Mistakes and missed opportunities by the Central Intelligence Agency failed to follow up on the growing threat of al Qaeda and left America open to attack on September 11, 2001, an investigation within the CIA concludes.
The damning report condemns former CIA director George Tenet for abandoning his own declared war on the terrorist organization and diverting agency resources away from the effort to prevent an attack on American soil.
The report lays much of the blame for American vulnerability to the attacks directly on Tenet.
Former CIA chief George Tenet failed to follow through on his 1998 declaration of war against al Qaeda and the agency diverted counterterrorism money for other uses in the years before the September 11 attacks, according to an agency report released on Tuesday.
A summary of the 2005 report by the CIA inspector general was declassified under protest by agency Director Michael Hayden in response to a law passed by Congress earlier this month.
The report said top CIA officers “did not discharge their responsibilities in a satisfactory manner” and it described a “systemic breakdown” in a watch list for tracking terrorism suspects who seek to enter the United States.
“It’s really pointing the finger at the CIA’s executives,” including Tenet, said Barbara Elias of the National Security Archive, which collects and publishes declassified documents.
The report recommended that the agency consider disciplining Tenet and other officials. But Hayden rejected that recommendation, endorsing a 2005 decision by his predecessor as CIA chief, Porter Goss.
“There was never a question of misconduct,” Hayden said.
Although the officials had been unable despite their best efforts to prevent the September 11, 2001 attacks, “they have prevented other acts of terrorism, and they have saved innocent lives, in our country and overseas,” he said on the CIA Web site.
Tenet, who was awarded the country’s highest civilian honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, by President George W. Bush in 2004, called the report’s findings “flat wrong.”
The report said that in December 1998 Tenet signed a declaration saying “we are at war” and he directed that “no resources or people” be spared to contain al Qaeda and its leader, Osama bin Laden.
The declaration was issued four months after al Qaeda-linked bombings at U.S. embassies in Tanzania and Kenya.
However, the report said, the CIA focused too narrowly on tactics and never developed a broad strategy against al Qaeda before the September 11 attacks. Tenet, it said, “bears ultimate responsibility for the fact that no such strategic plan was ever created.”
Tenet and others persuaded Congress to increase counterterrorism spending, but officials were not effectively using the money they had, the report said.
Managers moved money from counterterrorism programs to “other agency priorities,” some of which had no connection to fighting terrorism, it said.
The report cited difficulties in working with the FBI and the National Security Agency, and in maintaining the suspected-terrorist watch list. Two of the September 11 hijackers were put on the list in August 2001, more than a year after their U.S. travel plans attracted attention.
Other probes into September 11 intelligence lapses have yielded similar findings. This one was ordered by Congress to study personal accountability for successes or failures within the CIA.
Tenet resigned as CIA director in 2004 after serving for seven years. “Before 9/11 no agency did more to attack al Qaeda than the CIA,” he said in a statement Tuesday.