WASHINGTON – The chairman of the House panel investigating intelligence failures that may have prevented the Sept. 11 attacks issued a report Wednesday saying that deficiencies abound in the FBI, CIA, and the National Security Agency.
The report comes after four public hearings and several classified meetings.
"Some management decisions that were made within the agencies ... helped cause the deficiencies in those agencies when it came to allocating resources and being able to gather information," said Rep. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., chairman of the homeland security subcommittee of the House Intelligence Committee, a panel formed after the terror attacks.
Despite several problems, Chambliss said that the quality of staff at each of the agencies is formidable and added that Congress is partly to blame for failing to prop up the agencies enough so they could get the information and analyze it.
"We have not given the resources to the intelligence community that they have asked for on each and every budget year, and we have now committed those resources since Sept. 11," Chambliss said.
But he said there is more to intelligence than committing resources. The agencies must get past the issues that stymie their ability to get the job done, Chambliss said.
Chambliss complained that CIA officials have largely ignored a post-Sept. 11 law requiring them to eliminate guidelines that make it difficult for field officers to recruit unsavory characters to infiltrate terrorist organizations.
Under the old guidelines, field officers had to get approval from headquarters before recruiting a lawbreaker or civil rights violator. The rule change allowed CIA agents to recruit spies to infiltrate terrorist organizations and they only needed to notify the head of the agency's clandestine services a few days later.
Last October, the CIA said it agreed to alter its requirements, but Chambliss insists the agency still hasn't eliminated the guidelines as Congress ordered. He added that adherence to the rule has stalled recruitment efforts because agents do not want to bother with the paperwork.
CIA officials disputed the finding, and said that the agency has eased up on parts of the 1995 guidelines — created as a result of allegations in the 1990s that CIA agents in Guatemala ordered or took part in human rights abuses.
"CIA headquarters have never turned down a field request to recruit an asset in a terrorist organization,'' CIA spokesman Mark Mansfield said. "The agency does not avoid contact with individuals, regardless of their past, who may have information about terrorist activities.''
But the CIA refusal to commit to more aggressive tendencies is not the only intelligence problem. Rep. Jane Harman, D-Calif., ranking member of the committee, read from the report a list of problems that have plagued the CIA and recommendations to correct them.
The report, which is classified but which has a declassified executive summary, concluded that:
— The CIA had "inadequate penetration of the Al Qaeda target" due to too few resources devoted to counterintelligence and inadequate attention and recruitment of "HUMINT" or human intelligence. The report recommends expanding infiltration into terror networks.
— The CIA must expand their unilateral capability to develop and use technology, not just satellites.
"We have simply got to take advantage, from the FBI's point of view, of technology that is available today," Chambliss said.
— The CIA has not adequately monitored watch lists. The report calls on the CIA to play a leading role in developing and sharing lists of suspect foreigners seeking to enter and exit the United States.
— The CIA has inadequate language skills that prevent them from infiltrating terrorist targets. The report recommends that agents achieve a high proficiency in each language and the agency rewards be offered based on language performance.
Rep. Tim Roemer, D-Ill., a member of the subcommittee, added that a primary goal should be to improve the skills and talents of the people in agencies, particularly the analysts and the linguists, so translations don't sound like "cocktail talk at diplomatic functions," but dialects that would be used in the mountains and streets of the countries being watched.
— The CIA does not but should encourage lifelong counter-terrorism experts.
— The CIA has too low a threshold for issuing intelligence reports. The report recommends that a better system for disseminating reports be developed.
"We need information about actionable threats not just the glut of noise," Harman said.
The committee also noted problems in the FBI and NSA, specifically citing poor communication by the FBI and poor resource allocation at the NSA.
Chambliss cited the memo from the FBI's Phoenix field office issued last summer that recommended looking at flight schools for potential terrorists. He said the FBI must move its mindset "toward disruption and preventive mentality and not merely investigating and moving toward prosecution."
He said that the FBI is doing a better job today of gathering information because of the USA PATRIOT Act, passed by Congress last year, which gave the agency greater authority to wiretap and collect intelligence.
Harman added that problems in the NSA, the central listening post for all U.S. eavesdropping, arise from inadequate language training and the inability to tap into technology that would help the agency listen in to conversations.
"NSA was a passive gatherer of information and it has to change — and the agency admits this — to a passive hunter" of information, Harman said.
Fourteen committees in the House have a say on how intelligence agencies operate, but little coordination and oversight exists within and among those agencies, Chambliss said.
"There needs to be more control over those 14 committees and we have recommended to the speaker and the minority leader that they create a staff position within each of their respective staffs" to deal with each of the committees and the issue of terrorism on a "broad-scale basis."
He said many of the changes can be achieved either through legislation, appropriations, regulations and internal operations.
The Joint House-Senate intelligence committee is still conducting its own review of what went wrong before Sept. 11. The committee is expected to issue its own guidelines, but members say the committee has already concluded that there was no smoking gun that could have prevented the attacks.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.