Wow and wow! this week's release of the 2005 report by the CIA’s Inspector General is a damning indictment of senior CIA officials, including George Tenet, his deputy John McLaughlin, and Cofer Black, head of the Counter Terrorism Center, for their collective failure to properly organize intelligence community resources and establish priorities to deal with the threat posed by Al Qaeda prior to 9-11.
And yes, before the trolls get rolling, I acknowledge that I wrote an op-ed in July 2001 complaining about our inordinate fear of terrorism. However, my article did not say we should ignore Al Qaeda or that Al Qaeda was not a threat. To the contrary, Milt Bearden and I wrote a piece in November 2000 that very clearly identified Bin Laden as one of the central threats the next President would have to and should confront. So for those who want to argue that I’m somehow responsible for the CIA failures in 2000-2001, it is not true and it is an irrelevant point.
The real news is that Tenet and McLaughlin failed to translate their tough rhetoric into practical action.
As the report correctly notes, George Tenet declared a war on terrorism in December 1998 and directed that no people or resources in the CIA or the intelligence community would be spared from working on this threat. And what did he do?
He failed to create or to oversee the creation of a comprehensive war plan. He only chaired one inter-agency meeting on this and then put the job in the hands of the Executive Director of the CIA (a predecessor of Dusty Foggo). There was lots of money being spent but no focus or effective management of those resources. He did not intervene to stop bureaucratic turf battles between the CIA and NSA. Nor was giving info to the FBI a priority.
I wrote previously about the CIA’s failure to ensure sharing of information with the FBI. An FBI buddy who worked at the CIA at that time told me (and blogged a couple of paragraphs) that Michael Scheuer was a major obstacle who prevented the FBI from receiving information. Scheuer had the primary mission in CTC of finding Bin Laden. He has labored furiously to blame Bill Clinton for his failure, but declined to take any responsibility for his own shortcomings. My friends at CIA refer to Scheuer as “Charlie Manson” because he surrounded himself with female intelligence analysts (who, by the way, did not speak arabic or have experience with Middle East or Islamic issues).
But Scheuer and his failings is a minor issue. Who was in charge of Michael Scheuer? Cofer Black, the head of the Counter Terrorism Center. And who trotted Scheuer down to the White House without coordinating his briefings within CTC? George Tenet. Scheuer was enabled by his bosses.
Michael Scheuer is not the cause of 9-11 nor responsible for those attacks. Nor am I arguing that he had information that might have prevented the attacks. But, his inexperience and the failure to properly manage him was symptomatic of the problems afflicting the CIA that are discussed in the IG Executive Summary. After you read the report you will understand that fixing the problem — i.e. the failure to share critical intelligence and the failure to make getting Bin Laden a top priority — does not require creating a new bureaucracy like the National Counter Terrorism Center. The problem was a failure of leadership. Leaders with no vision and no urgency to focus attention on a problem they claimed was a vital national threat. Leaders who should have, but did not, establish clear priorities and hold people accountable.
George Tenet took Cofer Black to brief Condi Rice in July 2001 about the growing threat. She brushed them off. She was wrong and culpable. But what did Tenet do? Did he take advantage of his regular morning briefings of the President to warn him that there was a problem? No. Did he go to Texas and personally brief the President on the August 6 article warning that Bin Laden was ready to strike in the United States? No.
The CIA is not solely responsible for the failures to prevent 9-11, but the guys at the top who had the information about the threat and the understanding that something was afoot failed to act. This report helps set the record straight.
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