WASHINGTON — The CIA’s top leaders failed to use their available powers, never developed a comprehensive plan to stop al-Qaida and missed crucial opportunities to thwart two hijackers in the run-up to Sept. 11, the agency’s own watchdog concluded in a bruising report released Tuesday.
Completed in June 2005 and kept classified until now, the 19-page executive summary finds extensive fault with the actions of senior CIA leaders and others beneath them. “The agency and its officers did not discharge their responsibilities in a satisfactory manner,” the CIA inspector general found.
“They did not always work effectively and cooperatively,” the report stated.
Yet the review team led by Inspector General John Helgerson found neither a “single point of failure nor a silver bullet” that would have stopped the attacks that killed nearly 3,000 people.
In a statement, CIA Director Michael Hayden said the decision to release the report was not his choice or preference, but that he was making the report available as required by Congress in a law President Bush signed earlier this month.
The report does cover terrain heavily examined by a congressional inquiry and the Sept. 11 Commission. However, the CIA watchdog’s report goes further than previous reviews to examine the personal failings of individuals within the agency who led the pre-Sept. 11 efforts against al-Qaida.
At the time, Helgerson’s team called on then-CIA Director Porter Goss to form accountability boards to look at the performance of specific individuals to determine whether reprimands were called for.
The inquiry boards were recommended for officials including former CIA Director George Tenet, who resigned in July 2004; his Deputy Director for Operations Jim Pavitt; Counterterrorism Center Chief Cofer Black; and the agency’s executive director, who was not further identified. Other less senior officials were also tagged for accountability reviews, but identifying information was removed from the report’s public version.
In a statement, Tenet said the inspector general is “flat wrong” about the lack of plan.
“There was in fact a robust plan, marked by extraordinary effort and dedication to fighting terrorism, dating back to long before 9/11,” he said. The report’s summary says U.S. spy agencies, which were overseen by Tenet, lacked a comprehensive strategic plan to counter Osama bin Laden prior to Sept. 11, 2001. The CIA’s analysis of al-Qaida before Sept. 2001 was lacking. No comprehensive report focusing on bin Laden was written after 1993.
While blame is heaped on Tenet and his deputies, the report also says that Tenet was forcefully engaged in counterterrorism efforts and personally sounded the alarm before Congress, the military and policymakers. In a now well-known 1998 memo, he declared, “We are at war.”
The trouble, the report said, was follow-up.