Report: FBI, CIA need overhaul
'Real gaps in performance' says lawmaker
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The devastating terrorist attacks of September 11 underscore the need for major changes in the nation's three main intelligence-gathering agencies, according to a summary of a critical congressional report.
While the summary, released Wednesday, does not conclude that last year's attacks could have been prevented, it does fault the CIA for failing to act on information that "proved to be directly relevant to 9/11" and said counterterrorism gaps existed before then.
The report said the terror attacks "constituted significant strategic surprise for the United States." But a senior intelligence official told CNN that is "not true," in that U.S. intelligence had repeatedly warned Congress, the public and the news media that al Qaeda was looking for ways to attack the United States.
What U.S. intelligence did not have, this official said, was the specific tactical information about when, where and who -- the kind of information only a spy in Osama bin Laden's inner circle may have provided.
The summary also faults intelligence agencies -- the CIA, the FBI and the National Security Agency -- for not devising a cooperative counterterrorism mission with a single definition of terrorism. It also calls for a crackdown on leaks, saying they have done "major damage" to the intelligence community.
"The failure of the intelligence community to provide adequate forewarning was affected by resource constraints and a series of questionable management decisions related to funding priorities," the summary said.
Lawmakers said the goal of the report was not to engage in a "blame game," but to improve information gathering and cooperation between the various agencies, and have them move to a more aggressive posture in combating terrorism.
"If we don't change the mindset within each of our intelligence agencies, it does not make any difference how much in resources we commit to those agencies, we are still going to have the same problems there, and the problems are not going to be solved," said Rep. Saxby Chambliss, R-Georgia, chairman of the House Subcommittee on Terrorism and Homeland Security.
The summary stems from classified congressional hearings investigating possible intelligence lapses that may have contributed to the attacks.
The report concludes that the three agencies share at least one common weakness -- a shortage of linguists skilled in languages used by suspected terrorists.
The CIA was faulted for lacking cutting-edge technology, a solid system for disseminating actionable information that should be shared, enough skilled linguists and good career paths.
"The CIA needs to institutionalize its sharp reorientation toward going on the offensive against terrorism," the summary said.
Chambliss added that at an off-site gathering of CIA operatives in September 1988, it was recognized that failure to improve operations in the intelligence community "likely will result in a systemic intelligence failure."
The report soundly criticizes the FBI for its failure to share information because of outdated technology and for its shortcomings in intelligence-gathering.
"The systemic problem within the FBI that happened before September 11, they couldn't share the information because their software was so outmoded, so outdated," the congressman said.
Chambliss referred to the July 2001 memo from the FBI's Phoenix office urging headquarters to investigate Middle Eastern men who were students in U.S. flight schools. That memo was not passed to the right people or acted upon.
"Had that information been shared with other agencies ... who knows what may have happened?" Chambliss said.
The FBI's operations were too decentralized, the report said.
Most of the information at the security agency is classified, noted Rep. Jane Harman, D-California. But she said the study found that because groups like al Qaeda use the Internet, cell phones and other digital technology, the NSA must upgrade its technology to match -- and the system must be integrated.
"This requires a digital management system of the highest caliber," Harman said. The agency also must shift from being a "passive" gatherer of information to being more aggressive, she said.
The speaker of the House created the subcommittee more than a year ago to assess threats against the United States and make the public aware of the potential of terrorism, Chambliss said.
After last year's attacks, the panel was asked to investigate "the intelligence deficiencies that allowed September 11 to happen," he said. The full report, which is more than 100 pages and has not been made public, was approved by the full Intelligence Committee and given to the House leadership.
Some of the subcommittee's recommendations will be proposed for funding in the 2003 budget, while others will make their way into homeland security legislation or evolve into regulations at the agencies.
Despite the shortcomings of the intelligence agencies, Chambliss said, no one can say for sure that the attacks could have been prevented.
"If we could stand up here today and tell you that looking back with 20-20 hindsight, knowing all the facts that we know today -- after the fact -- that if our intelligence community had done some things differently from what they did that we could have kept September 11 from happening, it would be one thing, but we can't tell you that," he said.
"Even knowing all we know today, this was such a closely held, compartmentalized act of devastation that was carried out by the terrorist community, we don't know of any way it could have been prevented."
Harman said the CIA has largely ignored a post-September 11 law that requires the agency to end its policy of not recruiting a known lawbreaker or civil rights violator.
"We have to change the guidelines that we use to recruit those spies," Harman said. "In fact the CIA is required by law to change those guidelines and hasn't."
"What we found was some successes, lots of good people, but real gaps in performance," said Harman.
"Things like inadequate use of modern technology, inadequate language skills, inadequate recruitment of human spies to penetrate these very tough targets like al Qaeda, inadequate focus on counter-terrorism. These are big deals, and they need to be fixed now if we want to prevent another 9/11."
The guidelines against the United States using people with criminal backgrounds as sources were implemented following allegations made in the 1990s that several CIA agents in Guatemala ordered or took part in human rights abuses.
In an interview with CNN, Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Alabama, the leading Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee, agreed those guidelines should be dropped, but said the CIA has been making some progress.
Shelby refused to say what the difference was between pre-1995 policy and the current recruiting system.
"I do believe it's a lot more flexible, but it ought to be done and done right," Shelby said. "Often times we have to dig down and deal with terrorists or would-be terrorists, someone probably as bad as these people."
The senior intelligence official interviewed by CNN rejected the suggestion in the report that U.S. intelligence was not trying to deal with inadequacies "brought about by years of inadequate budgets and lack of political support."
"We were working hard on the problems and aggressively seeking the necessary funding" from early 1998 on, he said. He said that counterterrorism funding was increased by 50 percent between fiscal 1997 and 2000, with a doubling in the number of CIA case officers trained.
-- CNN National Security Correspondent and CNN.com political editor Sean Loughlin contributed to this report.
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