This week’s release of the CIAs inspector general’s (IG) report on agency operations before September 11 is important. Because of the report, the CIA now stands as not only the U.S. government’s most successful counterterrorism entity, but also its most honest.
The report rightfully indicts former CIA director George Tenet for what can be described as a lack of “manliness.” The report makes clear that nothing heroic was expected or even needed from Mr. Tenet. If Mr. Tenet simply had had the moral courage to use the statutory powers vested in him by Congress to compel the intelligence community to operate optimally, he would have been respected and remembered as one of the best DCIs. He did not have the courage, and all Americans have suffered as a result. That said, I suspect that over the long run no one will suffer, in quiet moments, more than Mr. Tenet.
Noticeably lacking from the CIA IG’s report, however, was the other half of the IG’s assigned task: recognition and praise for those CIA officers who worked, endured, risked and succeeded against al Qaeda during a time when, like the British Army in the Great War, they were “lions led by asses.” I had the honor to lead many of these men and women from several posts for a decade, and I believe the IG is derelict in not listing their achievements against al-Qaeda between 1995 and today.
Many of these accomplishments cannot be fully explained in public because of the requirement to protect sources and methods, but a simple factual listing ought to give Americans a sense of the vital importance of CIA operations to their country’s security, and offer them great hope for what can be accomplished henceforth now that men like Mr. Tenet, James Pavitt, Cofer Black and John Brennan have been replaced by such fine officers and honest men as CIA Director Michael Hayden and CIA Deputy Director Stephen Kappes:
1. By the end of 1996, CIA operations had determined that Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda represented a greater threat to U.S. national security than any other terrorist group America had encountered.
2. By early 1997, the CIA had acquired information definitively showing that al Qaeda was trying to acquire — through development, theft, or purchase — weapons of mass destruction, and that it already had tried to purchase weapons-grade uranium.
3. Between 1996 and 1998, CIA operations conducted unilaterally and with Arab allies all but destroyed Ayman al-Zawahiri’s Egyptian Islamic Jihad organization. When Zawahiri joined al Qaeda in February 1998, he had no other choice in if he and what was left of his group was to survive.
4. Between May 1998, and May 1999, CIA operations officers provided the U.S. government with two chances to capture Osama bin Laden, using agency assets, and eight chances to kill him using U.S. military forces.