Miscik (pg. 2)

By Patricia Sellers, Fortune editor-at-large

The gunplay at Calumet Harbor might have instilled that coolness under fire. Miscik's father, the son of Lithuanian immigrants, was a U.S. Customs inspector who loved to take Jami, his only child, to work with him on the docks in South Chicago. "He would let me crawl around these big ships," she recalls. "One day this gun battle broke out. It was related to smuggling, I think. I was 8 years old. He took me into the office and said, 'Call your mother. Tell her to come and get you.'" Jami did as he said, and he went back to the docks to catch the bad guys.

Her dad, an avid sailor, moved his family to Redondo Beach, Calif., to be near the ocean, but died of a heart attack two years later, when Jami was 12. Her mother was determined to give her daughter the confidence she would need to operate on her own in the world. "She decided I had to be in 1,200 activities," Miscik says. "I went to charm school. I was in the singing group. I helped elderly people at nursing homes. In high school I was student body vice president, on the drill team, the yearbook, the newspaper. By the time I went to college I felt burnt out."

She went to Pepperdine University in Malibu, majoring in economics and political science, then got a master's at Condoleezza Rice's alma mater, the University of Denver's School of International Studies. She became fascinated with Washington but was rejected in her bid for an internship with the CIA. When a job in banking fell through, she decided to try again. She simply opened the Denver phone book and looked up "CIA." Nine months of background checks and psychological testing later, she got hired as an economic analyst. "I didn't think I'd stay very long," she says, "but it's such compelling work." (For more from Miscik on her path to the CIA, click here.)

While the CIA's operations directorate (now called the National Clandestine Service) employs the sort of agents who pop up in James Bond movies, the intelligence unit is populated by thinkers like Miscik, who create the analytical reports that go to top officials, including the President. The work is heaven for wonks. Analysts typically rely on fuzzy satellite images and secondhand, often contradictory information from partisan sources. "It's like trying to do a 1,000-piece jigsaw puzzle with only 200 pieces," says Miscik. "And as a kicker, you don't get to see the lid of the box to tell you what it's supposed to look like."

Starting with the Third World debt crisis in the early 1980s, when she found herself phoning executives at the same money-center banks she had considered joining, Miscik drew attention for having a sixth sense about geopolitics. Says John McLaughlin, a 32-year veteran who was deputy CIA director under Tenet: "I remember hearing about a young woman who was very innovative and creative."

Miscik ran a complex program to forecast political instability in 40 countries based on 25 indicators. The indicators - such as protests in the streets, attitudes of the military toward leadership, and public transportation costs - helped her correlate economic deterioration and political instability with an economist's precision.

After a stint at the National Security Council, briefing members of President Clinton's White House, she was tapped by Tenet to be his executive assistant, a job comparable to chief of staff. He valued her reputation for straight talk. "If Jami has a problem with something, you're going to know it," says Tenet, who often knew what she was thinking before she uttered a word. "I called it the Lithuanian stare. The raised eyebrow. Then she cut to the chase." Henry Kissinger, a member of the CIA's advisory board while Miscik was moving up, remembers her standing out: "With many analysts you're always wondering if they're slipping in their own policy preferences or telling you what they think you want to hear. Not Jami."

By the summer of 2001, Miscik was No. 2 in the intelligence unit, where tension was escalating. "We were so convinced that something was going to happen. It could be here or against U.S. interests overseas," she recalls. In July, Tenet asked for an urgent meeting with Condi Rice, then the National Security Advisor, and warned of an imminent attack. On Aug. 6, Miscik's group published the paper titled "Bin Laden Determined to Strike in the U.S.," which cited reports of "suspicious activity in this country consistent with preparations for hijackings or other types of attacks." The President and his top officials, she says, "were listening but studying [the situation], as opposed to being compelled to act. We couldn't tell them, 'You've got only four weeks.'"

After 9/11, there was virtually no time to grieve or feel guilty, Miscik says, explaining, "The press of what we had to do prevented that." The mission, as she understood it, was to bring down al Qaeda and prevent another attack. But by September 2002, after Miscik had stepped up to chief of the intelligence unit, President Bush seemed determined to capture a different enemy, Saddam Hussein. When the Senate asked for the intelligence community's written assessments of the likelihood of WMD in Iraq, the agency had only three weeks to produce its analysis. The resulting, 90-page National Intelligence Estimate stated, "We judge that Iraq has continued its weapons of mass destruction programs.... Baghdad has chemical and biological weapons."

By the following summer, after the U.S. invasion, it was becoming clear that Saddam possessed no such weapons. Miscik moved aggressively to assign a dozen of the best analysts in the intelligence community - none involved in the Iraq analysis - to spend six months examining the CIA's errors. The blame fell not on any coercion from the White House but on the agency's own problems. "There are four or five things," she says, ticking them off: a lack of good sources in the field, reliance on decade-old reports by long-gone UN weapons inspectors, and Saddam's boasting about power he did not have.

A fourth mistake, the CIA's use of inherited assumptions, is most troubling to Miscik because it's a common trap in any analytical task. "A senior analyst trains a junior analyst and passes on his view, which that junior analyst passes on to the next analyst. You need to rigorously examine inherited assumptions and at all costs avoid groupthink."

As firmly as she admitted when she was wrong, she stood her ground when she believed she was right. During this harrowing period senior Bush aides, determined to justify the Iraq war, pressed the CIA to find evidence of complicity between Iraq and al Qaeda, Miscik recalls. There was no significant link, the agency had concluded and written repeatedly, but the administration's questioning persisted. Eventually Miscik told her analysts, "Just stop writing."

Her toughest moment came on Jan. 10, 2003, when she got a message that Stephen Hadley, then deputy national security advisor, had called from the office of Lewis "Scooter" Libby, then the Vice President's chief of staff. Hadley and Libby wanted to see Miscik in Libby's office by 5 p.m. "I was hot, and I don't get hot often," she recalls. She stormed into Tenet's office and told him, "We are not changing this paper. This is our judgment. It stands. I'll quit if we change a word of this paper." Tenet phoned Hadley. "She's not coming," he told him. "And we are not rewriting this fucking report." (Tenet's book "At the Center of the Storm" gives a sanitized version of his language.)

The following week Miscik, subbing for Tenet, was on her way to deliver the 8 a.m. daily intelligence briefing to the President when she got word that Bush wanted to see her privately. Inside the Oval Office, Miscik recalls, "He said, 'So, I understand that some of my guys might have crossed the line. If they did, you need to tell me.'" She told Bush, "It's nothing we can't handle." His recognition of the pressure on her and her analysts, she says, was enough to ease her concern. "I appreciated that he recognized that there was a problem," she says.

The pressure never eased. Tensions with the administration came to a head in November 2004. Vice President Dick Cheney's office asked Miscik to declassify part of a CIA report about the tie between the war in Iraq and the broad war on terrorism. She believed that revealing that portion of the report would leave the public with the wrong impression by telling only a small part of the story, so she denied the request. As she recalls, a few days later an aide to PorterGoss, who had replaced Tenet as CIA chief, delivered a message. "Saying no to the Vice President is the wrong answer," Goss's aide told Miscik. She replied to the aide, "Actually, sometimes saying no to the Vice President is what we get paid for." Goss supported her decision to keep the information classified.

A few weeks later, just before Christmas, CIA executive director Kyle "Dusty" Foggo told Miscik that she was being replaced as deputy director of intelligence. A spokesperson for Goss says now, "There is absolutely no linkage between the two events." (See what Miscik recalls about the classified memo she sent about her reasons to keep the information classified.)