C.I.A. Report Finds Its Officials Failed in Pre-9/11 Efforts
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 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.
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.
As described by the officials, the basic conclusion that the C.I.A. paid too little heed to the threat posed by terrorism echoes those reached in the last two years by the joint Congressional panel on the Sept. 11 attacks and by the independent commission that investigated those attacks. But the criticisms of senior C.I.A. officials are more direct and personal than those spelled out in either of those two previous formal assessments. The findings were described by people who have read or been briefed on significant parts of the near-final version of the document. But the officials said the conclusions could still change on the basis of responses being solicited from those criticized in the document. Mr. Tenet and Mr. Pavitt are among those from whom Mr. Helgerson has solicited responses, the officials said. A final report is expected to be completed within six weeks.
The review was ordered by the joint Congressional panel, which asked in December 2002 that the Central Intelligence Agency’s inspector general determine “whether and to what extent personnel at all levels should be held accountable” for any mistakes that contributed to the failure to disrupt the attacks. A Justice Department review completed last summer in response to a separate Congressional request, but not yet made public, identified missteps by a handful of midlevel officials at the F.B.I. but did not recommend that anyone be disciplined, government officials have said.
That the CIA failed here is a given. How one would hold Tenet and Pavitt, both of whom have retired, “accountable” is unclear to me, however. While I was incredulous that Tenet was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, I would not support denying him his pension or similar strong sanction unless the report reveals a near-criminal level of malfeasance. Nothing I’ve seen so far indicates anything close to that.