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August 22, 2007
Internal CIA Report on 9/11 Released (updated)
In a devastating indictment of the pre-9/11 CIA, the agency's Inspector General's report on the accountability of the agency for that disaster has singled out Director George Tenet as the man who bears "ultimate responsibility" for failing to create a strategic plan to stop al-Qaeda prior to 9/11:
The report says that while Tenet wrote he wanted "no resources or people spared" in going after al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden, neither he, nor his deputy, "followed up these warnings and admonitions by creating a documented, comprehensive plan to guide the counterterrorism effort." The IG took Tenet to task for not devoting enough resources to the task of going after al-Qaeda and trying to discover their plans. There were also bureaucratic turf wars both within the agency and between the CIA and the National Security Agency. Electronic intercepts by the NSA were not shared with the CIA despite the NSA's offer to allow agency personnel to have access to them.
"I know now why Tenet worked so hard to kill this report," said former White House counterterrorism official Richard Clarke, now an ABC News consultant.
Human resources were also misallocated by Tenet, specifically the Osama Bin Laden desk that the IG says was overworked and understaffed. And there were actually funds taken away from counter terrorism efforts and disbursed elsewhere in the agency despite Tenet's boast in 1998 that the CIA would go to "war against terrorists."
The 19 page summary has some redactions of names of personnel and countries but nevertheless paints a scathing portrait of an agency short on competent analysis and long on promises to fight the terror threat. In 1999, the CIA dithered over whether they had the statutory authority to assassinate Bin Laden, deciding in the end not to take the chance. They focused on 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheik Mohammed but failed to connect him as one of al-Qaeda's top leaders. And the bureaucratic confusion and laziness that led to two 9/11 hijackers not being placed on the State Department's watch list is a prime example of the breakdown in procedures that led directly to the agency missing 9/11. (Tenet has responded to the report here.)
Clearly, the CIA along with the rest of America was basically sleepwalking through the 1990's. The agency believed they had time to sort everything out and devote the resources to the task of fighting terrorism.
They were tragically wrong.
Update: John B. Dwyer adds:
From the Agency's site here is a statement by CIA Director Gen. Michael Hayden that puts the matter in context. Among other things, it includes the following: "The IG team found neither a 'single point of failure' nor a 'silver bullet' that would have enabled the intelligence community to predict or to prevent the 9/11 attacks."
Statement to Employees by Director of the Central Intelligence Agency, General Michael V. Hayden on the Release of the 9/11 IG Report Executive Summary
August 21, 2007
Earlier this month, Congress passed a bill implementing some of the recommendations of the 9/11 Commission. The legislation, lengthy and complex, includes a provision dealing with the report that CIA's Office of Inspector General prepared on the performance of our agency prior to September 11th. The act gave me 30 days to make available to the public a version of the report's executive summary, declassified to the maximum extent possible. Today, well within deadline, I am releasing that material.
While meeting the dictates of the law, I want to make it clear that this declassification was neither my choice nor my preference. Two Directors of National Intelligence have supported the agency's position against release.
The long, grueling fight against terrorism, which depends in very real part on the quality of our intelligence, demands that we keep our focus on the present and the future. We must draw lessons from our past-and we have-without becoming captive to it. I thought the release of this report would distract officers serving their country on the frontlines of a global conflict. It will, at a minimum, consume time and attention revisiting ground that is already well plowed. I also remain deeply concerned about the chilling effect that may follow publication of the previously classified work, findings, and recommendations of the Office of Inspector General. The important work of that unit depends on candor and confidentiality.
In keeping with the letter and spirit of the law, CIA has in its declassification process removed relatively little from the report's executive summary. We focused chiefly on the protection of essential sources and methods. I also thought it unnecessary and unwise to permit identification of officers below the level of Center Chief, even if only by title, and those passages have been deleted, as well.
There is some background that I believe you need to know. In 2002, the Joint Inquiry Committee of Congress instructed our Office of Inspector General to determine if any agency officers should be rewarded for outstanding service in the run-up to 9/11 or held accountable for the unsatisfactory discharge of their duties. In June 2005, the Inspector General presented my predecessor, Porter Goss, with a final report answering that specific mandate. The summary, like the complete report, is a very human document. In it, one group of agency officers-dedicated to their task-looks back to examine and judge the actions of another group of agency officers-dedicated to their task, the task of understanding and combating al-Qai'da.
You should also know that there are very different perspectives on this report. It was important for us to conduct our own review-that is something on which most, if not all of us, can agree. But our colleagues referred to in the document, and others who have read it, took strong exception to its focus, methodology, and conclusions. In October 2005, Director Goss declined to accept its primary recommendation-the creation of an Accountability Board to consider disciplinary action against a handful of individuals at different levels of command. I have re-read the report, carefully evaluated what it says, and have found no reason to revisit his decision.
Director Goss noted at the time that the officers cited include some of our finest. With inadequate resources, they and those they led worked flat out against a tough, secretive foe. As the executive summary points out, there was never a question of misconduct. While they, and our government as a whole, were unable despite their best efforts to shield our nation from attack, their skill, wisdom, energy, and leadership were key elements in the agency's victories over al-Qai'da before and after 9/11. They have made powerful contributions to our national security. They have prevented other acts of terrorism, and they have saved innocent lives, in our country and overseas.
This is not about avoiding responsibility. In fact, the opposite is true. CIA has for years spoken publicly, openly, and explicitly about shortcomings in its counter-terror programs before 9/11. Those shortcomings have been the subject of hearings, studies, panels, press reports, books, and critiques of all kinds, some fair, some not. As you will see, the Inspector General found no "silver bullet" that would have prevented the terror attacks of September 11th. There was, in the words of the summary, "no single point of failure."
Nor did CIA wait for this formal review to begin identifying and correcting the systemic flaws discussed in the report. This is an organization that is self-aware, self-critical, and, to a great degree, self-improving. The Inspector General's report, like others before it, found areas in which CIA could do better, and, in the intervening years, we have worked hard to do just that.
Counter-terrorism is an exceptionally difficult challenge. The risks, and the stakes, are extremely high. The enemy is adaptive, resilient, and determined to strike us again here at home. There are limits to what intelligence can accomplish, and there can be no guarantee of perfect security. But the talented, motivated officers who work against this threat day and night give our nation a strong advantage. Together, we recognize that the finest tribute we can pay to the victims of terrorism is a redoubled effort to rip that scourge out by the roots. We can, and should, be proud of the many great things CIA has done, and will do, to defend the United States in a very dangerous world.