If you get your car stuck in mud, the worst thing you can do is to panic and hit the accelerator -- you'll just spin your wheels and sink deeper into the mud.
George Tenet learned this the hard way last month. He's the beleaguered head of our slippin' and slidin' CIA, which finds itself stuck in the mud of the BushCheneyRumsfeld lies about weapons of mass destruction. In a panicky effort to defend his agency's capability, Tenet hit the accelerator.
He insisted in a widely publicized speech that the CIA is still at the top of its game. As proof, he cited a clear victory for U.S. spooks in Malaysia against a factory that makes metal parts which, he claimed, can be used in nuclear weapons. Tenet said that as a result of superb U.S. intelligence work, the Malaysian government shut down the factory -- a blow to black market proliferators of nukes and an unequivocal victory for Team Bush and Tenet himself.
But -- oops! -- Tenet had faulty information. The Malaysian factory was not closed -- "It's business as usual," said a factory official, as she led a group of reporters through the modern facility shortly after Tenet's wheel-spinning speech. Then, CIA PR flacks hit the accelerator again.
First they claimed that Tenet's misstatement was the result of "an editing error" made by speechwriters, not the result of faulty intelligence. The flacks explained that while the entire factory had not been shut down, the section of the plant that made the suspect parts was closed. Oops -- wrong again. Malaysian officials say nothing was shut down. Moreover, instead of this factory being one of the largest in the rogue nuclear network as Tenet claimed, it's a small firm with only 40 employees mostly making high-precision parts for oil companies.
Why was Tenet so wrong on such a big speech? Because -- get this -- no one from the CIA bothered to visit the factory or even speak to its officials.
Publication date: 02/26/04