CIA Sheds Light on Sept. 11 Accountability Reports

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Originally published at Courthouse News Service by Tim Ryan on 6/15/15

WASHINGTON (CN) – The CIA declassified five documents Friday that show differing perceptions of the agency’s counterterrorism efforts prior to the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

One 480-page report from the Office of the Inspector General reviews the findings of a joint inquiry by the House and Senate intelligence committees regarding the performance of CIA employees before 9/11.

The OIG said its “overall conclusions on most of the important issues” coincided with Congress but that it did reach different findings “in a number of matters.”

“Concerning certain issues,” the CIA and its officers “did not discharge their responsibilities in a satisfactory manner,” the report states.

While one major error is not responsible for the Sept. 11 attacks, the CIA “did not always work effectively and cooperatively” in trying to combat al-Qaida and Osama Bin Ladin, the OIG goudn.

“The team found neither a ‘single point of failure’ nor a ‘silver bullet’ that would have enabled the Intelligence Community to predict or prevent the 9/11 attacks,” the report says. “The team did find, however, failures to implement and manage important processes, to follow through with operations and to properly share and analyze critical data.”

Someone walks over the entrance floor at CIA Headquarters Building in McLean, Virginia
CIA Headquarters Building in McLean, Virginia

Photograph: Larry Downing/Reuters

Specifically, the report faults CIA Director George Tenet for not properly leveraging his position to make counterterrorism more of a priority within the agency before the attacks.

The redaction-pocked audit faults Tenet for funneling resources to projects tangentially related to counterterrorism but not closely enough to help thwart the attacks.

“The team found that, in the five years prior to 9/11, the [director of Central Intelligence] on six occasions used these authorities to move almost [redacted] million in funds from other agencies to the CIA for a number of important purposes … One of these transfers helped fund a Middle East program that was terrorism-related, but none supported programs designed to counter [Osama Bin Ladin] or al-Qa’ida,” the report says.

Later the report cites other instances in which CIA officials moved cash from counterterrorism efforts to other areas of their budgets, such as to cover corporate “taxes” and other unrelated pursuits.

The funds that did find their way to counterterrorism efforts were not necessarily used properly either, the audit concludes. Having never created a “comprehensive strategic assessment of al-Qa’ida” or of bin Ladin after 1993, the CIA also never examined if terrorists could use planes as weapons as they did in the 9/11 attacks, according to the report.

The investigative team also blamed the CIA’s difficulty in targeting bin Ladin and al-Qaida on the “unwillingness” by the National Security Administration to share certain raw transcripts.
Two of Tenet’s responses to various drafts of the CIA’s 9/11 Accountability Report were also declassified Friday.

Before saying Tenet “failed to marshal the full range of either IC or CIA resources in his effort to combat the growing threat to the United States,” the inspector failed to contact key officials with whom the director worked, one letter says.

“There is not one shred of evidence in your report that suggests that these officials did not understand the urgency and magnitude of the threat or that they failed to take action in response,” Tenent wrote to Inspector General John Helgerson in June 2005.

The CIA also declassified a memo to Helgerson by Tenent and 17 other officials implicated in the 2005 Office of the Inspector General report, voicing their concerns with the report’s findings and process.

“Unfortunately, the OIG review has missed an historic opportunity to examine what worked and did not work well within the IC,” this memo states. “Instead, it has chosen to take a very narrow approach to its mandate from the Joint Inquiry.”

The final document is a report from the Office of the Inspector General from August 2001, lauding the CIA’s Counterterrorist Center as a “well-managed component that successfully carries out the Agency’s counterterrorist responsibilities to collect and analyze intelligence on international terrorism and to undermine the capabilities of terrorist groups.”

The report does suggest the center’s employees struggled with the stressful work environment and the ability of the branch to retain and attract talented officers, but otherwise stands in contrast to the findings of the 2005 Inspector General’s report.

The CIA first released the 2001 report and the memo from 17 Counterterrorism Center officials in 2010 and 2005, respectively, though the newly released versions included fewer redactions. The other three documents are newly declassified.

Download a pdf of the OIG Report here.

See related article: CIA Just Released This Secret 9/11 Report That Reveals Major ‘Systemic Problems’

Editor’s Note: And how did the Washington Times headline the release?

CIA releases memo showing agency blamed Bill Clinton for bankrupting war on terror ahead of 9/11