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Report: CIA failed to counter al-Qaida

Mounting threats before 9/11 weren't met with a cohesive plan, inquiry says.

By Washington Post
Published August 22, 2007


WASHINGTON - Former CIA director George Tenet and his top lieutenants failed to marshal sufficient resources and provide the strategic planning needed to counter the threat of terrorism in the years before the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, according to a long-secret CIA report released Tuesday.

Despite promises of an all-out war against terrorism in the late 1990s, leaders of the spy agency allowed bureaucratic obstacles and budget shortfalls to blunt the agency's efforts to find and capture al-Qaida operatives, said the report, by the CIA's inspector general. It also faulted agency leaders for failing to "properly share and analyze critical data."

The 19-page document - a redacted executive summary of a classified report given to congressional intelligence committees two years ago - called for the creation of a special board to assess "potential accountability" for Tenet and other former CIA leaders.

Its stark assessments triggered a sharp response, with Tenet and other former and current intelligence officials denouncing the inspector general's conclusions.

"The IG is flat wrong," Tenet said.

The CIA reluctantly released the report summary after Congress demanded that it be made public. Congressional leaders had requested the study specifically to determine whether individual CIA officials should be held accountable for intelligence failures before Sept. 11 or, alternatively, rewarded for outstanding service.

"Agency officers from the top down worked hard" against al-Qaida but "they did not always work effectively and cooperatively," the investigators concluded.

While finding no "silver bullet" or single lapse that might have prevented the Sept. 11 attacks, the report identified numerous "failures to implement and manage important processes" and "follow through with operations."

The report said Tenet bears "ultimate responsibility" for the CIA's lack of a unified, strategic plan for fighting al-Qaida. The intelligence community "did not have a documented, comprehensive approach," and Tenet "did not use all of his authorities" to prepare one.

Congress requested the investigation after a 2002 House-Senate intelligence inquiry examined failures leading to the Sept. 11 attacks. Members of the joint panel asked the CIA inspector general to review the panel's own findings and to begin a narrow investigation of accountability.

The report, overseen by CIA Inspector General John Helgerson, says Tenet became "actively and forcefully engaged" in counterterrorism efforts before Sept. 11 and had even declared in 1998 that "we are at war" with global terrorism. But neither Tenet nor his deputies followed through by pushing for adequate resources and sharing information, it said.

Helgerson, a 36-year CIA veteran, was appointed inspector general by Tenet in 2002.

Tenet said that the report is factually inaccurate and that it does not place his actions in the context of the times.

Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., and Rep. Silvestre Reyes, D-Texas, chairmen of the Senate and House intelligence committees, said they believed the CIA had corrected many of the problems detailed in the report.

Fast Facts:

Highlights of the CIA watchdog's executive summary report

- U.S. spy agencies, which were overseen by George Tenet, lacked a comprehensive strategic plan to counter Osama bin Laden before 9/11, and Tenet, "by virtue of his position, bears ultimate responsibility for the fact that no such strategic plan was ever created."

- The CIA's analysis of al-Qaida before September 2001 was lacking. No comprehensive report focusing on bin Laden was written after 1993, and no comprehensive report laying out the threats of 2001 was assembled.

- The CIA and the National Security Agency tussled over their responsibilities in dealing with al-Qaida well into 2001. Only Tenet's personal involvement could have led to a timely resolution, the report concluded.

- The CIA station charged with monitoring bin Laden - code-named Alec Station - was overworked and lacked operational experience, expertise and training.

- Although 50 to 60 people read at least one CIA cable about two of the hijackers, the information wasn't shared with the proper offices and agencies. "That so many individuals failed to act in this case reflects a systemic breakdown," the report said.

Tenet responds

"There was in fact a robust plan, marked by extraordinary effort and dedication to fighting terrorism, dating back to long before 9/11. Without such an effort, we would not have been able to give the president a plan on Sept. 15, 2001, that led to the routing of the Taliban, chasing al-Qaida from its Afghan sanctuary and combating terrorists across 92 countries." - ex-CIA director George Tenet, now a professor at Georgetown University

[Last modified August 22, 2007, 01:20:22]

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