- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 15, 2004

CIA Director George J. Tenet yesterday said it will take five more years before U.S. intelligence agencies are in good shape, but members of the commission investigating the September 11 attacks said they may force a midcourse correction.

“It will take us another five years of work to have the kind of clandestine service our country needs,” Mr. Tenet told the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States. “There is a creative, innovative strategy to get us there that requires sustained commitment, leadership and funding.”

He said the services suffered years of neglect following the end of the Cold War through the mid-1990s and have since begun a rebuilding program across all agencies, including intelligence analysis, imaging intelligence, and the National Security Agency.

Commission members, during a second straight day of testimony from FBI, CIA and other intelligence officials, said they believe they will make broad recommendations to fundamentally change the relationships between the various agencies and bureaus that play a part in intelligence gathering.

“There is a train coming down the track. There are going to be very real changes made,” said Commissioner John F. Lehman, a former secretary of the Navy.

He and other commissioners used the appearances by Mr. Tenet and FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III yesterday to bounce around their reform ideas.

Mr. Lehman peppered both men with questions about whether it would be better to create a director of central intelligence with the power to hire and fire directors of the CIA, the National Security Agency and other intelligence bureaus, and the power to propose budgets for intelligence operations.

Other commissioners mulled whether to separate the job of domestic intelligence collection from the FBI — something opposed by both Mr. Tenet and Mr. Mueller, who called that “a grave mistake.”

“Splitting the law enforcement and the intelligence functions would leave both agencies fighting the war on terrorism with one hand tied behind their backs,” Mr. Mueller said.

Both Mr. Mueller and Mr. Tenet told the commission they have made giant strides to change both their agencies’ structures and culture, something the commission acknowledged.

But Commission Chairman Thomas H. Kean said the panel will have to decide in the end whether the status quo, including those changes, is good enough, or whether the problem is inherent in the way intelligence gathering and analysis is divided among U.S. agencies.

“I think it’s too early to judge that,” he told reporters after the hearings.

He and commission Vice Chairman Lee H. Hamilton said they were taken aback by Mr. Tenet’s prediction it would take five more years to get the intelligence agencies in shape, though they said they accept his time estimate.

“I was personally kind of discouraged with that statement,” Mr. Hamilton said. “This is not a new problem. We’ve been talking about the difficulty of developing human intelligence for 10 or 15 years.”

The commission’s staff released a report detailing indications the intelligence community had about the impending attacks, but the report said no broader examination was ever done.

In one example, the staff report said that the CIA learned that Zacarias Moussaoui, who has been charged as part of the September 11 plot, had taken flying lessons: “In late August, the Moussaoui arrest was briefed to the DCI [Director of Central Intelligence] and other top CIA officials under the heading, ‘Islamic extremist learns to fly.’ The news had no evident effect on warning.”

One structural issue commissioners are likely to focus on is the lack of sharing among the intelligence agencies.

They were particularly surprised that then-acting FBI Director Thomas J. Pickard never saw the presidential daily brief from Aug. 6, 2001, which was declassified and released on Saturday, that laid out what the CIA knew of Osama bin Laden’s desire to attack the United States.

And Commissioner Timothy Roemer, a former member of Congress, seemed incredulous that Mr. Tenet never briefed President Bush on the activities of Moussaoui that month. Mr. Tenet said he learned about Moussaoui on Aug. 23 or 24, but he just didn’t have much contact with the president that August.

The staff report also said despite those and a series of other red flags, the CIA never produced an overall summary of bin Laden’s links to terrorist attacks, including supplying Somalis with the technology and training to shoot down U.S. Black Hawk helicopters in 1993. The report said the intelligence community didn’t recognize al Qaeda as an organization until 1999, more than a decade after it formed, and said that as late as 1997 bin Laden was considered merely a “financier of terrorism,” rather than the head of his own terrorist army.

“I think if the president of the United States of America had come and said that Osama bin Laden, al Qaeda is responsible for shooting down a Black Hawk helicopter in Mogadishu in 1993, I believe that that speech would have galvanized the United States of America against bin Laden,” said Commissioner Bob Kerrey, a former Democratic senator from Nebraska.

Mr. Tenet said he would have to check to see whether he ever made that connection for President Clinton, but he objected to many of the characterizations in the report.

“When the staff statement says the DCI had no strategic plan to manage the war on terrorism, that’s flat wrong,” he said. “When the staff statement says I had no program, strategic direction in place to integrate, correlate data and move data across the community, that’s wrong.”

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