Despite a Pledge to Speed Work, Fixing an Internal Problem Takes Time at the C.I.A.


The New York Times

Published: June 10, 2004

WASHINGTON, June 9 - The Central Intelligence Agency has yet to put in place a plan to address what senior officials have described as a major flaw in its operations, despite a pledge four months ago that the problem would be resolved within 30 days.

The problem, which contributed to errors in the agency's prewar estimates on Iraq, is rooted in practices that severely limit how much information about human sources is shared with analysts who produce intelligence assessments, according to senior intelligence officials.

In a Feb. 11 speech, a senior C.I.A. official, Jami Miscik, described the problem as an example of "imperfections in our system" and said that George J. Tenet, the director of central intelligence, had given subordinates 30 days "to devise a permanent and lasting solution." But on Wednesday, a senior intelligence official said that a team headed by the agency's executive director, A. B. Krongard, had only recently carried out a pilot program that had not yet been adopted broadly.

The difficulty of working out a solution reflects a deep gulf between the C.I.A.'s operations directorate, which recruits and supervises spies around the world and is always sensitive about revealing information that might endanger them, and the intelligence directorate, which is in charge of sifting through raw intelligence from spies, satellites and eavesdropping devices and drawing broad conclusions from it.

In the case of Iraq, senior intelligence officials have said, analysts who produced reports stating that Iraq possessed illicit weapons did so without knowing that some of the central charges came from defectors linked to exile organizations that were promoting an American invasion, including Ahmad Chalabi's Iraqi National Congress. Much of the information that Mr. Chalabi's organization provided to the United States and to news organizations including The New York Times now appears to have been wrong, exaggerated or fabricated, according to internal reviews by the Defense Intelligence Agenc y and the National Intelligence Council, an interagency group charged with putting forward a consensus on matters important to national security that reports to Mr. Tenet.

In these and other cases, the prewar assessments about Iraq's illicit weapons were based on reports from intelligence sources who did not have firsthand information about what they described. That fact, too, was sometimes known to intelligence officers but rarely shared with intelligence analysts, according to senior intelligence officials.

In her speech in February, Ms. Miscik said that "the biggest lesson" to have emerged from apparent missteps in the agency's prewar assessments on Iraq was "the importance of getting the analyst as much information as possible about a source's access."

"Analysts can no longer be put in a position of making a judgment on a critical issue without a full and comprehensive understanding of the source's access to the information on which they are reporting," Ms. Miscik said in the speech to intelligence analysts at the agency. The promise of a quick change in procedures was reported at the time.

A former Defense Intelligence Agency official, Marc Garlasco, said the problem outlined by Ms. Miscik extended into his agency as well. "The problem is that information going to the analysts is not properly put into context," said Mr. Garlasco, who is now a senior military analyst at Human Rights Watch.

A senior intelligence official who described the review underway at the C.I.A. said that a working group had "developed an approach to expanding and institutionalizing the practice of getting to analysts the operational details they need to do their jobs better. The working group has recently set up a pilot program. We will be monitoring it to ensure that it is effective before expanding it more broadly."

Although intelligence estimates before the American invasion last year said that Iraq possessed chemical and biological weapons, no evidence of such weapons has been found in more than a year, as American inspectors have scoured the country.