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Published: Friday, 1/28/2005

War on terror still poses challenges, former CIA chief tells Toledo crowd

BY ELIZABETH A. SHACK
BLADE STAFF WRITER
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Although the United States has made great progress in the fight against terrorism, many challenges remain, former CIA Director George Tenet said last night in Toledo.

"I believe it's the issue that will consume the next generation of Americans," Mr. Tenet said at the Junior League of Toledo's Toledo After Hours fund-raiser.

Those challenges include the growing populations of impoverished nations, many of which are in the Middle East, and issues with Iran and North Korea, including support of terrorism and nuclear proliferation.

"The confluence of proliferation and terrorism is truly the greatest threat," the former CIA chief said.

Mr. Tenet said Asia looms as the most important strategic theater, and he wondered whether China's political stability will last.

He said more bureaucracy is not the answer to intelligence reform. He suggested that local law enforcement agencies need to be able to access nationwide and even worldwide data to compare threats in one city with threats in another and that politicians should be responsible for not funding the intelligence community.

About 700 people bought tickets to the event at the Masonic Complex on Heatherdowns Boulevard, punctuating the talk with applause and laughter. Some said Mr. Tenet might have a future career as a stand-up comedian.

"Somehow he did a scary, entertaining speech," one member of the audience, John Joslin, said.

Mr. Tenet joked, "I hold the record of kissing Yasser Arafat more times than any other senior government official. In the last administration, we called this 'Don't ask, don't tell.' "

Director of the Central Intelligence Agency from 1997 to 2004, Mr. Tenet was the second-longest-serving CIA director.

He said the agency's accomplishments under his direction include graduating the largest classes of clandestine agents, disarming Libya, and dismantling much of al-Qaeda's operations.

"The list of al-Qaeda leaders who will never hurt the American people again is a long one," he said.

When Mr. Tenet became director of the CIA, the agency was down 25 percent in personnel from its top strength, and he made rebuilding it one of his priorities.

At the end of the speech, Mr. Tenet answered some prewritten questions from the audience. Asked about the Patriot Act and the Constitution, he joked, "I'm not a lawyer, and the CIA director doesn't care about constitutional rights."

He said the act allows the intelligence community better access to data.

Mr. Tenet only briefly addressed criticism for intelligence failures during his watch.

"Human beings make mistakes," he said.

He left the agency last summer, citing personal reasons, amid mounting criticism. Before the U.S. invasion of Iraq, he assured President Bush that Iraq had chemical and biological weapons. No weapons were found.

"We did not live up to the standards that we set for ourselves as professionals," he said last night.

Mr. Bush has credited Mr. Tenet for having a plan to attack al-Qaeda in Afghanistan soon after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on New York and Washington, but a report by the CIA's Inspector General's Office blamed Mr. Tenet and especially the former deputy director of operations, James Pavitt, for failing to devote enough resources to fight terrorism before the Sept. 11 attacks.

The agency also has been criticized for other failures under his tenure, including missing evidence that India was ready to test a nuclear device, that North Korea was developing a nuclear bomb, and that al-Qaeda was planning to attack U.S. embassies in Africa in 1998.

Mr. Tenet, 52, graduated from the school of foreign service at Georgetown University in 1976 and got a master's degree in international affairs from Columbia University in 1978.

He was deputy director of the CIA from 1995 to 1997, a National Security Council staff member from 1993 to 1995, and staff director of the Senate Committee on Intelligence from 1988 to 1993.

Next fall, he will begin teaching as a diplomacy professor at the Institute for the Study of Diplomacy at Georgetown University.

Mr. Tenet was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Bush in December.

Contact Elizabeth A. Shack at:

eshack@theblade.com

or 419-724-6050.



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