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Analysis: CIA bungled pre-9/11 resources

By SHAUN WATERMAN, UPI Homeland and National Security Editor   |   Aug. 22, 2007 at 12:18 PM   |   Comments

WASHINGTON, Aug. 22 (UPI) -- Leading CIA officials, and in particular Director of Central Intelligence George Tenet, did not develop a strategy or make effective use of U.S. intelligence resources to combat the terrorist threat from al-Qaida before Sept. 11, 2001, a report by the agency’s inspector general found.

An executive summary of the June 2005 accountability review was published under protest by the CIA Tuesday, after Congress passed a law mandating its declassification.

Both current and former CIA leaders say they have differences with the review, and Tenet Tuesday called its conclusions “flat wrong.”

The summary says that U.S. intelligence “did not have a documented comprehensive approach to al-Qaida and that (Tenet) did not use all of his authorities in leading (U.S. intelligence’s) strategic effort against Osama bin Laden.”

The inspector general’s team also found that, despite successful appeals to Congress to get extra funding for the counter-terrorism mission, the agency’s Counter-Terrorism Center did not spend all the money it was allocated and CIA officials did not use contingency funds for counter-terrorism work and actually diverted CTC funds for other agency projects.

Although Tenet had some limited power to move funds and personnel around the various U.S. agencies -- and used that authority six times in the five years before Sept. 11 -- he never did so to get extra resources for the agency to use against al-Qaida.

In 1998 Tenet issued his now-famous memo to all the U.S. agencies he oversaw in his dual-hatted role as director of central intelligence, declaring the United States to be “at war” with al-Qaida and directing that “no resources or people be spared in this effort.”

But the accountability review found there was little follow-up. Meetings led by Tenet’s deputy, John McLaughlin, “soon devolved into … tactical and operational, rather than strategic, discussions,” and there were “few, if any” officers from other agencies attending them.

Even internally, the CIA failed to manage its resources adequately. For instance, the way the CTC handled the case of Sept. 11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the review found, meant that it “missed important indicators of terrorist planning” like the fact that he was sending terrorist operatives to the United States.

Mohammed’s case was handled by the renditions unit in the center, and there was a lack of coordination with other elements.

Moreover, “The management approach employed in CTC had the effect of actively reinforcing the separation of responsibilities among key CTC units working on” the Mohammed case.

The absence of an overall strategy for the whole collection of spy agencies known as the U.S. intelligence community was important, according to one observer, because it meant that longstanding issues of interagency information-sharing and cooperation were not addressed.

“Those two issues (lack of a strategy and turf tensions) fed each other,” said a former staffer on the Sept. 11 Commission.

One example of a longstanding issue was the question of access to raw signals intelligence, or sigint, such as telephone intercepts.

The National Security Agency exhibited an “unwillingness to share raw sigint transcripts with CIA,” says the review.

A U.S. intelligence official told United Press International Tuesday that the NSA was prohibited by law from disseminating raw transcripts that might contain information about U.S. persons.

To get around this, the NSA offered to host a CTC official as a detailee in their office.

“The most efficient way to ensure compliance with the law when it came to raw transcripts was to have the sigint reviewed inside NSA spaces,” the official told UPI.

But the review found that the CTC only sent one officer to NSA “for a brief period of time in 2000” and thereafter failed to send any others, “citing resource constraints.”

The review also found that 50 to 60 people at the agency reviewed reports about two of the hijackers, whom the CIA had identified in January 2000 as heading for America, but not one of them saw fit to ensure that the men were watch-listed, so that any attempt to get a visa or enter the country would send up red flags.

“I always told them that would be the turd in the punchbowl,” said the former Sept. 11 Commission staffer.

The June 2005 review, conducted at the behest of Congress, recommended setting up a special board to look into disciplinary action against Tenet and 10 or so other top officials -- a recommendation rejected a few months later by Porter Goss, who was then the agency’s director.

Tuesday, current Director Gen. Michael Hayden said he saw no reason to second-guess that decision.

Recalling Goss’ description of the officials singled out by the review as “some of our finest,” Hayden said, “I have re-read the report, carefully evaluated what it says, and have found no reason to revisit (Goss’) decision.”

“They have prevented other acts of terrorism, and they have saved innocent lives, in our country and overseas," Hayden continued in a statement to the CIA workforce that was released to the media.

Tenet, in a statement, said the review is “flat wrong” to accuse him of not having a strategy to fight al-Qaida and that its comments about resource allocation fail to understand the context of an agency emerging from a decade of under-funding.

“Although resources available for everything else at CIA went down or stayed flat, counter-terrorism resources were going up,” he said.

The review “fails to understand how intensely I pushed the counter-terrorism issue,” Tenet continued, “because (its authors) failed to interview either me or policymakers from either the Clinton or Bush administrations.”

--

(e-mail: swaterman@upi.com)

© 2007 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI's prior written consent.
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