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January 7, 2005
Accountability At The CIA?

The inspector-general of the CIA has completed his investigation into the agency's performance prior to 9/11 and has readied his report to Congress, according to the New York Times. Douglas Jehl reports that the conclusion reached by John Helgerson points to George Tenet and Director of Operations James L. Pavitt for poor performance and providing inadequate counterterrorism resources:

An internal investigation by the Central Intelligence Agency has concluded that officials who served at the highest levels of the agency should be held accountable for failing to allocate adequate resources to combating terrorism before the Sept. 11 attacks, according to current and former intelligence officials.

The conclusion is spelled out in a near-final version of a report by John Helgerson, the agency's inspector general, who reports to Congress as well as to the C.I.A. Among those most sharply criticized in the report, the officials said, are George J. Tenet, the former intelligence chief, and James L. Pavitt, the former deputy director of operations. Both Mr. Tenet and Mr. Pavitt stepped down from their posts last summer. ...

The report says that Mr. Pavitt, among others, failed to meet an acceptable standard of performance, and it recommends that his conduct be assessed by an internal review board for possible disciplinary action, the officials said. The criticism of Mr. Tenet is cast in equally strong terms, the officials said, but they would not say whether it reached a judgment about whether his performance had been acceptable.

Many people will see this as a long-delayed necessary step to hold people in the intelligence agencies accountable for their failures. One of the nagging questions that dogged George Bush during the years after 9/11 was why no heads rolled after the failure to detect and stop the coordinated attacks. The 9/11 Commission found no specific job performance problem, but they actively avoided making such judgements, which is why Congress asked the inspector-general to perform this separate investigation. One answer, of course, has been that the plot was one of many that our agencies worked to uncover and stop, which has the agreement of this member of the service:

A former intelligence official who criticized the findings said that "plenty of fault can be found" with the agency's performance "with the benefit of 20/20 hindsight." But the former official said, "Everyone I knew - analyst, operator, support personnel, seniors and juniors - were working flat out many, many months in advance of the 11 September attacks to stop those and like attacks."

"To round up the good guys and shoot them for doing their jobs - I can't help but shake my head in dismay," the official said.

Also mentioned at the end of the article -- below the jump, of course -- is the atmosphere in which Tenet and Pavitt worked. Congress and the Clinton Administration had targeted the CIA for significant budget cuts in the 1990s. Two years before the 9/11 attacks, the budget cuts resulted in a 30% decrease in the CIA's counterterrorism efforts, although Jehl leaves unclear whether those cuts were mandated by Congress or Tenet:

Among the episodes that the officials said was cited in the report was a 30 percent cut in the budget and personnel of the C.I.A.'s Counterterrorist Center, imposed in the autumn of 1999, not long after Mr. Tenet issued a memorandum saying that the agency was at war on terrorism. In testimony before Congress, Cofer Black, who took charge of the Counterterrorist Center that year, has said the cuts left the center undermanned and underfinanced.

Tenet's spokesman points out that Tenet increased funding over a four-year period to the center (97-01) by 50% and staffing by 60%. Cofer Black also receives criticism in this report.

Obviously, the CIA knew we were under attack by Islamofascist forces during this period, and if they did not perform to standard, then those who failed should be held accountable. However, one also has to take into account that the political leadership of the time hardly seemed focused on the Islamofacist threat, even after the bombing of the World Trade Center in 1993 should have woken everyone up. The administration chose to pursue terrorism as a law-enforcement problem, which left the CIA in an awkward position, since their efforts would almost certainly never be allowed in court by either the courts or the agency itself. It may provide some political satisfaction to fire a few high-ranking officials, but in the end the failure was political, not operational.

Jehl indulges in some irrelevant posturing of his own at the top of this article, trying to get some mileage out of Tenet's Medal of Freedom:

The findings, which are still classified, pose a quandary for the C.I.A. and the administration, particularly since President Bush awarded a Medal of Freedom to Mr. Tenet last month. It is not clear whether either the agency or the White House has the appetite to reprimand Mr. Tenet, Mr. Pavitt or others.

Reprimands and medals are not mutually exclusive. It is entirely possible to recommend Tenet for a reprimand for some job failing prior to 9/11 and to honor him for his performance afterward. I don't know if he deserves either, but Jehl's inclusion of this editorial speculation only cheapens his reporting. Does he have any information on what the agency or the White House think? No. It's "not clear" to Jehl because he has nothing to report. In that case, he should have stopped writing.

Sphere It Digg! View blog reactions
Posted by Ed Morrissey at January 7, 2005 6:13 AM

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