Sunday, February 04, 2007

CIA Withholding IG Report on 9/11

The Senate Intelligence Committee and the CIA may be headed for a new confrontation over an old issue: why an internal report documenting the agency's failures in the run up to the September 11 terror attacks is still being withheld from the public.

The report, prepared by the CIA's inspector general, is the only major 9/11 government review that has still not been made publicly available.

When it was completed in August 2005, NEWSWEEK and other publications reported that it contained sharp criticisms of former CIA director George Tenet and other top agency officials for failing to address the threat posed by Al Qaeda, as well as other mistakes that might have prevented the attacks.

In a letter sent just this week, three panel members—including Intelligence Committee chairman Sen. Jay Rockefeller and ranking Republican Christopher Bond—revived the issue and asked that an executive summary of the report be declassified "without delay" and released to the public. ...

"I'm going to bulldog this until it gets out," Wyden told NEWSWEEK. "The bottom line is that this is an extraordinary important perspective on one of the defining events of the country's history. I do not believe there is a national-security case for keeping this under wraps."

Wyden added that if McConnell doesn't reverse the decision made by Negroponte in refusing to declassify the report, he intends to use admittedly cumbersome intel-committee procedures to try to force the release of at least some of the inspector general's findings. One concern, he said, is that "a desire for political security" is influencing the Bush administration's refusal to greenlight the release of the document.

While Bush administration officials are hardly eager for a public rehash of the 9/11 intelligence failures, the issue is an especially sensitive one at CIA headquarters.

The inspector general's report is believed to have documented multiple faults by the agency's leadership during both the Bush and Clinton years, painting a picture of an intelligence community (which was then overseen by Tenet) that never fully mobilized to deal with the Al Qaeda threat—in part because it was embroiled in internal conflicts and bureaucratic battles, according to current and former officials familiar with the document who asked not to be identified because it involves still-classified information.

Among the matters covered in the report, the officials said, was the CIA's alleged failure to develop a strategic plan to go after Al Qaeda as well as the failure to resolve disputes about sharing National Security Agency intercepts of Al Qaeda leaders with other government agencies—another potentially sensitive matter because the NSA chief at the time is now CIA Director Michael Hayden.

In addition, the report provides the CIA's own internal account of what some believe was the most spectacular of the pre-9/11 failures: the agency's failure to alert the FBI and other U.S. government agencies to information showing that two of the hijackers had entered the United States as early as January 2000.

What's really behind the intelligence community's refusal to release the report, the senators suspect, is a desire to protect the reputations of some of the main figures. Indeed, the committee staff late last year prepared its own redacted version of the inspector-general report's findings, stripping out anything it viewed as relating to "sources and methods" or other national-security secrets. The panel then sent over a copy of its version of the report to Negroponte in hopes of getting it cleared for public release.

But Negroponte refused, insisting in a Nov. 13, 2006, letter that the committee's version still contained sensitive national-security secrets. But the senators point out that he also gave another reason for refusing to clear the panel's version: it would publicly identify current and former agency officials, some of them high profile, who had been faulted by the inspector general.

That remark especially bothered the senators. The fact that publication of even the redacted version would publicly identify officials who were being criticized "does not appear to be a valid basis for classification under current laws and executive orders," the senators wrote in their letter, a copy of which was obtained by NEWSWEEK.

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