Special forces need information as much as guns. The only way to survive in enemy territory is to have better facts than your adversary. "They want to get very, very, very detailed stuff--not just what house the guy's in but which way the doors open--because their lives are on the line," says a senior intelligence official.
That kind of intelligence isn't easy to get. But under the Bush Administration's new National Security Strategy, which calls for pre-emptive strikes against terrorists or nations that develop weapons of mass destruction, good intelligence will be more vital than ever. One big test is approaching: to boost its case for war, the Bush Administration is planning a major speech that will attempt to show in great detail how Iraq has acquired its banned weapons. But officials say they are concerned about whether the CIA--and its hard-charging director, George Tenet--can produce the goods to win over skeptics at home and abroad.
When the burly 50-year-old took over in 1997, just a few people were being trained to spy abroad. Now scores of top recruits are moving through the system and into the field. Tenet's power to energize and reshape the bureaucracy comes from his political skills. A long-time Democrat who worked on the staff of the Senate Intelligence Committee under then chairman David Boren, Tenet knows how to get the right information across and has earned the trust not just of CIA skeptic Bill Clinton but also of George W. Bush and his father, who once ran the CIA and whom Tenet occasionally briefed. "He's tried to serve all his masters as fairly and as effectively as he can," says the senior intelligence official.
But Tenet has also made mistakes in his six years in the job. The biggest, say some critics, was failing to gain control of all U.S. spy operations, from the Pentagon to the FBI. "In 1998 [he] declared war on terrorism, and most of the intelligence community ignored him," says former Senate Intelligence chairman Bob Graham. Critics say the situation has not improved much since the Sept. 11 attacks: the FBI has been slow to reform its internal-communications system, while the Defense Department has gone off in its own direction, trying to carve out new propaganda and analysis shops that would compete with the CIA.
Tenet's inability to exert his authority over all U.S. spy efforts was a key factor in missing the 9/11 plot, congressional overseers concluded last December. "Our joint inquiry found that one of the major gaps in our intelligence, which contributed to 9/11, was the failure to have effective coordination among the various components of the intelligence community," says Graham. While Tenet's supporters agree that lack of coordination has been a problem, they insist it has been alleviated since passage of the U.S.A. Patriot Act. "There has been extraordinary cooperation between the intelligence community and law enforcement since 9/11," says CIA spokesman Bill Harlow.
More urgently for the Administration, Tenet needs to produce evidence of Iraq's weapons programs. Intelligence sources tell TIME that his agency will deliver the details when the Administration makes its final push for war. They say the new evidence will be more specific and convincing than it has been. --By Massimo Calabresi