Thursday 17 May 2007
Washington - A bipartisan group of senators is pushing legislation that would force the CIA to release an inspector general's report on the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
The CIA has spent more than 20 months weighing requests under the Freedom of Information Act for its internal investigation of the attacks but has yet to release any portion of it.
The agency is the only federal office involved in counterterrorism operations that has not made at least a version of its internal 9/11 investigation public.
Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., and two other intelligence committee leaders - chairman Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., and senior Republican Kit Bond of Missouri - are pushing legislation that would require the agency to declassify the executive summary of the review within one month and submit a report to Congress explaining why any material was withheld.
The provision has been approved by the Senate twice, but never made into law.
In an interview, Wyden said he is also considering whether to link the report's release to his acceptance of President Bush's nominations for national security positions.
"It's amazing the efforts the administration is going to stonewall this," Wyden said. "The American people have a right to know what the Central Intelligence Agency was doing in those critical months before 9/11.... I am going to bulldog this until the public gets it."
Completed in June 2005, the inspector general's report examined the personal responsibility of individuals at the CIA before and after the attacks. Other agencies' reviews examined structural problems within their organizations.
Wyden, who has read the classified report several times, wouldn't offer any details on its findings or the conversations he has had with CIA Director Michael Hayden, former CIA Director Porter Goss and former National Intelligence Director John Negroponte.
But he did say that protecting individuals from embarrassment is not a legitimate reason for protecting the report's contents from public review. He also said the decision to classify the report has nothing to do with national security, but rather political security.
Hayden declined to be interviewed about the report. In a statement Thursday, his spokesman Mark Mansfield said the CIA director wants the agency to learn from any past mistakes, but doesn't want to dwell on them.
"Given the formidable national security challenges our nation faces, now and down the road, General Hayden believes it is essential for the Agency to move forward," Mansfield said. "That's where our emphasis needs to be."
The agency's actions prior to Sept. 11 have gotten renewed attention with the release of a memoir by former CIA director George Tenet. He has been criticized for not doing more to warn Bush about the al-Qaida threat.
In interviews about his memoir, he has said instead he worked the bureaucracy beneath the president by asking then-National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice and others for action.
Bond said some intelligence officials have dismissed the inspector general's report as "ancient history," which he doesn't accept. He said the report has additional information which would be useful to the public.
"We have no desire to embarrass or throw cold water on the enthusiasm of the great men and women of the CIA, but let's just take a clear and open look at what the IG found and see if we have all of those problems corrected," Bond said.
In an October 2005 statement Goss said the officers involved in counterterrorism were "stars who had excelled in their areas" singled out by the CIA to take on difficult assignments. "Unfortunately, time and resources were not on their side, despite their best efforts to meet unprecedented challenges," he said.
Goss rejected a recommendation from CIA Inspector General John Helgerson that the agency form accountability review boards to examine any personal culpability. Bond said that move was regrettable.
In his statement, Goss also noted that the agency had received a Freedom of Information Act request for the report, and that a review process was ongoing. But the CIA has not released any documents to The Associated Press or other organizations that began requesting the information at least 20 months ago.
The law requires agencies to respond to requests within 20 days, but officials rarely meet those deadlines and often blame lengthy backlogs.
Groups including the National Security Archive have clashed with the agency over its FOIA policies. Last year, the archive gave the CIA its prize for the agency with the worst FOIA record. Called the "Rosemary Award," it's named after President Nixon's secretary, Rosemary Woods, who erased 18 minutes of a key Watergate conversation on the White House tapes.
The citation noted that CIA's oldest FOIA requests could apply for drivers' licenses in most states. "CIA has for three decades been one of the worst FOIA agencies," archive Director Thomas Blanton said this week.
Many of the individuals highlighted in the inspector general's report are likely to have retired. But some are believed still to be in senior government positions, making the report's findings even more sensitive at the CIA and perhaps elsewhere within the intelligence community.
The AP has reported that the two-year review of what went wrong before the suicide hijackings harshly criticized a number of the agency's most senior officials.
That includes Tenet, former clandestine service chief Jim Pavitt and former counterterrorism center head Cofer Black, according to individuals familiar with the report, who spoke in 2005 on condition they not be identified.
Yet the report also offered some praise for actions of Tenet and others.
Pavitt is now a principal with The Scowcroft Group, an international business advisory firm, and Black is vice chairman of Blackwater USA, an international security firm whose clients include the CIA and other U.S. agencies.