The CIA as Must-See TV

Like an episode of 'Fear Factor,' with Porter Goss guest-starring as 'The Apprentice'

The CIA is still smarting from the findings of the 9-11 Commission. And even now the Senate and House debate whether the new National Director of Intelligence—a czar to oversee the 15 entities within the "IC," or intelligence community—will have budget authority over the lot or whether, as is now the case, the purse strings will remain largely at the Pentagon, in the hands of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. Absent budget authority, the intelligence czar will be no czar at all.

Turmoil. Dissension. Suspicion. Backbiting. All the elements of a good show. And if that is not blood sport enough, we have this: Goss's predecessor, the affable Tenet, was a man so consumed by secrecy that an Agency retiree could be denied the right to write a letter to the editor on a matter of conscience. Now Tenet offers new meaning to the word chutzpah as he contemplates a major book deal and gallivants across the country flap-jawing for obscene sums (already totaling a reported $500,000 after just a few months), insisting that his audiences keep their own lips sealed. (This, you may remember, is the same George Tenet who after convincing Secretary of State Colin Powell of the grave dangers posed by Saddam—he once called the case for Iraqi WMDs a "slam-dunk"—later told an audience at Georgetown that he never said the danger was "imminent.")

No wonder Washington hangs on every episode. Not since the camera entered the bedroom of Anna Nicole Smith has a nation been treated to so much more than it had any desire to see, and yet it cannot look away.

illustration: Nathan Fox

Of course all of this would be a riotous laugh, were it not for the indisputable fact that the security of the nation hangs upon the outcome. Sadly, this is a cliff-hanger to which all of us will be privy, whether or not we follow the day-to-day self-mutilations at Langley.

Ted Gup is the author of The Book of Honor: The Secret Lives and Deaths of CIA Operatives and is a professor of journalism at Case Western Reserve University. A Guggenheim fellow, he is on leave writing a book. E-mail:

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