By Joby Warrick and Walter Pincus
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, August 22, 2007
Former central intelligence director George J. 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 summary released yesterday of a long-secret CIA report.
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-Qaeda 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 in a lengthy statement.
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-Qaeda but "they did not always work effectively and cooperatively," the investigators concluded. While finding no "silver bullet" or single intelligence 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-Qaeda. The intelligence community "did not have a documented, comprehensive approach" to al-Qaeda, the document said, and Tenet "did not use all of his authorities" to prepare one.
Congress requested the investigation after a 2002 joint House-Senate intelligence probe that examined intelligence 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 the issue of accountability.
The report, overseen by CIA Inspector General John Helgerson, states that 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 of information among intelligence and law enforcement agencies, 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. In his statement, Tenet emphasized his repeated efforts to sound alarms about al-Qaeda before Congress and inside the White House in the months before the attacks.
"There was in fact a robust plan, marked by extraordinary effort and dedication to fighting terrorism, dating back to long before 9/11," said Tenet, who served as CIA chief from 1997 to 2004 and now teaches at Georgetown University. In December 2004, President Bush awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
In his recent memoir, "At the Center of the Storm," Tenet recounts his long campaign to persuade Bush administration officials to take terrorism more seriously. "The bureaucracy moved slowly," he wrote.
Tenet also said that he inherited an intelligence agency "in shambles," with declining budgets and plummeting morale. There was "no coherent, integrated and measurable long-range plan," he wrote. "That's where I focused my energies from day one."
CIA Director Michael V. Hayden, in a statement addressed to the agency's employees, said he had opposed releasing the inspector general's report, fearing it 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," Hayden said. Both he and predecessor Porter J. Goss have rejected calls for an "accountability board" to assess the responsibility of individual CIA officials.
The limited focus was one reason that Tenet and his successors fought releasing the report. They argued that CIA leaders were being unfairly singled out in an investigation that deliberately ignored the role played by other intelligence agencies and administrations.
Despite the narrow scope, the document sheds new light on several controversies and conflicts in the months before the attacks.
It describes, for example, a little-known clash between the CIA and National Security Agency over surveillance activities and authorities. According to the report, the NSA had long refused to share raw transcripts of intercepted al-Qaeda communications with the CIA but finally relented and allowed one CIA officer to review the intercepts at the NSA for a brief period in 2000.
The report summary also reveals that CIA analysts, before Sept. 11, had trained their sights on Khalid Sheik Mohammed, who was later determined to be the chief planner of the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. At the CIA's Counterterrorism Center, the man known as "KSM" became a high priority for capture because of his connections to the organizer of the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center. But CIA analysts did not recognize that he was also a senior al-Qaeda planner, despite "reporting from credible sources," the investigators concluded.
The report also sheds light on the agency's failures to identify Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar, two al-Qaeda operatives who became part of the Sept. 11 hijacking plot. In the early months of 2000, as many as 60 intelligence officials saw agency cables concerning the two men's travels.
Yet they were never placed on a watch list that might have resulted in their capture before the attacks, the report states.
Staff writer Glenn Kessler and research editor Alice Crites contributed to this report.