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Archive for Thursday, July 18, 2002

Report spreads blame for intelligence failures

July 18, 2002

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— To prevent terrorist attacks, U.S. intelligence agencies need to do a better job of using both sophisticated technology and old-fashioned spying, a House panel said Wednesday.

The report by the House Intelligence subcommittee on terrorism and homeland security identified weaknesses in counterterrorism efforts by the FBI, CIA and National Security Agency before the Sept. 11 attacks.

They included communications problems among agencies, a shortage of linguists and a failure by agencies and Congress to pay enough attention to terrorism.

The subcommittee issued a 10-page summary of a classified, 140-page report that was presented to the House leadership. The report comes as the full Intelligence Committee is conducting a larger, joint inquiry with its Senate counterpart into the Sept. 11 attacks.

The subcommittee was formed as a working group in early 2001 to examine counterterrorism efforts. Two days after the Sept. 11 attacks, House Speaker Dennis Hastert converted it into a subcommittee and asked it to look into deficiencies leading to the attack.

Many of the problems identified by the subcommittee received considerable attention in the months following the attacks. Some have been at least partly addressed. For example, FBI Director Robert Mueller and CIA Director George Tenet have said their agencies are working together much more than in the past.

The report said officials were aware of intelligence problems long before the attacks. It referred to a Sept. 11, 1998, meeting of unidentified intelligence leaders who warned of a "catastrophic systemic intelligence failure" if changes weren't made to their operations.

The subcommittee report also said the CIA had intelligence acquired before Sept. 11 "that, in retrospect, proved to be directly relevant to 9-11."

Subcommittee Chairman Saxby Chambliss said this referred in part to revelations that the CIA had discovered in early 2000 that two of the future hijackers had terrorist links. He said there have been other, similar examples that have not been publicly disclosed.

Chambliss said he didn't know, however, whether the attacks could have been prevented if the problems identified in the report had been corrected earlier.

"Even knowing everything we know today, this was such a closely held, compartmentalized act of devastation that was carried by the terrorist community, that we don't know of any way it could have been prevented," said Chambliss, R-Ga.

Among the problems cited in the report:

l The CIA did not place enough emphasis on traditional human spying. The "CIA did not sufficiently penetrate the al-Qaida organization before Sept. 11," it said.

l The FBI's decentralized structure hindered counterterrorism efforts. So did its outdated technology, which included incompatible computer systems.

l The NSA had not devoted enough attention to fighting terrorism. It also hadn't adequately used high technology that could help it target terrorist organizations that increasingly rely on sophisticated communications.

The NSA issued a statement saying its resources have been cut by a third since the end of the Cold War. "As a result, NSA has been faced with making difficult choices in the areas of hiring, technology, and level of efforts, as well as making tough decisions about optimizing resources while facing declining budgets," it said.

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