October 11, 2005 | Commentary on Department of Homeland Security

CIA's Bad Show

October 10, 2005---CIA Director Porter Goss decided last week to not release the CIA Inspector General's report on 9/11 intelligence failures - and also to not convene accountability review boards.

Wrong move.

I've been a staunch Goss supporter since he took over the troubled agency - but not on this one.

The director likely wants to put the 9/11 nightmare behind the CIA to improve morale internally. But the signal - externally, and maybe internally, too - is that a climate of impunity prevails.

To the best of my knowledge, not one single CIA official was fired over the 9/11 failure - or over pre-war Iraqi WMD intelligence, for that matter. Such a lack of accountability - and, even, transparency - for one of America's greatest intelligence failures serves Goss, the CIA and this country badly.

The Inspector General's report fingers former Director George Tenet and 20 other current and former CIA officials for sub-par pre-9/11 performance.

Specifically, the report nailed Tenet for focusing too much on Osama bin Laden - rather than on combating al Qaeda as a whole - in the years before 9/11. (Tenet and others who contest the findings prepared rejoinders for the CIA and Congress' intel committees.)

The Inspector General (IG) report also recommended setting up agency-wide accountability-review boards; last Wednesday, Goss nixed the idea.

Strange. Back in his days in Congress, Goss chaired an intelligence committee that instructed the CIA to look at 9/11 and "determine whether and to what extent personnel at all levels should be held accountable for any omission, commission or failure to meet professional standards."

Goss's decision also befuddled congressional leaders: Pat Roberts (R-Kan.), Senate intelligence committee chairman, and Rep. Jane Harman (D-Calif.), the top Democrat on the House intel committee, both expressed concern. Hill leaders from both parties asked that the report be made public; Goss declined, citing sensitive intelligence sources and methods.

To be fair, it's not hard to see reasons for Goss' position. Indeed, Rep. Peter Hoekstra (R-Mich.), the House Intel Committee chair, countered that 9/11 investigations have found no "smoking gun" or anything that could have stopped it. He insisted Goss, Congress - and everyone else - look forward, concentrating on intelligence reforms, instead.

Goss is in the midst of rebuilding the scandal-scarred CIA. Punitive review boards - four years after 9/11 - are likely to prove highly divisive internally. And to what good effect? Goss believes that "In no way does [the IG's] report suggest that any one person or group of people could have prevented 9/11."

The director may believe that the real problem was the draconian budget and personnel cuts (especially in human, as opposed to technical, spying) that CIA suffered in the Clinton years.

Cynics suggest that Goss is worried about a possible Tenet book contract (with a reported $4 million advance). A scorched-earth, tell-all tome could prove politically embarrassing to Congress (including former intel Chairman Goss) and both the Clinton and Bush administrations over 9/11 and Iraq, too.

Finally, Goss has surely noticed that there has been no public disciplining over 9/11 at the Pentagon, Foggy Bottom or FBI, either. This would certainly make the CIA feel like it was being singled out for 9/11 blame, especially given the huge Justice Department failures here at home.

But nobody is calling for a blood bath - and half the CIA officials implicated in the IG report have already retired, some apparently because they oppose the necessary reforms Goss is making at CIA.

Goss' desire to rebuild the CIA's swashbuckling spirit and élan is on target, especially during wartime, but it mustn't create the perception that poor judgment is acceptable. Genuine accountability for 9/11 mistakes will get everyone's attention on the need for high-quality intel.

At a minimum, the CIA should release some public form of the IG report, declassified/redacted as appropriate. This would eliminate the perception of a CIA coverup - and take a small, but positive, step toward addressing the anger of 9/11 families, who have protested the lack of firm accountability over the attack.

Goss is making progress in reforming Langley, including addressing as many as 20 systemic failures identified in the various post-9/11 investigations. But that doesn't obviate the need for meeting the democratic gold standards of transparency and accountability to the American people.

Peter Brookes is a Heritage Foundation senior fellow. His book, "A Devil's Triangle: Terrorism, WMD and Rogue States," is just out

About the Author

Peter Brookes Senior Fellow, National Security Affairs
Douglas and Sarah Allison Center for Foreign and National Security Policy

First appeared in the New York Post