Debra J. Saunders

Sorry to take a week before writing on former CIA director George Tenet's book, "At the Center of the Storm, My Years at the CIA." My bad: I actually took the time to read the book.

So while I should be opining about what those inside the Beltway think is important -- Tenet feuding with Bushies -- I am more concerned with the book's compelling information on the likelihood of another industrial-strength terrorist attack within American borders.

As Tenet noted, al-Qaida biggie Ayman al-Zawahiri called off a planned attack against the New York City subway system slate for the fall 2003 because he was holding out "for something better." A key witness in Osama bin Laden's in absentia trial for his role in the 1998 Kenya and Tanzania embassies bombings testified that he had helped bin Laden try to obtain uranium in Sudan as far back as 1993. In August 2001, bin Laden hinted that he already had the necessary fissile material to make a nuclear bomb.

An al-Qaida paramilitary trainer told Egyptian officials that al-Qaida received "canisters containing nuclear material" from the Russians. The trainer later recanted -- but that's part of terrorist training, Tenet says, designed to confound the enemy.

The late Abu Musab Zarqawi ran a chemical and poison lab in Northern Iraq from May 2002 to 2003. Intelligence operatives learned that al-Qaida in Saudi Arabia was negotiating for three Russian nukes. The Saudis found cyanide in an al-Qaida safe house. Cyanide was the weapon of choice for the planned New York City subway attack.

To Tenet, the biggest threat from al-Qaida is nuclear. "They understand that bombings by cars, trucks, trains and planes will get them some headlines, to be sure. But if they manage to set off a mushroom cloud, they will make history." And: They want to make history.

To Beltway insiders, however, a pending threat to American security means nothing when there is an opportunity to allege that Tenet's CIA skewed its estimates to please President Bush.

Or, as NBC's Tim Russert asked Tenet on "Meet the Press" Sunday, "What if you said: 'Mr. President, I can't make the case any better. It's not a slam dunk'?"

Debra J. Saunders

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