At the CIA, a Case of Heads Must Roll?

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The very large buck that is responsibility for the bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade last May has stopped, and landed square in the laps of seven CIA managers. The toll: One unnamed senior official fired and six others reprimanded by CIA director George Tenet for their roles. The key finding for the agency: It doesn't have, um, anyformal procedure in place for selecting targets for military use. The details make that painfully clear: Although agents obtained the correct street address for the intended target, a Serbian government supply office, the two-year-old map the agency was using didn't have address numbers for buildings in the targeted area, so agents estimated the location by comparing address number from a parallel street. Compounding the error was the fact that the database the agency was using for a crosscheck hadn't been updated since before the embassy moved crosstown in 1996.

Could this have been prevented? Roy Krieger, a lawyer defending one of the reprimanded managers, doesn't think so. "The result may have been tragic, but the failure was systemic, and the remedy cannot be retribution," he told the Washington Post. But there were warning signs: One analyst, not with the CIA but assigned to the agency at the time, was personally familiar with that part of Belgrade and persistently questioned the target, twice trying to warn the on-the-scene targeting command. Even more fundamental, though, is that if the failure is indeed systemic, the fault surely lies with the managers responsible for the systems. That the agency didn't have any procedures in place for selecting what turned out to be the only target it picked for the military during the 78-day air campaign speaks volumes about where responsibility lies.