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CIA Plans No Discipline Over 9/11

Director Goss rules out punishing current and former agency officials whom an investigation blamed for lapses.

October 06, 2005|Greg Miller | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — CIA Director Porter J. Goss said Wednesday that he would not consider punishing agency officials for failures leading up to the Sept. 11 attacks -- rejecting pressure from lawmakers, victims' families and the CIA inspector general to hold accountable those responsible for well-documented breakdowns.

Goss ruled out disciplinary action against former CIA Director George J. Tenet and at least 11 other current and former agency officials who were identified in an internal investigation as being responsible for lapses leading up to the deadly attacks.

No CIA employee has been fired or otherwise punished for Sept. 11-related failures. Goss' decision makes it increasingly unlikely that any U.S. official will be held accountable for what has been called the worst intelligence failure in the nation's history.

A classified, 400-page report submitted earlier this year by CIA Inspector General John Helgerson had urged Goss to convene "accountability boards" to weigh the actions of at least a dozen officers and determine whether they deserved to be reprimanded or punished.

Goss was among those who had pushed for the investigation while he was a member of Congress. But since being named CIA director last year, he has resisted the idea of sitting in judgment of his predecessors and risking further damage to agency morale.

"I will not convene an accountability board to judge the performances of any individual CIA officers," Goss said Wednesday in a written statement.

He said about half of the officers named in the inspector general's report had already retired from the agency, and that "those who are still with us are amongst the finest we have."

"Singling out these individuals would send the wrong message to our junior officers about taking risks," Goss said, adding that "in no way does this report suggest that any one person or group of people could have prevented 9/11."

Director of National Intelligence John D. Negroponte issued a separate statement supporting Goss' decision. Negroponte's job overseeing the CIA and the nation's 14 other spy agencies was created as part of a major intelligence overhaul after Sept. 11.

But Goss' decision was questioned by two key lawmakers, and was denounced by relatives of victims who died in the attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon four years ago.

Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.), chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said he was "concerned to learn of the director's decision to forgo" accountability panels. Roberts said he had spoken with Goss and Negroponte and asked them to appear before the Intelligence Committee this month "to explore with them this decision and the basis for it."

The ranking Democrat on the panel, Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV of West Virginia, said the CIA had mishandled information that could have been used to disrupt the terrorist attacks.

"Director Goss' announcement leaves me with one troubling question," Rockefeller said in a written statement. "What failures in performance, if not these, warrant the convening of an accountability board at the CIA?"

Goss could be forced to reconsider his decision if there is a backlash on Capitol Hill or pressure from victims' groups.

Lorie Van Auken, whose husband was killed in the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, said victims' groups planned to request a meeting with Goss over the issue.

"I think it's appalling," Van Auken said. "We've waited a very long time for the CIA IG report and for somebody somewhere to be held accountable for the failures that led to the deaths of our loved ones."

Intelligence officials familiar with the inspector general's report said it named 12 current and former CIA officials -- most of them senior and midlevel -- and was sharply critical of their performance.

Tenet and former Deputy Director of Operations James L. Pavitt were accused of failing to devote adequate resources to fighting terrorism, and for lapses in leadership at critical times. Pavitt and a spokesman for Tenet denounced the report when details of its contents first surfaced early this year, calling it "absurd" and saying the two men had spent years fighting to marshal resources to combat the terrorist threat.

Pavitt said Wednesday that he welcomed the announcement from Goss, and that he hoped it would help agency employees remain focused on preventing attacks.

"Tenet and I have testified publicly that there was an intelligence failure," Pavitt said. "But it was also a national failure. I think it's time to get on with it."

The report's criticism of Tenet put Goss in the particularly awkward spot of having to decide whether to discipline a longtime CIA director who was awarded the Medal of Freedom by President Bush upon leaving the agency last year. A spokesman for Tenet said he did not have a comment on Goss' announcement.

A U.S. official familiar with the inspector general's report said it was largely focused on apportioning blame for "managerial failures," rather than the specific actions of lower-ranking employees.

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