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Published: Sunday, 6/6/2004

A campaign decision

It has been a mystery to some how CIA Director George Tenet survived as America's top spy for as long as he did.

But the series of controversies heaping criticism on his intelligence agency have turned into an avalanche of late, and no doubt the pressure to find an administration scapegoat grew commensurately. In an almost hasty aside as he was preparing to depart for his trip to Europe, President Bush announced the resignation of Director Tenet, effective in mid-July, for what were described as personal considerations.

That's tough to swallow. Everything the administration does during this election year is based on painstaking political calculations. And when the Bush re-election team is buffeted by troubles that could throw its re-election campaign off track, mid-course corrections need to be made.

Intelligence failures are being blamed for not connecting the dots on a host of problems, from 9/11 to the ever-elusive weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. And there are new intelligence storms gathering, from the highly classified information apparently leaked from the Pentagon to the now discredited Iraqi opposition leader Ahmad Chalabi, to the grand jury investigation of a leak involving the name of a CIA operative that could lead to a presidential subpoena to testify.

On top of that, the Senate Intelligence Committee recently completed a critical 400-page report detailing mistakes and miscalculations by the agency.

Not good scenarios for an incumbent running on his strength as a wartime president and as the leader who promised to restore integrity to the White House after years of investigations into the conduct of his predecessor.

Better to remove the administration figure who has come under the most fire for missed cues and stunning intelligence lapses leading up to the Sept. 11 attacks, in addition to the shaky assumptions made about Iraq's possession of deadly chemical and biological weapons.

Which is not to absolve the CIA, FBI, and other agencies from accepting their share of the responsibility for gross failures to communicate to and among each other, to follow-up numerous leads, to head off attacks, or to expose the faulty rationale for an American-led war in Iraq before it was too late.

When Mr. Bush revealed that Mr. Tenet was leaving after seven years in office - the second-longest serving CIA director ever - he praised Mr. Tenet's superb service and said he would be missed. The President said Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld was doing a superb job, too, after the Iraqi prison scandal and myriad postwar mistakes. Will Mr. Rumsfeld be next to leave for personal reasons?

Perhaps Secretary of State Colin Powell should set an example by resigning to protect his professional integrity before his standing as the nation's chief diplomat is irreparably damaged. He's reportedly been pressing the CIA lately to explain why he was apparently misinformed about Iraq's possession of deadly weapons before making a military case for their removal to the United Nations.

If Mr. Powell should leave, perhaps the "personal" considerations line will truthfully apply. He saw things he didn't like and he took it personally.


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