Report faults decisions by intelligence agencies

Management actions in allocating resources are blamed in Sept. 11

July 18, 2002|By Tom Bowman | Tom Bowman,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON - The nation's spy agencies failed to provide adequate warning of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks due partly to a series of "questionable management decisions" about where to spend money and assign workers, according to a sharply worded congressional report released yesterday.

The Central Intelligence Agency and the National Security Agency must do more to penetrate al-Qaida and other terrorist organizations, said the report by the House Intelligence Subcommittee on Terrorism and Homeland Security.

It was the first congressional report on the subject since the attacks on the Pentagon and the World Trade Center.

The CIA should hire more foreign agents, while the NSA must shift from being a passive listener to a "proactive hunter" of terrorist targets.

At the same time, the FBI was faulted in the report for the reluctance of top officials to share counterintelligence information with other agencies.

"This report contains constructive suggestions for what the intelligence community needs to do to strengthen our country's counterterrorism intelligence capabilities," said Rep. Porter J. Goss, the Florida Republican who chairs the committee and has joined with the Senate committee in an investigation into why America had no advance warning of the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

The FBI had no immediate comment on the report, while the CIA and NSA said they were making progress in dealing with the terrorist threat. Though funding for counterterrorism has sharply increased, both intelligence agencies said they face budget constraints in pursuing terrorists and spies.

The intelligence community, with an annual budget in excess of $30 billion, is expected to receive billions of dollars more in the coming years. The CIA has an estimated work force of 19,000 and the NSA is believed to have 25,000 employees at Fort Meade, although precise figures are classified.

While the report repeated long-standing criticisms that the agencies must hire more linguists and analysts to fight terrorism, the report broke ground by focusing on management decisions it said were key factors in the agencies' inability to sound the alarm before Sept. 11.

The CIA's human intelligence - such as that gathered by foreign spies in the agency's employ - steadily eroded in the early to mid-1990s because the CIA perceived a reduced terrorist threat, the report said.

It said the NSA had failed to find a way to closely follow a target who switches from a land-line phone to a cell phone or an Internet address.

A senior intelligence official, who requested anonymity, said the CIA had yet to completely review the 100-page classified report. A declassified, 10-page summary was publicly released.

But the intelligence official defended the agency's efforts on counterterrorism. Beginning in 1997, Director George J. Tenet beefed up the agency's efforts against terrorism with new employees and more focused analysis. Counterterrorism funding grew by 50 percent between 1997 and 2001, while the number of case officers - those who recruit foreign spies - rose by the same percentage.

The official laid part of the agency's difficulty at the feet of Congress and the White House: "We certainly ask the administration and Congress to reverse the trend of increasing intelligence funding after terrorist attacks and then dropping back to former inadequate levels after the smoke clears."

Robert Baer, a CIA officer for 21 years who left in 1997 and wrote about his experiences in the recent book See No Evil, said the committee's criticisms jibe with his own. Too much money was spent on CIA headquarters staff, he said, and not enough on the critical and often risky intelligence work overseas.

The committee report "is right on the mark," he said.

NSA released a statement saying it is dedicated to meeting technological challenges and ensuring that it has the right skills mix in its work force. The statement also said that since the end of the Cold War, "NSA is one-third smaller in population and has one-third fewer resources at its disposal."

John Pike, an intelligence analyst with, said that many of the criticisms were not new, and some of them amount to "Monday morning quarterbacking" by Congress.

Still, Pike said he was intrigued that the committee is calling for NSA to become a hunter rather than a passive listener. He said that might mean the agency will be encouraged to start "placing more bugs" around the world through its Special Collection Service, a joint program it runs with CIA that operates out of a secret office building in Beltsville.

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