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CIA Releases Pre-Attacks Performance Report

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

And I'm Robert Siegel.

Today, the CIA released the findings of a long-classified internal report on its performance in the run-up to 9/11. It judges that there was no silver bullet that might have prevented the attacks, but it finds serious fault with the CIA's leadership, starting with then-Director George Tenet. The report says Tenet never produced a comprehensive plan to fight terrorism. Tenet disputes that and he's put out a statement calling that judgment flat wrong.

Here with us now is NPR intelligence correspondent Mary Louise Kelly. And Mary Louise, let's start with who wrote this report and a bit more detail on what they found.

MARY LOUISE KELLY: The author of this report is actually the CIA's own watchdog, the Inspector General John Helgerson. And he finished it two years ago. It's been classified until today. And what they've done is release the 19-page summary of the findings.

Now what distinguishes this one, because, of course, as we know, there've been a number of investigations into 9/11. This one focuses only on the CIA. And within that, it only focuses on who should bear responsibility for that intelligence failure.

I had one retired CIA official described this to me as the report to judge whose head should roll. And that's the way it's being seen inside the agency. And it's a bruising account. It starts, as you mentioned, at the top, with George Tenet. It says that he bears ultimate responsibility for the failure to produce a strategic plan to fight al-Qaida. It goes into some detail about things that have been documented, but more detailed about how he couldn't get the different agencies to work together - the FBI not communicating with the CIA, the CIA not being able to get the intelligence that the National Security Agency was gathering.

It says only Tenet had the responsibility and the authority of sorting that out. And it also levels criticism at some of the people just underneath him: the head of the Clandestine Service, the then-head of the Counterterrorism Center, all of whom, I should note, have since left the agency.

SIEGEL: So those heads can't roll because they've all rolled already.

KELLY: They're gone.

SIEGEL: I gathered George Tenet disputes this account.

KELLY: Very much so. He has always defended his record at the agency. He did so, again, today. He criticizes the author of the report for, he says, not bothering to interview him. And he says that there was in fact a robust plan in place to fight al-Qaida. And because of that plan, the CIA was able, for example, to move very quickly after 9/11 to go in to Afghanistan, start to fight al-Qaida and the Taliban there.

SIEGEL: Let's move on to recommendations of this report. I gather they recommend an accountability board.

KELLY: They do. It doesn't look like that's going to happen. When the report was finished two years ago, it was handed to the then-director of the CIA -that was Porter Goss. He said didn't think that was a good idea, that it would send a bad signal to CIA officers about taking risks. And today, we had a statement from the now-head of the CIA - that's Michael Hayden. He says he agrees with that decision, defends it, says that the officials who were cited in this are among the CIA's finest. And he also pointed out that the report -while finding lots of places where the CIA and its leaders could have done better - did not actually find any evidence of misconduct.

SIEGEL: So the idea of actually holding individuals accountable, disciplining them for - that's not going to be implemented. Why release a report that was written two years ago and whose recommendations are not going to be accepted.

KELLY: Well, because they were forced to. We have had, for - in Congress, a couple of senators on the Intelligence Committee, in particular, very actively lobbying to get this report released. To force the CIA's hands, they put a bill in place earlier this month what will force the CIA to declassify at least the summary. And so that's what General Hayden has done today.

SIEGEL: Mary Louise, thank you very much.

KELLY: You're welcome.

SIEGEL: That's NPR's Mary Louise Kelly. And you can find the full executive summary of the CIA's 9/11 report at our Web site, npr.org. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Mary Louise Kelly is a co-host of All Things Considered, NPR's award-winning afternoon newsmagazine.
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