Jewish World Review July 14, 2003 / 14 Tamuz, 5763

Zev Chafets

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Dead spy walking | Let's play a midsummer Washington game. Who's going to be the new director of the Central Intelligence Agency?

Will the new chief be Bush family troubleshooter James Baker? Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz? How about Gen. Tommy Franks?

What? The CIA already has a director, you say? Well, not for long. George Tenet is a dead spy walking. President Bush bagged him on his African safari.

This has been clear since Friday when Bush was asked by a reporter how the bogus claim that Iraq had tried to buy African uranium wound up in his State of the Union speech in January.

Bush replied with a lethal shrug. "I gave a speech to the nation that was cleared by the intelligence services," he said.

The press knew just who Bush was talking about. National security adviser Condoleezza Rice made sure of that in a briefing earlier that day. According to The Associated Press, she told reporters that the "CIA cleared the speech in its entirety."

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"If the CIA - the director of the Central Intelligence Agency - had said, 'Take this out of the speech,' it would have been gone," Rice said.

All week the CIA had been leaking a different story: It had nothing to do with the President's misstatement. By Friday afternoon, that version amounted to calling the President a liar. George Tenet issued a statement confirming that Bush was telling the truth. The CIA had screwed up.

To which Bush grandly replied that he "absolutely" had confidence in the CIA chief. Translation: Tenet can start packing. CIA spokesman Mark Mansfield said he had heard no discussion of Tenet being replaced, which tells you all you need to know about the CIA's information gathering.

The CIA knew this was coming and tried to fire back. On Friday, a "senior administration figure familiar with the intelligence program" told The Washington Post that the agency had recommended against mentioning the African uranium in the State of the Union address.

For that to be true, Bush and Rice had to be lying. But they weren't. Late Friday afternoon, Tenet released a statement confirming Bush's version. But by then, the damage had been done. No CIA chief in history has ever called his boss a liar and kept his job.

In fact, Tenet is lucky to have stayed around this long. Since 9/11, he's been the elephant in the corner of the Bush administration. Actually, elephant is the wrong word; Tenet was a Clinton appointee.

For this reason alone, Bush would have been well within his political and executive rights to hang 9/11 on the CIA director. After all, the sneak attack took place on Tenet's watch. But at the time, Bush desperately needed the agency. Dumping Tenet would have sent it into a tizzy.

And so Tenet was kept on. Beyond stabilizing the CIA, he had political value. He served as a reminder that the underestimation of Al Qaeda didn't start with the Bush administration. And he made an excellent nonpartisan witness for the offense.

When Secretary of State Powell went to the UN to lay out the case on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction, he sat Tenet right behind him. Powell wanted the world to know that his accusations (which did not include the uranium claim) had been vetted by the CIA. Only a secretary of state uncertain of the validity of his case would have taken a scapegoat with him to the Security Council.

In fact, Tenet's greatest value to the Bush team was always his expendability. Everyone knew that the laws of political physics eventually would demand a powerful reaction to the trauma of 9/11. That time is now. A congressional inquiry into 9/11 is about to issue its report. A bipartisan, 10-member public commission is aggressively conducting its own investigation. And the Democratic primary candidates are focusing on the weapons of mass destruction foulup in Iraq.

Bush is said to like and appreciate Tenet. But this isn't about appreciation. It is a rule of democratic war-making that the leader takes credit for victories while subordinates pay for mistakes.

Somebody will have to be sacrificed. Powell is too iconic. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld is too powerful. Rice is too valuable. Vice President Cheney is too senior, Wolfowitz too junior. Tenet is just right. Which brings us back to our midsummer Washington game: Who will get the job?

My candidate is Rudy Giuliani. The former mayor has demonstrated his mettle as a wartime leader. He has the credentials and prestige to run the CIA. And, not least, he's a potential candidate for President in 2008. That's supposed to be Jeb Bush's year. Sending Rudy to the CIA, where he would serve at the President's whim, would be a pretty good way for the Bushes to bury him alive.

Or maybe not. After all, 28 years ago, White House chief of staff (soon to be defense secretary) Rumsfeld helped persuade President Gerald Ford to exile a rival presidential aspirant to the CIA's Langley, Va., headquarters. That fellow was George Herbert Walker Bush.

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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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