By DOUGLAS JEHL
The New York Times
WASHINGTON, June 24 — In a scathing report, the Republican-led House Intelligence Committee has warned that the Central Intelligence Agency is heading "over a proverbial cliff" through mismanagement of its human spying operations.
The report, approved by the full House by a vote of 360 to 61 on Wednesday night, was part of the intelligence authorization bill. Its language was harsher than earlier Congressional criticisms on the subject, and it sharpened election-year battle lines in which Republicans and Democrats are both criticizing the C.I.A. for intelligence failures.
The criticism carried particular significance in that it was drafted by a panel headed by Representative Porter J. Goss, the Florida Republican who is considered a leading candidate to succeed George J. Tenet as director of central intelligence. Mr. Tenet responded with a blunt letter that objected to "the tone and content" of the report, and called some of its conclusions "frankly absurd."
Most of the House criticisms focused on the C.I.A.'s clandestine service, run by its Directorate of Operations. It suggested that prewar mistakes made in the C.I.A.'s assessment of Iraq and its illicit weapons had been rooted in large part on inadequacies in human spying operations run by the operations directorate.
"There was an insufficiency of the right amount of information available on this topic for the analysts," the report said. "The U.S. cannot afford to be in such a position."
A "comprehensive analysis" of how human spying operations were being mismanaged was spelled out in a classified annex to the report that cannot be made public, the committee said. But in the public version of the report, the panel warned specifically about what it called a "misallocation and redirection of resources, poor prioritization of objectives, micromanagement of field operations, and a continued political aversion to operational risk."
The damage resulting inflicted on human spying operations was "in the committee's judgment, significant and could likely be long-lasting," the panel said.
The eight Democrats on the committee, led by Representative Jane Harman of California, all voted against the Republican-backed authorization measure itself, but they did not object to the criticisms of the agency. They argued instead that intelligence spending authorized in the measure, whose total remains classified, was inadequate to the country's needs.
The critical focus on human spying operations reflected vocal criticisms made in recent years by Mr. Goss, who himself served as a C.I.A. officer for about a dozen years, beginning in the late 1950's. James L. Pavitt, the top C.I.A. official in charge of clandestine operations for the last five years, recently announced a decision to retire from the agency this summer.
Among the particular criticisms made in the report were that the C.I.A., despite eight years of rebuilding, had not yet repaired human spying abilities lost because of budget cuts during the 1990's. The report also complained that money and manpower were being devoted to counterterrorism, which the C.I.A. has said consumes about half of the money devoted to clandestine operations, to the neglect of other important activities.
"The nimble, flexible, core-mission-oriented enterprise the D.O. once was, is becoming just a fleeting memory," the report said, referring to the Directorate of Operations. "With each passing day, it becomes harder to resurrect."
Mr. Tenet, who is due to leave his post on July 11, had already been anticipating critical reports from the Senate Intelligence Committee and the presidential commission investigating the Sept. 11 attacks. Under Mr. Goss, the House panel sent Mr. Tenet a letter last fall that was sharply critical of the agency's performance in prewar intelligence on Iraq, but the committee has not conducted the kind of exhaustive inquiry on that issue that the Senate panel has undertaken over the last year.
Mr. Tenet has long described the rebuilding of the clandestine service as his top priority, and he defended that effort in his response, sent as a letter to Mr. Goss.
"The damage done by inattention to the clandestine service during the first half of the 1990's cannot be repaired in the blink of an eye," Mr. Tenet said. "Just as the military cannot hire people off the street to become instant majors and lieutenant colonels, it takes years for C.I.A. to recruit, train and deploy experienced case officers. That rebuilding process has been going on for more than six years, but only patience, continued resolve and sustained support will see it to a successful conclusion."