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Panel Faults CIA's Spying

The GOP-led House Intelligence Committee scolds the agency's clandestine unit, citing a 'dysfunctional denial' of the need to take action.

June 24, 2004|Bob Drogin and Greg Miller | Times Staff Writers

WASHINGTON — The CIA has ignored its core mission of spying, has refused to take corrective action and is heading "over a proverbial cliff" after years of poor planning and mismanagement, the Republican-led House Intelligence Committee has concluded in the latest congressional broadside aimed at America's premier intelligence agency.

A report that accompanies the committee's proposed intelligence authorization bill, which was approved by the full House in a 360-61 vote Wednesday night, paints a devastating picture of the CIA division that sends clandestine agents overseas, recruits foreign spies, steals secrets and provides covert commandos for the war on terrorism.

In a strongly worded response to the committee's chairman, Rep. Porter J. Goss (R-Fla.), outgoing CIA Director George J. Tenet staunchly defended the agency's performance. He denounced some of the committee's criticism as "ill informed" and "frankly absurd."

Recent investigations into the CIA's failures on Sept. 11 and in prewar reports on Iraq chiefly have blamed agency analysts, who assess classified information from satellite photos, stolen documents and other intelligence. However, the House committee warned in its majority report that the CIA's problems were broader and in some respects had worsened in recent years.

A Senate report expected next month also was expected to strongly criticize the agency as well as address allegations of links between prewar Iraq and Al Qaeda.

"All is not well in the world of clandestine human intelligence collection," House Intelligence Committee Republicans said in the majority report accompanying the funding measure. "For too long, the CIA has been ignoring its core mission activities. There is a dysfunctional denial of any need for corrective action."

The CIA "continues down a road leading over a proverbial cliff," the committee warned. "The damage to the [human intelligence] mission through its misallocation and redirection of resources, poor prioritization of objectives, micromanagement of field operations, and a continued political aversion to operational risk is, in the committee's judgment, significant and could be long lasting."

The committee's harsh language, representing the position of the House, is notable because CIA officials and the Bush administration previously have blamed problems at the spy service on budget and staffing cuts imposed by the Clinton administration after the Cold War. President Bush has given no indication that he is dissatisfied with the CIA's performance.

But Republicans on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence blamed "continued CIA mismanagement," as well as decade-old cuts, for the problems. Goss, the outgoing chairman, is a former CIA clandestine officer and has generally supported the CIA in the past.

If the CIA "continues to equate criticism" from Congress and others "as commentary unworthy even of consideration ... they do so at their peril," the committee added. The operations directorate, as the agency's clandestine division is known, "will become nothing more than a stilted bureaucracy incapable of even the slightest bit of success."

Fighting terrorism needs to stay a CIA priority, but the agency must become "much more than just the Central Counterterrorism Agency," the committee said. It also complained that Tenet, who has headed the CIA for seven years, recently said he needed another five years to rebuild America's clandestine service.

"This is tragic," the committee wrote.

Democrats, who said they were surprised by the harsh language in the report, said Goss could be asserting his independence from the CIA in a bid to replace Tenet, who is stepping down July 11 as CIA director and nominal head of America's 14 other intelligence agencies. James L. Pavitt, who has headed the CIA operations directorate for five years, also announced that he was quitting.

In a two-page letter to Goss on Wednesday night, Tenet said he was "deeply disappointed" at the criticism of the clandestine service.

"I find it hard to accept that any serious observer would believe

Tenet said "dysfunctional organizations" did not perform as the CIA did in Afghanistan and Iraq. He cited the CIA's role in exposing a nuclear proliferation network run from Pakistan, and in capturing more than two-thirds of Al Qaeda's leadership. "To suggest that the organization that was key to all these victories" is on the verge of being incapable of success "is frankly absurd," he added.

The House committee critique comes after the independent commission investigating the Sept. 11 attacks sharply faulted CIA leaders, including Tenet, for failing to mobilize the broader intelligence community against Al Qaeda and for failing to share information with the FBI and other agencies that might have led to detection of the 2001 terrorist attacks.

The House report is one of several assessments of the CIA in progress. There also are internal agency inquiries and other congressional investigations.

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