No punishment at CIA for 9/11 lapses

Director Goss rejects inspector general's proposal of `accountability boards,' discipline


WASHINGTON -- CIA Director Porter J. Goss said yesterday that he would not consider punishing agency officials for failures leading up to the Sept. 11 attacks, rejecting pressure from lawmakers, victims' families and the CIA inspector general to hold those responsible for well-documented breakdowns accountable.

Goss ruled out disciplinary action against former CIA Director George J. Tenet and at least 11 other current and former agency officials who were identified in an internal investigation as being responsible for lapses leading up to the deadly attacks.

To date, no CIA employee has been fired or otherwise punished for Sept. 11-related failures. Goss' decision makes it increasingly unlikely that any U.S. official will be held accountable for what has been called the worst intelligence failure in the nation's history.

A classified 400-page report submitted earlier this year by CIA Inspector General John Helgerson had urged Goss to convene "accountability boards" to weigh the actions of at least a dozen officers and determine whether they deserved to be reprimanded or punished.

Goss was among those who had pushed for the investigation while he was a member of Congress. But since being named CIA director last year, he has resisted the idea of sitting in judgment of his predecessors and risking further damage to agency morale.

"I will not convene an accountability board to judge the performances of any individual CIA officers," Goss said yesterday in a written statement.

He said that about half of the officers named in the inspector general's report had already retired from the agency, and that "those who are still with us are amongst the finest we have.

"Singling out these individuals would send the wrong message to our junior officers about taking risks," said Goss, who added that "in no way does this report suggest that any one person or group of people could have prevented 9/11."

Director of National Intelligence John D. Negroponte issued a separate statement supporting Goss' decision. Negroponte's job overseeing the CIA and the nation's 14 other spy agencies was created as part of a major intelligence overhaul after Sept. 11.

But Goss' decision was questioned by two key lawmakers and was denounced by relatives of victims who died in the attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon four years ago.

Sen. Pat Roberts, a Kansas Republican, chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said he was "concerned to learn of the director's decision to forgo" accountability panels. Roberts said he had spoken with Goss and Negroponte and asked them to appear before the Intelligence Committee later this month "to explore with them this decision and the basis for it."

The ranking Democrat on the panel, Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV of West Virginia, said the CIA had mishandled information that could have been used to disrupt the terrorist attacks.

"Director Goss' announcement leaves me with one troubling question," Rockefeller said. "What failures in performance, if not these, warrant the convening of an accountability board at the CIA?"

Greg Miller writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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