by Brian Wilson for FOX Fan Central
By now you have all heard about the pending departure of CIA director George Tenet. He says it is for personal reasons — and I believe, to some degree, it is. During an address to CIA employees, he was genuinely emotional when talking about spending more time with his son. However, the timing of his departure raises a few eyebrows in Washington, since it comes at a time when the CIA is expected to be lambasted by two critical reports. An Intelligence Committee report and the much-anticipated 9/11 commission report will likely be harsh in their assessments of the CIA's performance.
There will be many in the coming days who will focus on CIA missteps during Tenet's seven-year tour of duty. Fair enough. But, there is something else to consider, something that often gets overlooked in media assessments of our intelligence community. This stuff is not easy.
The CIA and the other intelligence agencies it oversees have an immensely difficult job. There is a sense that our spy agencies have omnipotent abilities. They do have remarkable technologies — satellites that can read over the shoulder of someone sitting on a park bench reading a newspaper and signal collection abilities that are truly mind-boggling. The challenge is in merging the satellite photos, the signal intelligence, and the human intelligence into a clear picture of what is really happening. Often the picture is incomplete, like a puzzle with half the pieces missing. CIA analysts (of whom there are probably too few) must try to discern what is going on without all the facts. Rare are the times that intelligence yields concrete assessments. That's why they call them "intelligence estimates."
It's easy to look at horrible events like the attack on the USS Cole or the 9/11 attacks and say, "the CIA failed us." It's very easy with 20/20 hindsight to point fingers at the CIA and say, "you were wrong about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq" (though I'm not sure just yet they were wrong.) But remember this, we will likely never hear about the intelligence successes; to talk about them would compromise methods of intelligence collection and sources for information.
It has been said the intelligence community must be lucky (or good) every day...the terrorists only have to be lucky once. This is true.
There have been many changes at the CIA since 9/11, and more organizational or structural changes may be needed. But no human endeavor is ever going to be perfect. The people I have met in the intelligence community are dedicated, patriotic and remarkably talented individuals who care deeply about protecting the American way of life. Maybe we should cut them a bit of slack.
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