Washington Prowler

Intelligence Matters

The CIA's Tenet loses a congressional shield. Also: Gramm refuses to crack.

By 5.2.02

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SHELBY'S STEEL
Hand it to Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.): he drives himself around Washington in his own car, unlike other big-wig types, and then there's the sixth sense he has about people. Maybe that's why he's the ranking Republican and "vice chair" of the Senate Intelligence Committee. And it's also probably why Britt Snider is no longer staff director of the joint Senate and House intelligence committee now looking into the intelligence failures that helped bring about September 11.

In February the Prowler reported on Capitol Hill preparations for a multiple-committee investigation and the anger of senators on the Senate Intelligence Committee upon learning that CIA director George Tenet hadn't ordered a full review of his own.

Another source of contention was the hiring of Snider, a retired CIA inspector general, to oversee the joint committee's examination of the roles of the CIA, the National Security Agency, and the FBI. "But everyone knows the hearings would definitely have put a spotlight on the CIA. That was the big target," says a House intelligence committee staffer.

For that reason alone, Shelby objected to the hiring of Snider, a former Senate Intelligence Committee staffer and aide to then-staff director Tenet. He also served as a special counsel to Tenet at the CIA and eventually became the agency's inspector general before retiring last year.

But Shelby lost out to Democratic Intelligence chairman Bob Graham and Republican House Intelligence chairman Porter Goss, and ranking Democrat Nancy Pelosi, all of whom wanted Snider. Shelby's main concern was the close relationship between Snider and Tenet, who despite being a Clinton appointee has remained director of the CIA under Bush. "He [Shelby] had his doubts about Snider, and he monitored Snider's activities pretty closely once he came on board," says a Senate Intelligence Committee staffer.

Last week, Snider resigned over his failure to disclose to the joint committee a possible security leak by one of the staff he hired. No one would comment on or off the record on the events leading up to Snider's leaving, but the Senate staffer did say that Snider's exit was acrimonious. Shelby's staff, apparently, came up with some of the information that led to the showdown with Snider, leaving Goss and Graham in the awkward position of having to admit that Shelby may have been right all along.

"We'll never know if Snider was the right man for the job or not," says the Senate staffer. "And we don't know if he would have given the CIA a free pass on its screwups prior to 9/11. But Snider seemed to be watching his step, knowing that Shelby was looking for a slip-up."

The committee is determined to hire a new staff director as quickly as possible, and now Shelby has the upper hand. "His misgivings about the cronyism weren't necessarily confirmed," says the House staffer. "But Graham and Goss will have to listen to him now that their boy is off the board.

WHO GOT DRUNK WHERE?Although Texas Republican Sen. Phil Gramm, is not seeking re-election this fall, he has no plans to leave early. Were he to step down before the election, it would allow Texas's governor, a Republican, to appoint John Cornyn, the Republican running to succeed Gramm, to the vacant seat and likely give Cornyn a huge boost in what would then become a run for "re-election." But again, Gramm doesn't want to retire early, and no one can make him do it.

So Gramm was surprised when Texas newspapers ran reports last week claiming he was mulling stepping aside early. Gramm denied that he was and chalked the stories up to "Democrats who got drunk in Austin."

Well, it wasn't Democrats and it wasn't in Austin. Gramm should check down the hall inside the offices of Republican Minority Leader Trent Lott. According to a leadership source, Lott floated the rumor through friends in the Texas state Republican Party, hoping it would allow him to then raise the issue of Gramm's early retirement.

"Lott was trying to nudge him a bit, get him thinking about it, without his asking," says the source. "The RNC would like to help Cornyn, but it's not the party's place to push for something like that." Nor, at this point, is it Lott's.

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