- The Washington Times - Friday, October 18, 2002

CIA Director George Tenet told Congress yesterday that U.S. intelligence agencies failed to stop the September 11 attacks but insisted it is not possible to expect 100 percent success in fighting terrorism.

"We made mistakes," Mr. Tenet said in a prepared statement before a joint House-Senate committee investigating the intelligence failures of September 11.

It was the first time Mr. Tenet acknowledged that intelligence agencies failed to predict and stop the deadly terrorist attacks on the Pentagon and World Trade Center that killed some 3,000 people.

During six hours of testimony along with FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III and National Security Agency (NSA) Director Lt. Gen. Michael Hayden, Mr. Tenet defended U.S. intelligence agencies.

"We need to be honest about the fact that our homeland is very difficult to protect," Mr. Tenet said. "For strategic warning to be effective, there must be a dedicated program to address the vulnerabilities of our free and open society."

He sought to deflect criticism of past lapses by focusing on limited CIA successes in the past, and on current efforts to support the war on terrorism.

Mr. Tenet called for a "national integrated strategy" against terrorism aimed at planting agents or electronic spies inside groups.

"It is also clear that when errors occur, when we miss information or opportunities, it is because our sharing and our fusion are not as strong as they need to be."

On the September 11 plot, Mr. Tenet said U.S. intelligence agencies "never acquired the level of detail that allowed us to translate our strategic concerns into something that we could act on."

Gen. Hayden, in rare public testimony, criticized leaks of electronic intelligence to the press, and said Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda leaders "changed their communications processes following 1998 press reports of NSA intercepts."

As for NSA reporting prior to September 11, "sadly, NSA had no [signals intelligence] suggesting that al Qaeda was specifically targeting New York and Washington, or even that it was specifically planning an attack on U.S. soil."

"Indeed, NSA had no signals intelligence knowledge before September 11 that any of the attackers were in the United States."

Gen. Hayden also said the NSA failed to share intelligence on two September 11 hijackers with other intelligence agencies.

"In this case, we did not disseminate information we received in early 1999 that was unexceptional in its content, except that it associated the name of Nawaf Alhazmi with al Qaeda."

He also confirmed that NSA had gathered intercepts hours before the attack but did not disseminate them until Sept. 12.

Both Mr. Tenet and Mr. Mueller said under questioning from Sen. Carl Levin, Michigan Democrat, that no one in either the CIA or FBI has been "held accountable" for failures related to September 11.

The testimony marked the end of public hearings from the joint committee, which found that U.S. intelligence agencies missed numerous signs that al Qaeda was set to conduct attacks inside the United States, including the use of aircraft as weapons.

Poor information sharing and bureaucratic and legal restrictions also hampered intelligence efforts.

Yesterday's testimony was in contrast to Mr. Tenet's testimony before the Senate in February, when he said there were no intelligence failures and he defined failure as a lack of focus by intelligence officials.

Mr. Tenet said the agency failed to place the names of two of the al Qaeda hijackers on a watch list in early 2000. The two men, Khalid Almidhar and Alhazmi, had been identified in a meeting of al Qaeda terrorists in Malaysia. They were among the terrorists who hijacked the airliner that crashed into the Pentagon.

"The error exposed weaknesses in our internal handling of watch listing, which have been addressed," said Mr. Tenet said, who blamed budget cuts and personnel cutbacks for the CIA's failures.

Earlier, Eleanor Hill, the joint inquiry staff director, told the hearing U.S. intelligence agencies could have stopped the September 11 attacks if intelligence agencies were able to put together the various pieces of information about an impending attack.

"No one will ever know whether more extensive analytic efforts, fuller and more timely information sharing or a greater focus on the connection between these events would have led to the unraveling of the September 11 plot," she said. "But it is at least a possibility that increased analysis, sharing and focus would have drawn greater attention to the growing potential for a major terrorist attack in the United States involving the aviation industry."

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