- The Washington Times - Friday, January 24, 2003

U.S. intelligence agencies failed to stop the September 11 terrorist attacks despite the best efforts of analysts and spies to uncover the al Qaeda plot, the head of the CIA's espionage branch said yesterday.

"I know better than anyone else the great efforts that were made at CIA before 9/11 against a very secretive and disciplined enemy," James L. Pavitt, CIA deputy director for operations, said in a speech.

"But the fact is, despite everything we did, we and the rest of our government were unable to uncover the tactical information the who, where, how, and when that might have given us a clearer picture of this deadly conspiracy."

Mr. Pavitt quoted President Eisenhower who said in 1959 that "success cannot be advertised" and "failure cannot be explained."

"In large part, that remains valid today," he said during a rare public appearance before the American Bar Association.

Mr. Pavitt said CIA officers "went on the offensive" against al Qaeda terrorists in the months before the attacks, and that intelligence agencies should not be blamed for the failure to stop Osama bin Laden and his Islamic terrorists.

"It was not, as some have suggested, a simple matter of connecting dots," Mr. Pavitt said, noting that "certain things" could have been done better.

"The primary cause of the attacks was not a memo ignored, a message untranslated, or a name left off a watch list," he said. "Their primary cause was a man named Osama Bin Laden and a group named al Qaeda."

Mr. Pavitt said the first Americans on the ground in Afghanistan after September 11 were CIA officers with local-language skills and local contacts.

The CIA did not "forget" Afghanistan after the agency's covert-action program to arm anti-Soviet rebels during the 1980s, Mr. Pavitt said.

"You simply cannot create overnight the combination of assets the talent, the sources that went into the highest possible gear in defense of American after September 11," he said.

The comments reflect efforts by the CIA and other intelligence agencies to avoid blame for not uncovering the attack plot. The CIA has come under criticism from some in Congress for September 11-related intelligence failures.

Mr. Pavitt also sought to dispel criticism that the CIA was relying too heavily on foreign intelligence service and not enough on developing its own human spies.

"Fundamentally, for the spies we run, the secrets we steal, and the insights we develop about the world be it pinpoint events like a terrorist plan or the broader, deeper currents that lie behind them we rely first and foremost on ourselves and our skills as intelligence professionals," he said, in reference to the CIA espionage branch.

Sen. Richard C. Shelby, Alabama Republican, a member of a joint congressional panel inquiring into the intelligence failures, said the CIA had no presence in Afghanistan before September 11 even though bin Laden had been operating there.

"CIA officials have publicly boasted that they had operatives in Afghanistan before September 11," Mr. Shelby said in a staff report made public as part of the inquiry. "But careful observers should not confuse the periodic infiltration of operatives [who held] brief liaison meetings with friendly warlords for a real [human intelligence] or paramilitary presence."

Mr. Shelby said that such CIA boasting was "unfounded braggadocio." The key feature of CIA counterterrorism operations for years before September 11 was "our lack of [human intelligence] penetration of [the al Qaeda] organization, especially its central operations."

Mr. Pavitt also challenged critics who say agency spies are reluctant to take diffcult jobs and work in dangerous areas.

"I want to be very clear: We have plenty of our people posted wherever our mission takes us," he said. "The personal risks are enormous; the intelligence gains significant. Those who fear a risk-averse directorate of operations simply do not know what we are about."

He called on former CIA officers critical of the agency to return to work.

CIA spies are providing more reports on difficult espionage targets, he said, noting that the agency is hiring more recruits.

The latest graduates of CIA clandestine service training include those with business administration and doctorate degrees, as well as several attorneys and those who speak Arabic and Korean, he said.

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