The Central Intelligence Agency has released a report sharply critical of the CIA's senior leadership in the years and months leading up to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. As VOA correspondent Gary Thomas reports, the document in some respects goes beyond previous probes into the 9/11 attacks.
The report by the CIA's Office of Inspector General recommends that ex-CIA director George Tenet and several other top current and former agency officials be held accountable for intelligence missteps on combating the terrorist threat.
The review says there was no single event or, in its words, a "silver bullet" that would have prevented the 9/11 attacks. But it does say that before 9/11, neither the U.S. government nor the intelligence community had a comprehensive strategy for dealing with al-Qaida. It says that then-CIA Director Tenet was either unwilling or unable to marshal intelligence resources to combat the growing intelligence threat, and failed to develop a comprehensive counterterrorism plan.
Tenet could not be reached for comment. But he issued a written statement calling many of the report's conclusions "flat wrong" and asserted that there was what he called a "robust" counterterrorism plan in place before 9/11.
But former CIA officer Michael Scheuer, who headed the unit hunting Osama bin Laden during Tenet's tenure, describes Tenet as "a good cheerleader, but not a very good leader."
"I think what it shows is that most of the people in the agency knew that Mr. Tenet was not doing enough against bin Laden and al-Qaida, and that they had petitioned him via memorandums and conversations to do a number of things which were in his power to do that he refused to do over the course of a decade," he said.
The CIA released the 19-page executive summary of the longer still-classified report reluctantly. CIA director Michael Hayden issued a statement saying he was opposed to the release, but a law passed earlier this month by Congress required it. He added that many of those criticized in the report sharply contest the focus, methodology, and conclusions of the report.
The report covers much of the same ground gone over by other probes of the September 11 attacks, especially the bipartisan 9/11 Commission. But it differs sharply in one respect. The 9/11 Commission was careful not to place blame on any individuals for intelligence failures, but the CIA's internal report does.
Michael Scheuer says the inspector general's report raises questions about the 9/11 Commission's reluctance to assign responsibility.
"I think what it does is reveal the utter bankruptcy of the 9/11 Commission," he said. "Clearly their inability to find anyone responsible for anything before 9/11 is vastly undercut and is almost made to look like a whitewash by this report. I think the culpability at senior levels was so great that they decided that they needed to protect all the politicians and all the senior bureaucrats, and that they decided not to name anyone."
The CIA Inspector General's report says it found no misconduct or breaking of the law. It does, however, recommend establishment of an internal "accountability board" to examine the performance of senior agency officials in the lead-up to 9/11 and recommend possible disciplinary action. A similar recommendation made in 2005 was rejected by then-CIA director Porter Goss. The current director, General Hayden, says he sees no reason to reverse that decision.