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Tuesday, August 21, 2007

9/11 systemic breakdown

The top story over at memeorandum is about the release of the IG's 19 page executive summary looking into what went wrong on 9/11.

The PDF can be found here to read for yourself.


Former CIA Director George Tenet did not marshal his agency's resources to respond to the recognized threat posed by al-Qaeda before the Sept. 11 attacks, the agency's inspector general concluded in a long-classified report released today.

The report, which Congress ordered released under a law signed by President Bush this month, also faulted the intelligence community for failing to have "a documented, comprehensive approach" to battling al-Qaeda.

Glimpse of CIA shortfalls:

* U.S. spy agencies, which were overseen by Tenet, lacked a comprehensive strategic plan to counter Osama bin Laden prior to 9/11. The inspector general concluded that Tenet “by virtue of his position, bears ultimate responsibility for the fact that no such strategic plan was ever created.”

* The CIA’s analysis of al-Qaida before Sept. 2001 was lacking. No comprehensive report focusing on bin Laden was written after 1993, and no comprehensive report laying out the threats of 2001 was assembled. “A number of important issues were covered insufficiently or not at all,” the report found.

* The CIA and the National Security Agency tussled over their responsibilities in dealing with al-Qaida well into 2001. Only Tenet’s personal involvement could have led to a timely resolution, the report concluded.

* The CIA station charged with monitoring bin Laden — code-named Alec Station — was overworked, lacked operational experience, expertise and training. The report recommended forming accountability boards for the CIA Counterterror Center chiefs from 1998 to 2001, including Black.

* Although 50 to 60 people read at least one CIA cable about two of the hijackers, the information wasn’t shared with the proper offices and agencies. “That so many individuals failed to act in this case reflects a systemic breakdown.... Basically, there was no coherent, functioning watch-listing program,” the report said. The report again called for further review of Black and his predecessor.

The CIA Director has a statement issued about the release of the IG Executive summary and I must agree with The Corner that it does appear to be defensive:

Earlier this month, Congress passed a bill implementing some of the recommendations of the 9/11 Commission. The legislation, lengthy and complex, includes a provision dealing with the report that CIA’s Office of Inspector General prepared on the performance of our agency prior to September 11th. The act gave me 30 days to make available to the public a version of the report’s executive summary, declassified to the maximum extent possible. Today, well within deadline, I am releasing that material.

While meeting the dictates of the law, I want to make it clear that this declassification was neither my choice nor my preference. Two Directors of National Intelligence have supported the agency’s position against release.

The long, grueling fight against terrorism, which depends in very real part on the quality of our intelligence, demands that we keep our focus on the present and the future. We must draw lessons from our past—and we have—without becoming captive to it. I thought the release of this report would distract officers serving their country on the frontlines of a global conflict. It will, at a minimum, consume time and attention revisiting ground that is already well plowed. I also remain deeply concerned about the chilling effect that may follow publication of the previously classified work, findings, and recommendations of the Office of Inspector General. The important work of that unit depends on candor and confidentiality.

In keeping with the letter and spirit of the law, CIA has in its declassification process removed relatively little from the report’s executive summary. We focused chiefly on the protection of essential sources and methods. I also thought it unnecessary and unwise to permit identification of officers below the level of Center Chief, even if only by title, and those passages have been deleted, as well.

He goes on to explain some background and on one hand I agree, looking back does take attention from looking forward.

Hot Air
makes this point:

Let’s halt at that last one for a sec. It doesn’t jibe with what former Secretary of State Madeline Albright testified before the 9-11 Commission.

Albright told the 9/11 commission the Clinton administration did everything it could to defeat al-Qaeda and would have killed Osama bin Laden if officials had better intelligence.

“President Clinton and his team did everything we could, everything we could think of, based on the knowledge we had, to protect our people and disrupt and defeat al-Qaeda,” Albright said.

Tenet was a part of that team; he was appointed DCI by Clinton himself. But Tenet’s CIA didn’t write up a comprehensive plan to get bin Laden and drafted no comprehensive report on bin Laden. Evidently even such bureaucratic paperpushing wasn’t among the things that Albright et al thought of.

If they didn’t even think to come up with a report on bin Laden, if only to cover themselves later by being able to brandish such a report and say “See, I told you so,” what were they doing?

They didn’t have Central Intelligence analyze the threat. And they didn’t draft a plan for dealing with the threat.

Obviously there was a serious breakdown in communications, which we WERE told about a time ago, but the extent of it was not as clear as it is now with the release of this report.

The most upsetting is that 50-60 people saw a cable referring to two of the 9/11 hijackers and nothing was done. The appropriate people were not notified. As quoted above, there was a systemic breakdown which cost us dearly, but, nothing in the report states definitively that the attacks could have been stopped on the whole.

So, we understand a bit more about what went wrong, and it is time to look forward and see to it those same mistakes are not made again.

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