C.I.A. Report Finds Its Officials Failed in Pre-9/11 Efforts

By DOUGLAS JEHL

New York Times

January 7, 2005

WASHINGTON, Jan. 6 - 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.

The C.I.A. would not comment on the report. A spokesman for Mr. Tenet, Bill Harlow, also declined to comment on it, except to say that Mr. Tenet had recently reviewed parts of the report and would be responding to it soon. But Mr. Harlow said that "to criticize Mr. Tenet for devoting insufficient resources to counterterrorism would be absurd."

In response to questions, Mr. Pavitt confirmed that he had read parts of the report, and that it concluded that "I, or components or processes for which I was responsible, may not have performed in a satisfactory manner." Mr. Pavitt said that he disagreed with the findings "on many accounts" and had provided a dissent to Mr. Helgerson.

"I believe the findings are flawed," Mr. Pavitt said. He acknowledged that the agency's directorate of operations, which he supervised, did not have adequate resources before the Sept. 11 attacks but said that he had "consistently fought for additional resources, commencing that effort in 1997 and stopping only in August 2004 when I retired."

Still, Mr. Pavitt said, "I was the one ultimately responsible for the D.O. during the period in question." He added, "If blame is to be passed down, and if the facts on the issue are clear, not blurred as they are in the I.G. report, then that blame is mine and mine alone."

Some other current and former intelligence officials who described the document also expressed strong objections to it, saying that it failed to account for the C.I.A.'s successes in combating terrorism before Sept. 11 and failed to acknowledge the obstacles that stood in the way of broader successes. But others praised the review for directing its criticism at senior levels of the agency rather than at the working ranks.

Mr. Helgerson, the agency's inspector general, is a career C.I.A. official who served as deputy director of intelligence and as chairman of the National Intelligence Council, the high-level panel responsible for issuing government-wide National Intelligence Estimates and other strategic intelligence assessments. But in the years immediately preceding the Sept. 11 attacks, he was working in jobs not related to terrorism, including a stint outside the C.I.A. from March 2000 to August 2001 as deputy director of the National Imagery and Mapping Agency.

The vast bulk of Mr. Helgerson's report was completed last summer, intelligence officials said, but its completion was delayed while the document was reviewed first by John E. McLaughlin, who became acting intelligence chief after Mr. Tenet's departure, and then Porter J. Goss, who became director of central intelligence in September.

It is not clear what punitive measures, if any, the C.I.A. could take on the basis of the report. Mr. Goss asked Mr. Helgerson last fall to defer any final judgments to a C.I.A. Accountability Review Board, intelligence officials have said, and Mr. Helgerson appears to have accepted that recommendation. Within the C.I.A., such a panel would routinely be led by the agency's No. 3 official, and would have the power to recommend whether individuals should be disciplined for actions they took or failed to take. But such a panel would have a limited ability to reprimand those no longer employed by the C.I.A., current and former intelligence officials say.

A former intelligence official who criticized the findings said that "plenty of fault can be found" with the agency's performance "with the benefit of 20/20 hindsight." But the former official said, "Everyone I knew - analyst, operator, support personnel, seniors and juniors - were working flat out many, many months in advance of the 11 September attacks to stop those and like attacks."

"To round up the good guys and shoot them for doing their jobs - I can't help but shake my head in dismay," the official said.

Among the episodes that the officials said was cited in the report was a 30 percent cut in the budget and personnel of the C.I.A.'s Counterterrorist Center, imposed in the autumn of 1999, not long after Mr. Tenet issued a memorandum saying that the agency was at war on terrorism. In testimony before Congress, Cofer Black, who took charge of the Counterterrorist Center that year, has said the cuts left the center undermanned and underfinanced.

Mr. Black was chief of the Counterterrorist Center at the time of the Sept. 11 attacks, and two intelligence officials said that he was also criticized in the report. Mr. Black recently stepped down as the State Department's coordinator for counterterrorism and is retiring from the C.I.A., administration officials say. Mr. Black has not responded to interview requests.

Mr. Harlow, who worked as Mr. Tenet's spokesman at the C.I.A. and remains a close associate, responded by e-mail to a question about Mr. Tenet's performance.

"Mr. Tenet constantly battled for additional resources," Mr. Harlow wrote. "During an austere budgetary environment, he increased funding for the Agency's Counterterrorist Center by more than 50 percent between FY97 and 2001, and the number of people assigned to that unit increased more than 60 percent during that period."