TROUBLED BY subversion from within, attacks from without, a flawed history on human rights and musical-chairs leadership, the CIA is badly in need of stability and clarity of mission. This task now is slated for George J. Tenet, President Clinton's fifth nominee in four years as Director of Central Intelligence. If he gets the Senate confirmation denied star-crossed Anthony Lake, the nation will have a high stake in his success.
During Senate hearings in 1995 on his nomination as the CIA's deputy director, Mr. Tenet set four priorities: developing "actionable intelligence" unobtainable elsewhere; "re-engineering" the 80,000-member intelligence community spread over a dozen agencies; revitalizing a Directorate of Operations shaken by spy scandals, and building up counter-intelligence.
His boss, John M. Deutch, the DCI until he was eased out after RTC the 1996 elections, gives Mr. Tenet especially high marks on "tradecraft," the intelligence fraternity's word for clandestine operations. Their very nature, of course, precludes their coming to the kind of public notice that has been focused on some of the CIA's more unfortunate missteps and bad luck.
Mr. Tenet, 44, has had a spectacular rise in the Washington Establishment: security aid to the late Sen. John Heinz, R-Pa., staff director of the Senate Intelligence Committee (where he has vital confirmation backing); service under Mr. Lake as the intelligence expert on the National Security Council; deputy to Mr. Deutch, and, for the past three months, acting DCI.
This is a resume seemingly made to order for uncontroversial approval by the Senate. But in order to appear even-handed, the lord high executioner of Tony Lake, Sen. Richard Shelby, has mixed praise for Mr. Tenet with the promise of a searching probe -- possibly including examination of the nominee's FBI files.
Also on the docket is a charge by a former State Department official, now an aide to Sen. Robert Torricelli, D-N.J., that Mr. Tenet leaked CIA secrets to newspapers last year and an internal CIA check on whether one of its top officials aided attempts by the Democratic National Committee to overcome NSC objections to giving White House access to an international entrepreneur with a dubious background.
Such matters should be handled with dispatch. The CIA, after so many tribulations, deserves competent leadership. Even more, the national interest demands it.
Pub Date: 3/21/97