Former CIA Director George Tenet criticized proposals Wednesday to create a national intelligence director, saying the position would lack authority unless the director was also charge of “leading men and women every day and taking risks.”
Tenet, who left the CIA in July after seven years as director, offered his opinion to an audience of about 250 people at a closed conference on homeland security and technology. At Tenet’s insistence, national media, including The Associated Press, were kept out. Allowed in were some reporters for trade publications that cover the government’s use of computers and the Internet.
Tenet said efforts to restructure intelligence-gathering had overlooked a more pressing issue: how to get threat information to the state and local authorities.
“We have collected an enormous amount of data about how the enemy thinks, trains and operates,” Tenet said, according to a Web report by Government Computer News.
At the same time, he said, “we can’t just disseminate threat reports and scare the living bejesus out of everybody.”
Tenet acknowledged that U.S. intelligence fell short before the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and in the prewar assessments of Iraq’s weapons programs. But he took issue with a provision in legislation now before Congress and endorsed by President Bush that would create a separate director who would oversee intelligence.
“This person has to be leading men and women every day and taking risks,” Tenet said, according to one of the reporters in attendance. “I don’t believe that you should separate the leader of American intelligence from a line agency.”
Currently, the CIA director also serves as the chief of 14 other agencies that are part of the intelligence community.
Conference organizers said Tenet’s contract required that most reporters be excluded.
Since leaving office, Tenet has been giving paid speeches and has often barred reporters and tape recorders. His former public affairs chief, Bill Harlow, said Tenet “does not want to be in the newspapers every day. He doesn’t want everything he says to be the focused in the prism of every day news.”