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CIA's Tenet Finds the Going Easier in 2001

By Vernon Loeb
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, February 19, 2001; Page A31

For CIA Director George J. Tenet, what a difference a year makes.

When Tenet arrived on Capitol Hill in February 2000 to give his annual threat assessment, Sen. Richard C. Shelby (R-Ala.) commandeered the high-profile hearing and bombarded him with blistering questions about his lax handling of the CIA's internal investigation of home computer security abuses by his predecessor, John M. Deutch.

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But Tenet held forth during this month's 2001 threat assessment with considerable authority, displaying a command of the issues, a diplomatic sensitivity to the Middle East peace process and a willingness to hold his ground when challenged.

And why not? He has just been retained for an indeterminate period -- making him the first CIA director since Richard Helms to span Democratic and GOP administrations -- and has reportedly been enjoying considerable face time with President Bush.

Shelby, who as chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence publicly counseled Bush late last year to replace Tenet, was civil throughout.

And two new Democratic members, Sens. John D. "Jay" Rockefeller IV (W.Va.) and Dianne Feinstein (Calif.), praised Tenet's prepared statement, with Feinstein telling Tenet that his "state of the world from the intelligence perspective . . . was really top-notch."

Having recently participated in Middle East peace negotiations as a security referee between the Palestinian and Israeli intelligence services, Tenet refused to be drawn in by repeated questions about the delicate state of affairs after the election of hard-liner Ariel Sharon as Israeli prime minister, saying such discussion would be appropriate only in closed session.

And when Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) tried to get Tenet to commit to supporting the Navy's efforts to add submarines for intelligence collection, asking whether he was "enthusiastic" about the program, Tenet said: "Maybe."

"Maybe?" Roberts asked. "Will you enthusiastically maybe support that?"

"Sir, when we make all of these collection decisions," Tenet said, "I look at a whole range of investment decisions."

The dreaded D word came up only once, at the very end of the hearing.

"President Clinton pardoned former director of the CIA John Deutch while he was negotiating a plea with the Justice Department on the mishandling of classified information," Shelby said. "Now that he's been pardoned, do you have any plans, Director Tenet, to reinstate his clearances?"

"No," Tenet said.

DIPLOMATS & SPOOKS: One thing that emerged from the threat assessments presented for the record by Tenet; Rear Adm. Thomas Wilson, director of the Defense Intelligence Agency; and Thomas Fingar, acting director of the State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research, is the difference between diplomats and intelligence professionals. Fingar ran down all the same threats that Tenet and Wilson did but seemed to have a perspective that was somewhat less breathless.

Indeed, Fingar said: "Happily, the severity of specific threats to our nation, our values, our system of government and our way of life are low and likely to remain so for the foreseeable future."

With missile proliferation high on all three men's threat list, Fingar said he also had "good news" to report: "The number of countries possessing or seeking to acquire ballistic missiles remains small and does not appear to be growing from Cold War levels. Most programs appear to be advancing more slowly than anticipated. And, despite leakage of technology and possible violations of commitments, the trend line is toward less rather than more transfers of technology and complete systems."

THREAT TALK: With Tenet, Wilson and Fingar side by side at the witness table, the most oft-used word may well have been "asymmetric." Fingar said U.S. military dominance makes "asymmetric threats more tempting" for our adversaries. Wilson said U.S. firepower "will continue to spur foes toward asymmetric options." And Tenet said "computer-based information operations provide our adversaries with an asymmetric response to U.S. military superiority."

At one point, Sen. Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.), another committee freshman, cracked: "I have a lot to learn, and I confess that, and I hope my questions are reasonable. . . . I'm still struggling with robust, transparent and asymmetrical."

But Wilson wins the award for the most creative neologism, C3D2, which stands for "cover, concealment, camouflage, denial and deception," as in: "Many potential adversaries -- nations, groups, and individuals -- are undertaking more and increasingly sophisticated C3D2 operations against the United States."

© 2001 The Washington Post Company