Thursday, February 5, 2004

Don't politicize U.S. intelligence probe


It doesn't take a spy to figure out President Bush's new commission on U.S. intelligence failures will be politicized in a presidential election year. Failure to find predicted weapons of mass destruction in Iraq forced Bush this week to authorize an "independent" inquiry into faulty pre-war intelligence, and before a single panelist has been named, his commission already has taken more hits than Saddam Hussein's Baghdad bunker

Congress and the candidates need to give this commission a chance to look beyond blame and find fresh solutions. If we can't trust U.S. intelligence, our leaders will be unable to justify action against other suspected threats.

We don't need another commission to tell us the CIA hasn't been wildly successful at penetrating al-Qaida's terrorist network or police states such as Saddam's Iraq. We know we need more native-speaking agents on the ground in the Mideast. We also know, to stop threats in real time, we need analysts and systems that can sift mountains of data collected daily by spy satellites and electronic eavesdropping.

Democrats have bashed Bush for insisting on naming all nine panelists and pegging the final report after the November election. But the Senate and House appointed their own panels probing U.S. intelligence failures, and a post-election report may be the only way to keep the findings from being pounded into partisan campaign ammo, soon forgotten after Nov. 2.

That doesn't mean the panel can't issue interim advice this year. Intelligence failures are a national security concern. A parallel commission headed by former Republican New Jersey Gov. Tom Kean and former Indiana Rep. Lee Hamilton, a Democrat, already is probing the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. If either panel can identify better spycraft to make us less vulnerable at home or abroad, we ought to hear about it at once.

Former chief weapons inspector David Kay testified we were "almost all wrong" about Iraq's pre-war weaponry, and not much better about post-war insurgents. The CIA is skilled at identifying targets during war, but they missed 9/11, Pakistan's bomb, nuclear weapons programs in North Korea and Iran and moles in our intelligence services. Bush is unlikely to dump CIA Director George Tenet this year, but Tenet should resign early in 2005.

Bush needs to name our brightest, independent thinkers to the panel and let them vet the entire process, including what's screened out of presidential daily briefings.

Ban hurts retention, recruiting
Don't politicize U.S. intelligence probe
Letters to the editor
What you say ... On marriage bill
Drive the limit and enjoy the ride