. Goss is choosing to side with his agency alumni. He has forgotten that his allegiance now is not only to the agency; his foremost responsibility is to the American public. Mr. Goss, who supported the internal review when he was in Congress, should release at least a summary of Inspector General John L. Helgerson's report or some portions of it. If, as he has stated, the report "unveiled no mysteries," then why keep it a mystery?

Mr. Goss' refusal to appoint an internal CIA board ends, in all likelihood, any chance that top U.S. officials will be held accountable for the government's failure to prevent the worst terrorist attacks on U.S. soil. Similar reviews by inspectors general for the State, Justice and Defense departments concluded without any official being publicly disciplined or reprimanded.

Intelligence failures were among the top findings of the independent 9/11 commission report. The panel's investigation led to the appointment of an intelligence czar to address the lack of cooperation and coordination among U.S. intelligence services. The public is entitled to any additional information Mr. Helgerson's CIA inquiry would offer on the agency's mistakes and missteps.

Intelligence remains a critical factor in determining the level of threat posed by terrorist groups around the globe. In 2002, on the eve of closed hearings into the 9/11 attacks, Mr. Goss said: "The No. 1 objective is public awareness of what happened and to make sure that we take the necessary steps to improve our national security so it doesn't happen again."

The public can best assess a new, reformed CIA and its decision-makers by comparing the agency to its past performance.

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