WASHINGTON—CIA director Porter Goss said Wednesday that he will not discipline current and former top agency officials for alleged missteps before the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
Goss rejected the recommendation of a recently completed and highly classified report by the CIA's inspector general, which harshly criticizes the performance of top agency officials before Sept. 11.
"After great consideration of this report and its conclusions, I will not convene an accountability board to judge the performances of any individual CIA officers," Goss said in a statement.
"Risk is a critical part of the intelligence business. Singling out these individuals would send the wrong message to our junior officers about taking risks," he said.
Goss added that 20 "systemic problems" at the agency identified in the report are being addressed.
The CIA chief also suggested he would fight to keep the report classified, despite demands from Congress and elsewhere that parts be made public.
Goss' decision surprised and angered families of victims of the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon who have bitterly complained that no one has been held accountable for the failure to stop the al-Qaida terrorist network.
Kristen Breitweiser, whose husband died in the World Trade Center, called Goss' decision "reprehensible" and said she will urge the CIA chief to reconsider.
"I frankly don't see what the downside of accountability is," Breitweiser said. "I'd like to know in the future lives will be saved."
No official in any federal agency has been disciplined or reprimanded for the failure to detect and prevent the Sept. 11 attacks.
The decision is a vindication of sorts for Goss' predecessor, George Tenet, and his team. They have said that they made terrorism a priority but argue that the intelligence community's abilities were hampered by budget and personnel cuts approved in Congress.
A Tenet spokesman said he would have no comment.
Officials who have read portions of the report said it is sharply critical of Tenet, James Pavitt, former head of the CIA's clandestine service, and Cofer Black, who was head of the agency's Counterterrorist Center, among others, for not doing more to prevent terrorist attacks in the United States.
CIA inspector general John Helgerson completed a first draft of the report in early 2005, but its completion was delayed for months to give those who were criticized a chance to respond.
On Capitol Hill, reaction was mixed.
"I'm fine with him not convening accountability boards," Rep. Peter Hoekstra, R-Mich., chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, said in a telephone interview.
Hoekstra said that numerous investigations have not found any "smoking gun" or anything that could have prevented Sept. 11. Goss and the country should be focused on future intelligence reforms, he said.
But Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D.-W.Va., ranking Democrat on the Senate intelligence committee, said previous inquiries have found that terrorist information was not shared among agencies or acted upon at critical points leading up to Sept. 11.
"Director Goss' announcement leaves me with one troubling question: What failures in performance, if not these, warrant the convening of an accountability board at the CIA?" Rockefeller said in a statement.
Goss also suggested that he will seek to keep the report under wraps. But he noted that the agency already has received a Freedom of Information Act request for the report.
Hoekstra and his Democratic counterpart on the House panel, Rep. Jane Harman of California, wrote Goss on Sept. 6 requesting that he release an unclassified version of the report.
(c) 2005, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.
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