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CIA agents won't be punished for 9/11 errors

Director: Action 'would send wrong message about taking risks'

From David Ensor
CNN

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CIA Director Porter Goss says "risk is a critical part of the intelligence business."

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- CIA Director Porter Goss has decided against punishing agency employees singled out by the CIA inspector general for mistakes that contributed to the failure of U.S. intelligence to stop the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.

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

Goss also suggested he would oppose making public the report by CIA Inspector General John L. Helgerson, contending it would reveal too much about the "sources and methods" of the agency.

Goss said the individuals blamed in the inspector general's report are "amongst the finest we have."

"These officers were 'stars' who had excelled in their areas, so the CIA leadership singled them out to take on some tough assignments," Goss said.

"Unfortunately, time and resources were not on their side, despite their best efforts to meet unprecedented challenges."

Goss added that "risk is a critical part of the intelligence business."

"Singling out these individuals would send the wrong message to our junior officers about taking risks -- whether it be an operation in the field or being assigned to a hot topic at headquarters," he said.

Goss' boss, John Negroponte, director of national intelligence, said in a written statement that he fully supports the CIA director's decision.

CIA insiders say the long-awaited decision is a great relief to intelligence professionals -- both serving and retired. But it is likely to be criticized by families of 9/11 victims, who had pressed for government officials to be held accountable.

Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Pat Roberts of Kansas, a Republican, said in a written statement he is concerned about the decision not to convene the accountability board.

He has invited both Goss and Negroponte to appear before the committee later this month to discuss the basis for the decision.

The committee's ranking Democrat, West Virginia Sen. Jay Rockefeller, urged Goss to release as much of the agency's report as possible. In a written statement, he said U.S. intelligence officials "possessed information that if properly handled could have disrupted the terrorist attacks."

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

But Rep. Pete Hoekstra, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, said he supported Goss' decision.

"With regards to 9/11, the time has come to look forward, not backwards punitively," the Michigan Republican said in a statement.

"Our goal now should be the successful implementation of the intelligence community reforms that grew out of 9/11 and addressing any identified shortcomings," Hoekstra said.

"This committee will continue to pursue these solutions as well as those proposed by the CIA and other community agencies."

Goss said in his statement that the inspector general's report, which followed a two-year review, "unveiled no mysteries."

He said the "20 systemic problems" identified by the report were already "being addressed through a series of reforms."

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