Jewish World Review Jan. 29, 2004 / 6 Shevat, 5764

Zev Chafets

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CIA chief has to go: The intel on Iraq's WMDs was wrong — that's unforgivable | The intel on Iraq's WMDs was wrong - that's unforgivable David Kay says he can't find nuclear, biological or chemical weapons in Iraq. He thinks there were none on the eve of the American invasion.

Kay, who just stepped down as head American WMD hunter in Iraq, is a straight shooter. He expected to find banned weapons. If he has concluded there are none, it's good enough for me.

It should also be enough for President Bush.

Bush has two very big problems. The first is political. In an interview with Kay, Tom Brokaw correctly observed: "A lot of the President's critics are going to say, 'This is clear evidence that he lied to the American people.'"

Kay disagreed. "Well, Tom, if they do that, I think we're really hurting ourselves. Clearly, the intelligence we went to war on was inaccurate, wrong. We need to understand why that was. I think if anyone was abused by the intelligence, it was the President, not the other way around."

Kay is no politician, but his answer gives Bush a political ladder. He himself was misled by the CIA, given bad information. This explanation has the virtue of being true. Bush may have been predisposed - by family history or personal ideology - to view Saddam Hussein as a nonconventional threat, but he was not alone. Bill Clinton got the same information and came to the same conclusion. We know because he has said so.

Making that point, Bush can survive the political fallout. But that raises the second question: What is the President going to do about it? The answer should be obvious. If the CIA can't produce accurate, reliable assessments of threats to American national security, there must be drastic changes in the way it operates. Starting from the top.

CIA Director George Tenet has been living on borrowed time since 9/11. His agency misjudged the Al Q aeda threat, and for that alone he should have been fired.

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It's now apparent the CIA also missed the significance of Libya's nuclear program. It failed to grasp Pakistan's role in enabling rogue states to gain nuclear technology. It was surprised by the North Korean program. It has no real insight into the situation in Iran. This sort of incompetence is indefensible.

The President can't say he hasn't been warned. Last summer, he was deeply embarrassed by the revelation that the agency had vetted the false claim, which Bush then made in his State of the Union address, that Saddam had tried to buy nuclear material in Africa.

It was clear back then that Tenet couldn't stay on as CIA director. And yet he did. Why?

We can only speculate. The CIA director knows a great deal about a great many things. The Bush family has potentially embarrassing business and social ties to the Bin Laden clan, the Saudi royals and other jihadis. Another possibility: George Bush Sr. was once head of the CIA; there may be closets that his son would like to keep closed.

Let's be charitable. Maybe the President has wanted to be loyal. But he no longer has that option. If he doesn't shake up the CIA, he can't be judged a victim of future intelligence failures. He becomes an accomplice.

This will (and should) have political consequences. More important, it is dangerous. The invasion of Iraq was vital: the start of the American counteroffensive against Arab-Iranian aggression. The war, as Bush himself says, is far from over.

It cannot be won without a CIA that knows what's happening across enemy lines.

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JWR contributor Zev Chafets is a columnist for The New York Daily News. Comment by clicking here.

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