Tenet's CIA failure: Follow the money Updated

Yesterday I took a swing at the basics of the CIA’s pre 9-11 failures, as outlined in the 19-page Executive Summary of the CIA’s accountability report. The gist: They didn’t come up with a comprehensive report focusing on bin Laden, and didn’t come up with a comprehensive strategic plan for countering him or his jihad against us.

Tenet’s defense is, basically, hey, I looked good in August 2001 so why don’t I look so good now?

Answer:

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The 2007 report’s Executive Summary details systemic problems within the CIA, from the failures mentioned above to the CIA’s inability to work with the NSA from 1998 through 2001. That’s Tenet at CIA, first failing to work with Sandy Bergler’s and then Condi Rice’s NSA. It’s not a partisan thing, evidently, so much as either a priorities, turf war or competence thing. And the CIA’s inability to work with the NSA isn’t a one-way street; the CIA’s report just understandably focuses on the CIA’s role. Don’t expect No Such Agency to release anything like the CIA’s report on this. We’ll never hear that side of the story, at least not in any official way.

But beginning on page 6, the summary gets into Tenet’s specific failures as a manager, namely, in his use of the CIA’s counterterrorism budget. And what the summary hints at is fascinating and damning.

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For a little context, Tenet had written a memo declaring that the US was “at war” with al Qaeda in December 1998. What followed that memo hints at just how seriously Tenet took that war. From page 4 of the summary.

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Not very seriously at all. CIA made a lot of noise, got some new money appropriated, and then diverted that money to other parts of the agency and other efforts. In his statement of defense, Tenet credits then House Speaker Newt Gingrich for helping him obtain the funding increases, to the tune of $1.2 billion. I wonder how Speaker Gingrich will regard the news that Tenet’s CIA diverted that money away from counterterrorism.

The upshot of this section of the report is that Tenet made a grand show of leading an effort that he called a “war,” but did not lead as though it was actually a war. The best that one can say is that Tenet didn’t effectively manage an effort that he took seriously. The worst case understanding gets into malfeasance with government funds territory. The IG report recommends that an external Accountability Board should be set up to look at the actions of Tenet and other senior CIA officials of the era, some of whom remain in the agency today. Congress itself probably ought to investigate, and if I had any faith at all in Congress, I would suggest that it should add one more investigation to the 300 or so that have been launched since the Democrats took the helm.

The counterrorism funds that Tenet secured went elsewhere. The question is, why? Was it just bureaucratic land-grabbing, rank incompetence, or something worse?

More: MSNBC’s take on the report and President Clinton’s claim to have put teeth into the anti-bin Laden effort:

The report also criticized intelligence problems when Bill Clinton was president, detailing political and legal “constraints” agency officials felt in the late 1990s. In September 2006, during a famous encounter with Fox News anchor Wallace, Clinton erupted in anger and waived his finger when asked about whether his administration had done enough to get bin Laden. “What did I do? What did I do?” Clinton said at one point. “I worked hard to try to kill him. I authorized a finding for the CIA to kill him. We contracted with people to kill him. I got closer to killing him than anybody has gotten since.”

Clinton appeared to have been referring to a December 1999 Memorandum of Notification (MON) he signed that authorized the CIA to use lethal force to capture, not kill, bin Laden. But the inspector general’s report made it clear that the agency never viewed the order as a license to “kill” bin Laden—one reason it never mounted more effective operations against him. “The restrictions in the authorities given the CIA with respect to bin Laden, while arguably, although ambiguously, relaxed for a period of time in late 1998 and early 1999, limited the range of permissible operations,” the report stated. ([former bin Laden unit chief Michael] Scheuer agreed with the inspector general’s findings on this issue, but said if anything the report was overly diplomatic. “There was never any ambiguity,” he said. “None of those authorities ever allowed us to kill anyone. At least that’s what the CIA lawyers told us.” A spokesman for the former president had no immediate comment.)