Two years ago, the CIA sent to Congress a report of several hundred pages done by its inspector general detailing the agency’s errors and missteps leading up to 9/11. The CIA fought strenuously against its release. Based on a heavily edited 19-page summary, it’s easy to see why.
Much of the summary spells out what was previously known or guessed at, and it did find that there was no “single point of failure” that allowed 9/11 to happen or “silver bullet” that would have prevented it.
Instead, it’s a recitation of an organizational lack of focus and simple presence of mind caused by budget and personnel problems, bureaucratic inertia and, reading behind the lines, what seems a risk-averse institutional culture.
And there was a stunning lack of interagency cooperation. Some 50 to 60 CIA officers saw cables relating to two of the future hijackers, that the pair may be trying to enter the United States or were already here, but somehow the State Department and the FBI were never notified.
It wasn’t always the CIA’s fault. The summary says the National Security Agency refused to let the CIA see raw intercepts of al Qaeda communications. The NSA relented and finally let a single CIA officer review the transcripts, but only for a brief period. You have to ask: What were these people thinking?
The inspector general found that then-CIA Director George Tenet “bears ultimate failure” for devising a strategy to meet what was clearly perceived as a threat at the time and recommended a board of inquiry to hold Tenet and his top deputies accountable.
Tenet, who appointed the inspector general, an agency veteran, called his conclusions flat wrong and Tenet’s successor, Michael Hayden, declined to pursue holding individuals responsible. Hayden fears release of the summary will be a distraction to the agency.
In fact, at a remove next month of six years, the 9/11 post-mortems fall into the category of history. But what would be truly helpful are solid reassurances from the leaders of the U.S. intelligence agencies that these problems had been addressed and solved.