Beltway Beat — Friday, July 9

by Brian Wilson for FOX Fan Central

The "Woulda, Coulda, Shoulda" Dance

The Senate Intelligence Committee report is out, offering a serious critique of the pre-war intelligence developed by the CIA. Much will be written about the failures of the CIA in the run-up to war. Washington is a town that loves to look backward with 20/20 hindsight and do the "woulda, coulda, shoulda" dance. What is missing from this analysis is an understanding that day-to-day intelligence gathering must be done in real time — on the fly — and that perfection is not always possible under those circumstances.

It is probably a good thing to stop and assess performance. One should from time to time stop, take stock, and see if there is something that can be learned from past mistakes.

This report comes just one day after CIA director George Tenet bade farewell to the men and women at Langley. The CIA released a transcript of a speech seemingly designed to brace the agency for the tumult that is to come. I was struck by one passage.

"History may bring additional perspective, additional clarity, to the current debate on intelligence," Tenet said, "but this much is clear right now: Your work is far too important for distractions."

He continued, "You are, and must remain, America's source of unique knowledge about the world. An instrument to change the world for the better. You must do as you have always done: Keep moving forward, build on the past, improve. Because the rest of the world is not about to stand still."

These comments also came on a day when the Director of Homeland Security raised concerns about Al Qaeda's continued planning against America. Tom Ridge seemed especially concerned about potential attacks designed to have an impact on our nation's political process. Read carefully his words:

Secretary Ridge: Well, I think the concern, both at the local level at the convention sites but actually at the national level within our department, is based upon precisely the kind of targets that they have been in the past. Al Qaeda and other terrorist organizations have targeted mass transit. Remember the sarin gas incident in Japan as well. You alluded to the incident in Russia, the Spanish incident.

One hopes that the men and women of the CIA heed the advice of the outgoing director and do not allow the criticism of Washington's backward-looking crowd to distract them from their duties. One hopes that we do not spend so much time wallowing in the mistakes of the past that it clouds our ability to see what might be coming in the future.

Share your thoughts with Brian.  E-mail him at

Watch Brian Wilson on Weekend Live Sunday, noon - 2pm ET

Go back to previous page