Seems the CIA didn’t even have an “in-house” database for corelating agent investigative data. I have to be somewhat surprised by the lack of such an obvious tool. Not only that, I cannot even imagine that the heads of CIA, FBI did not have optional face-to-face with *any* president, no matter what the administration. Bottom line, even though *some* agency should have connected the dots from prior and failed attempts, they did not provide anything approaching a specific threat that any president could have acted upon. Yes, Klinton did in fact dismantle the Nation’s intelligence capabilities, but the obvious lack of analysis at the Department level was the major failing problem.
Sept. 11 Panel Cites C.I.A. for Failures in Terror Case
By PHILIP SHENON and ERIC LICHTBLAU
WASHINGTON, April 14
George J. Tenet and his deputies at the Central Intelligence Agency were presented in August 2001 with a briefing paper labeled “Islamic Extremist Learns to Fly” about the arrest days earlier of Zacarias Moussaoui, but did not act on the information, the independent commission investigating the Sept. 11 attacks said on Wednesday
An interim report by the panel’s staff offered a stinging assessment of the C.I.A. under Mr. Tenet’s leadership and was made public during a hearing at which Mr. Tenet disclosed that he had little contact with President Bush during much of the summer of 2001, a period when intelligence agencies were warning of a dire terrorist threat.
Mr. Tenet, the director of central intelligence since 1997, testified that he had no contact at all with Mr. Bush in August, the month in which the president received a C.I.A. report suggesting that terrorists of Al Qaeda were already in the United States and might be planning a domestic airplane hijacking.
The agency later telephoned reporters on Wednesday to correct Mr. Tenet’s testimony, saying he met once with the president during Mr. Bush’s nearly monthlong vacation that August at his ranch in Crawford, Tex., and once again when Mr. Bush returned to Washington later that month. In defending Mr. Bush from recent contentions that he was not sufficiently attentive to domestic terrorist threats before Sept. 11, the White House has cited his face-to-face meetings with Mr. Tenet as proof of his interest.
Mr. Tenet offered an aggressive defense, insisting that the agency had provided “clear and direct” intelligence about the larger danger posed by Al Qaeda before Sept. 11. “Warning was well understood, even if the timing and method of attacks was not,” he said.
He said he had instituted several changes since Sept. 11 intended to make the agency more nimble in responding to terrorist threats. But he acknowledged that much remained to be done, and he said it would take five more years for the C.I.A. to rebuild the “clandestine service,” its global network of spies, which he said had been in “disarray” when he arrived at the agency.
Also testifying before the commission on Wednesday, Robert S. Mueller III — who was sworn in as the F.B.I. director only a week before the Sept. 11 attacks — said he was overseeing a “transformation” of the law enforcement agency, arguing that a proposal the commission was considering to create a separate domestic intelligence agency would be a “grave mistake.”
While praising Mr. Tenet’s energy and his understanding of the threat posed by Osama bin Laden’s terrorist network, several commission members said the staff report showed the need for an overhaul of the C.I.A., possibly through the creation of a Cabinet-level post for a national intelligence director who would control the budget of the C.I.A. and other intelligence agencies.
A Republican member of the panel, John F. Lehman, who was Navy secretary in the Reagan administration, said the report on the C.I.A. was a “damming evaluation of a system that is broken, that doesn’t function.”
While calling Mr. Tenet “a very entrepreneurial, gutsy guy who has worked very, very hard,” Mr. Lehman accused the agency of “smugness and even arrogance towards deep reform” and warned Mr. Tenet: “There are going to be some very real changes.”
The panel’s chairman, Thomas H. Kean, the former Republican governor of New Jersey, described the report as an “indictment” of the C.I.A., the same word he used on Tuesday to describe a separate staff report on the F.B.I.’s performance before and after Sept. 11.
Mr. Tenet was combative in his response to the panel’s questions, telling them that criticisms in the commission staff’s report were “flat wrong” and that he, like Mr. Mueller, had overseen broad improvements in an agency that was long depicted as dysfunctional.
The panel’s report on Wednesday on the C.I.A. offered the first detailed evidence about the agency’s failure to follow up on the arrest of Mr. Moussaoui, a French-born Islamic extremist who was taken into custody in Minnesota in August 2001 after arousing the suspicions of his flight-school instructors. After Sept. 11, Mr. Moussaoui, an avowed Qaeda member, was tied to the terrorist cell in Germany that conducted the attacks.
C.I.A. officials have been unwilling to say what, if anything, the agency had known about Mr. Moussaoui before Sept. 11. But the commission disclosed this week that information about his arrest on Aug. 17 had been relayed within days to the highest levels of the C.I.A., including to Mr. Tenet, and the commission’s report on Wednesday revealed the headline of the briefing, which was part of a larger report about intelligence developments that summer.
“In late August, the Moussaoui arrest was briefed to the D.C.I. and other top C.I.A. officials under the heading `Islamic Extremist Learns to Fly,’ ” the staff report said, offering no other detail on what the document contained. “The news had no evident effect on warning.”
Mr. Tenet said he could not recall details about the way the agency handled the Moussaoui reports.
Throughout August, the Moussaoui case was in the control of F.B.I. agents in Minnesota, who tried to get their superiors in Washington to take an interest because of their fear that he might be a terrorist. The information was passed to the C.I.A., and eventually to Mr. Tenet, through a F.B.I.-C.I.A. counterterror center.
The staff report also disclosed that the C.I.A. for years had intelligence in its files suggesting that Al Qaeda might hijack passenger planes and try to use them as missiles, but the reports were never drawn together in a larger analysis of the threat.
The reports cited a 1996 warning about a terrorist plot to fly a plane laden with explosives into an American city; a 1996 warning that Iranians intended to hijack a Japanese plane and crash it into Tel Aviv; and a 1995 warning that terrorists intended to fly a plane into C.I.A. headquarters in Langley, Va. The agency also knew that an Algerian terrorist group hijacked an Air France jet in 1994 with the intention of flying it into the Eiffel Tower, a plot that failed because none of the terrorists knew how to fly.
Mr. Mueller received glowing assessments from most panel members for his work in trying to remake the bureau as a counterterrorism and intelligence-gathering operation.
Lee H. Hamilton, the Democratic co-chairman of the commission, said after hearing Mr. Mueller that “the commission, I think, believes that he is moving in the right direction and has made much progress. We are cheering him on. The key question for us is whether he can succeed with the very difficult mission that he has set out, and we have not come to a judgment with respect to that.”
Civil-rights advocates contend that a domestic intelligence agency with broad power to conduct surveillance and covert operations could lead to the types of abuses seen at the F.B.I. under J. Edgar Hoover. Commissioners said they were sensitive to that concern.
“It’s terribly important that, whatever system you have for the collection of domestic intelligence, that it be done by an agency that has respect for the rule of law,” Mr. Hamilton said. “And that’s one argument, at least, for keeping domestic intelligence in the F.B.I.”
Despite the praise for Mr. Mueller, the commission’s latest staff reports found lingering problems that could hinder the bureau’s ability to detect and prevent terror attacks. Those include a shortage of qualified translators, a potential understaffing of intelligence analysis units and a perception among some analysts that they receive second-class treatment.
Mr. Mueller said that creating a new agency for domestic intelligence would be the wrong answer, leaving both the F.B.I. and any new agency “fighting the war on terrorism with one hand tied behind their backs.”
Also on Wednesday, the F.B.I. gave the commission its fullest accounting to date of what came of about 70 “bin Ladin-related” investigations that were cited in the briefing that President Bush received on Aug. 6, 2001. Mr. Bush said on Tuesday that he was satisfied after that briefing that the bureau was adequately investigating Qaeda links in the United States, but some commission members have questioned whether it overstated how aggressively it was pursuing those leads.
John Pistole, who oversees counterterrorism at the F.B.I., told the panel that the actual number of investigations at the time of the presidential briefing was 67. Twelve investigations were closed because the bureau determined there was no link to Al Qaeda or Sunni extremists, he said. Two people linked to the East African bombings in 1998 were arrested and indicted, he said. One was charged with a nonterrorist financial crime, six moved overseas and were tracked by the C.I.A., two died, and a number are still under investigation, though there are “obviously no links to 9/11,” Mr. Pistole said.