CIA Releases Pre-Attacks Performance Report

The CIA has released the findings of its inspector general's internal report on the agency's performance prior to the Sept. 11 attacks. Parts of the report have been leaked to the media in recent years, but the CIA made the executive summary available Tuesday.

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

And I'm Robert Siegel.

Today, the CIA released the findings of a long-classified internal report on its performance in the run-up to 9/11. It judges that there was no silver bullet that might have prevented the attacks, but it finds serious fault with the CIA's leadership, starting with then-Director George Tenet. The report says Tenet never produced a comprehensive plan to fight terrorism. Tenet disputes that and he's put out a statement calling that judgment flat wrong.

Here with us now is NPR intelligence correspondent Mary Louise Kelly. And Mary Louise, let's start with who wrote this report and a bit more detail on what they found.

MARY LOUISE KELLY: The author of this report is actually the CIA's own watchdog, the Inspector General John Helgerson. And he finished it two years ago. It's been classified until today. And what they've done is release the 19-page summary of the findings.

Now what distinguishes this one, because, of course, as we know, there've been a number of investigations into 9/11. This one focuses only on the CIA. And within that, it only focuses on who should bear responsibility for that intelligence failure.

I had one retired CIA official described this to me as the report to judge whose head should roll. And that's the way it's being seen inside the agency. And it's a bruising account. It starts, as you mentioned, at the top, with George Tenet. It says that he bears ultimate responsibility for the failure to produce a strategic plan to fight al-Qaida. It goes into some detail about things that have been documented, but more detailed about how he couldn't get the different agencies to work together - the FBI not communicating with the CIA, the CIA not being able to get the intelligence that the National Security Agency was gathering.

It says only Tenet had the responsibility and the authority of sorting that out. And it also levels criticism at some of the people just underneath him: the head of the Clandestine Service, the then-head of the Counterterrorism Center, all of whom, I should note, have since left the agency.

SIEGEL: So those heads can't roll because they've all rolled already.

KELLY: They're gone.

SIEGEL: I gathered George Tenet disputes this account.

KELLY: Very much so. He has always defended his record at the agency. He did so, again, today. He criticizes the author of the report for, he says, not bothering to interview him. And he says that there was in fact a robust plan in place to fight al-Qaida. And because of that plan, the CIA was able, for example, to move very quickly after 9/11 to go in to Afghanistan, start to fight al-Qaida and the Taliban there.

SIEGEL: Let's move on to recommendations of this report. I gather they recommend an accountability board.

KELLY: They do. It doesn't look like that's going to happen. When the report was finished two years ago, it was handed to the then-director of the CIA -that was Porter Goss. He said didn't think that was a good idea, that it would send a bad signal to CIA officers about taking risks. And today, we had a statement from the now-head of the CIA - that's Michael Hayden. He says he agrees with that decision, defends it, says that the officials who were cited in this are among the CIA's finest. And he also pointed out that the report -while finding lots of places where the CIA and its leaders could have done better - did not actually find any evidence of misconduct.

SIEGEL: So the idea of actually holding individuals accountable, disciplining them for - that's not going to be implemented. Why release a report that was written two years ago and whose recommendations are not going to be accepted.

KELLY: Well, because they were forced to. We have had, for - in Congress, a couple of senators on the Intelligence Committee, in particular, very actively lobbying to get this report released. To force the CIA's hands, they put a bill in place earlier this month what will force the CIA to declassify at least the summary. And so that's what General Hayden has done today.

SIEGEL: Mary Louise, thank you very much.

KELLY: You're welcome.

SIEGEL: That's NPR's Mary Louise Kelly. And you can find the full executive summary of the CIA's 9/11 report at our Web site, npr.org.

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OIG Faults CIA in Report on Sept. 11 Attacks

Hayden's statement

Read the CIA director's statement to his employees on the report.

There was not a particular failure that would have enabled the U.S. intelligence community to predict or prevent the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, according to a report released Tuesday by the CIA's internal review office.

But the report from the CIA's Office of the Inspector General faulted the CIA and its officers for not discharging their duties satisfactorily, citing instances in which the agency did not share intelligence with other agencies.

"The (OIG) team found neither a "single point of failure" nor "silver bullet" that would have enabled the intelligence community to predict or prevent the 9/11 attacks," the report stated. "The team did find, however, failures to implement and manage important processes, to follow through with operations, and to properly share and analyze critical data."

The review team noted that if the intelligence community had been able to analyze the full range of information available before Sept. 11 they would have been better able to assess the threat reports from the spring and summer of 2001.

The executive summary on the investigation by the CIA's Office of the Inspector General was completed in June 2005, but was just declassified. The OIG was asked by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence and the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence to review the findings of the committees' own joint report.

The OIG also said that many CIA officers performed their duties in an exemplary fashion, but laid much blame on the agency and its officers. "The team concluded that the agency and its officers did not discharge their responsibilities in a satisfactory manner," the report concludes.

The OIG team recommended formation of an accountability board made up of non-CIA employees to review the performance of some individuals.

The summary also said that former CIA Director George Tenet signed a memorandum in which he declared, "We are at war" as far back as 1998, promising to formulate a plan to counter the work of terrorist Osama Bin Laden. However, the report states that Tenet and his deputies did not follow up by creating a plan to guide the counterterrorism effort by the intelligence community.

In a statement, CIA Director Michael Hayden said the decision to release the report was not his preference, but that he was making it available as required by Congress in a law signed by President Bush earlier this month.

"I thought the release of this report would distract officers serving their country on the front lines of a global conflict," Hayden said. "It will, at a minimum, consume time and attention revisiting ground that is already well plowed."

Despite the negative findings, the review team led by Inspector General John Helgerson found no missteps that rose to the level of misconduct.

"The team found no instance in which an employee violated the law, and none of the errors discussed herein involves misconduct," the report states.

In a statement, Tenet said the inspector general is "flatwrong" about the lack of plan.

"There was in fact a robust plan, marked by extraordinary effort and dedication to fighting terrorism, dating back to long

before 9/11," he said. "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."

The inspector general did take exception to findings of Congress' joint inquiry into 9/11. For instance, the congressional

inquiry found that the CIA was reluctant to seek authority to assassinate bin Laden. Instead, the inspector general believed the problem was the agency's limited covert-action capabilities.

The CIA's reliance on a group of sources with questionable reliablity "proved insufficient to mount a credible operation

against bin Laden," the report said. "Efforts to develop other options had limited potential prior to 9/11."

From NPR reports and The Associated Press

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