It will be a long time before veteran American CIA officers (not to mention veteran American journalists) manage to forget about 'the one that got away'.
That, of course, was the erroneous and/or misleading propaganda build-up prior to the US invasion of Iraq in March 2003. Substantial intelligence reporting gave immense credibility to the imminent threat from Iraq to the US - and credibility to its presumably massive collage of weapons of mass destruction. But that assessment - and the uncritical media reporting - was almost entirely wrong.
So the credo that you hear these days, over and over again, from the US intelligence community is: never again! Never again will we be so wrong in our estimates; never again will intelligence assessments be so subject to the whim and will of top-down political decision-making.
Precisely that clarion call for complete intelligence credibility came impressively from Michael Hayden this week. Ordinarily, directors of the CIA are neither seen nor heard. But this CIA director, who recently visited Los Angeles to address the World Affairs Council, wants to be seen as representing a new era in quality US intelligence - and heard loud and clear that today's CIA is better than ever.
Both the Democratic and Republican presidential nominees promise to be rather tough customers. Both have been rightly critical of the intelligence community's failure.
The problems of intelligence co-ordination, not to mention depoliticisation, could well overwhelm any new White House. And the nature of the threats the US faces is changing rapidly - perhaps more dynamically than any network of intelligence bureaucracies can change in response.
At one point, General Hayden was asked by a member of the audience whether even more resources were needed. His reply was that the CIA had enough personnel and resources at the moment - but has not had enough time to manoeuvre every unit and bureau into smooth functioning order. How refreshing to hear that from someone so deeply embedded in a political and bureaucratic environment that often seems more dedicated to empire building than nation protecting.
General Hayden may well be the right man in the right job at the right time. Certainly, almost everyone you ask has a good word to say about him - and about Secretary of Defence Robert Gates.
The latter, like General Hayden, has brought an unprecedented whiff of fresh air to a job that seemed mainly to prize hot air, inflated threat estimates, and egoistic and paranoiac self-serving.
We cynical American journalists sometimes denigrate public servants as if all were incompetent idiots. Many are anything but. General Hayden and Dr Gates are two good ones. The next president may be wise to keep both on. But even if they are retained, changing global threats will probably daunt any CIA or Defence Department countereffort - no matter how wise and honest their bosses.
Tom Plate is a veteran journalist and author