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Report criticizing CIA leaders' efforts on terrorism may stay sealed

WASHINGTON—The CIA's inspector general has completed a report harshly criticizing the performance of the agency's leaders in confronting terrorism before the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, according to current and former U.S. intelligence officials.

The long-delayed report, which has become a lightening rod for controversy over the Bush administration's pre-Sept. 11 performance, is expected to be sent to CIA Director Porter Goss within a few weeks, then to the congressional intelligence committees.

But it's unclear whether the highly classified document will be made public, as relatives of Sept. 11 victims demand. The report by Inspector General John Helgerson was prepared early this year, but its completion was delayed to incorporate comments from those who are taken to task.

According to officials who have read the most recent version, the report is sharply critical of then-CIA chief George Tenet; James Pavitt, his deputy director for operations; Cofer Black, who was the head of the agency's Counter-Terrorism Center; and others for failing to adequately alert policymakers about the terrorist threat and for devoting insufficient resources to countering it.

Tenet, Pavitt and their allies have disputed that.

Bill Harlow, a Tenet spokesman, declined to comment Wednesday because the report isn't final.

Pavitt, a former head of the clandestine service, declined comment on the report's substance in a telephone interview but said it shouldn't be used as an excuse to punish working-level intelligence officers.

"I was the leader. The leader bears the ultimate responsibility," said Pavitt, who retired last year.

Pavitt said he didn't think the agency could have stopped the attacks, but "we did everything humanly possible."

The CIA declined to comment on the report's substance because it involves classified intelligence matters and personnel issues.

"The inspector general's report is not yet final," CIA spokesman Paul Gimigliano said. "As Director Goss told Congress in open session in February, he wants to ensure that those affected by the report have a chance to respond. That is key to a fair process."

Goss "also said that the finished document would be shared with the intelligence committees in Congress," Gimigliano said.

Goss has several options, including doing nothing, rejecting the report's conclusions or convening an accountability board that could reprimand current or former senior officials.

No official in any agency has been reprimanded or punished as a result of the failure to detect and prevent the Sept. 11 plot. Bush awarded Tenet the Presidential Medal of Freedom last December, angering some relatives of those who died in the attacks.

Kristen Breitweiser, whose husband died in the World Trade Center, said Goss promised her last September that the inspector general's report would be made public.

"We've been requesting the release of this report for almost a year now," she said. "All of the facts should be presented to the American people as to why our intelligence agencies failed as regards to 9-11," she said, citing instances in which the CIA failed to share important data with other agencies such as the FBI.

Gimigliano didn't rule out releasing a public version: "The director clearly understands the desire for transparency."

A report by the Justice Department's inspector general, released June 9, said the FBI made numerous mistakes, including missing five chances to intercept two of the hijackers, Nawaf Al-Hazmi and Khalid Al-Mihdhar, as they entered the United States.

Administration officials have sought to blame the lapses on intelligence agencies. Others, including former White House counterterrorism czar Richard Clarke, have said President Bush and his top aides paid little attention to terrorism before Sept. 11, despite warnings of a growing al-Qaida threat.


(c) 2005, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

ARCHIVE PHOTOS on KRT Direct (from KRT Photo Service, 202-383-6099): Porter Goss

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