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What 'New' Role for the C.I.A.?

October 28, 1998

By George J. Tenet

WASHINGTON -- When you work for a largely secret organization, you get used to being misunderstood fairly often by the public. Normally, I accept those misperceptions as the price of doing business.

But there have been so many incorrect guesses about why the Central Intelligence Agency is involved in the effort to bring peace to the Middle East, and so much speculation about its supposedly new role, that I have decided to set the record straight -- to the extent that confidentiality will allow.

One of the principal evils that the C.I.A. fights on a daily basis is terrorism. Terrorism, of course, remains a mechanism used by opponents of peace in the Middle East. For many years the C.I.A. has been working with the Israeli Government and the Palestinian Authority to combat terrorists in their midst.

We have also tried to improve communications between the two sides on security matters as well as to improve the professionalism of security forces on the West Bank and Gaza. Just as important, we have tried to bolster confidence among all responsible parties that appropriate steps are being taken to end violence. There is nothing new in this role for the C.I.A.

Another part of our mission will be to keep American policy makers informed about how the agreement they brokered is being carried out. Again, there is nothing new in this. The agency has long assisted policy makers in their efforts to make international agreements viable.

In the past, the C.I.A. has worked to support agreements to end wars in the Middle East, to monitor arms control agreements with the former Soviet Union and to lower tensions between India and Pakistan.

What is slightly unusual in the current case is that the agency's role has become widely publicized. But this won't change our role, which will continue as before. By working closely with both sides we have built relations of mutual respect and trust.

We hope to help bridge the gap between them so that someday respect and trust of this kind will flow directly between the Israelis and Palestinians. We hope, too, that someday C.I.A. participation will no longer be required.

It is also important that Americans understand what is not part of the agency's role. The C.I.A. is not interposing itself between two combatants. We are not placing officers inside the security operations of either side. We will not arrest or interrogate people or assume any other direct role on the ground. C.I.A. officers will not serve as border guards or body guards.

In sum, the C.I.A. is not making policy, but helping carry it out. This is consistent with the agency's history of fighting terrorism and helping friends and allies in the region live together peacefully and safely.

Some have said the C.I.A. is exceeding the limits of its charter. But fighting terrorism is our charter. By virtue of the trust built from years of cooperation and partnership, we are uniquely qualified to deal with our Israeli and Palestinian colleagues on security matters. And we would be derelict in our duties if we did not do all in our power to fight for peace.

As the courageous King Hussein said at last week's signing ceremony, through steady progress and a determined effort we hope to "witness the dawn that we have all been seeking of a comprehensive peace" in the Middle East. The C.I.A. and the intelligence community remain committed to that effort.

George J. Tenet is Director of Central Intelligence.

- Originally published in the New York Times, October 27, 1998. -


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