WASHINGTON – CIA Director Porter Goss (search) must decide whether to heed the recommendation of his top watchdog to hold disciplinary reviews for former CIA Director George Tenet (search) and other current and former officials who were involved in faulty intelligence efforts before the Sept. 11 attacks.
The proceedings, formally called an accountability board, were recommended by the CIA inspector general, John Helgerson, The Associated Press learned late Thursday. It remains unclear how many people beyond Tenet are identified for the accountability boards in the highly classified report spanning hundreds of pages.
Goss personally delivered the report to Congress on Tuesday night.
Following a two-year review into what went wrong before the suicide hijackings, Helgerson harshly criticizes a number of the agency's most senior officials, according to people familiar with the report. Among those singled out for criticism are Tenet, former clandestine service chief Jim Pavitt and former counterterrorism center head Cofer Black.
However, the report also offers some praise for actions of Tenet and others.
Any would-be accountability boards are likely to focus on specific shortcomings of individuals. Board members could approve a number of actions, including letters of reprimand or dismissal. The proceedings also could clear the former officials of wrongdoing.
However, current and former officials have noted that there are few options available to punish anyone who has left the CIA, other than letters of reprimand or a ban on future contracts with the agency.
Those who discussed the report with the AP all spoke on condition of anonymity because it remains highly classified and has been distributed only to a small circle in Washington.
Tenet and Pavitt declined to comment. Black could not be reached Thursday.
Goss was among those who requested the inspector general's review as part of a 2002 congressional inquiry into the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on New York City and Washington that killed nearly 3,000 people.
At the time, Goss, a Florida Republican, chaired the House Intelligence Committee. A CIA officer himself in the 1960s, Goss now must decide whether the current and former agency personnel should be considered for sanctions.
Those who know Goss well question whether the director, who took over the agency last September, will commission the disciplinary reviews.
Despite public outcries for accountability, many in the intelligence community believe Goss would be loath to try to discipline popular former senior officials and cause unrest within the agency.
He may not want to go after less senior people still in the CIA's employ. Intelligence veterans say these CIA employees are the government's mostly highly trained in counterterrorism and before the Sept. 11 attacks, devoted significant amounts of time to trying to stop al-Qaida terrorists. The hearings would force them to defend their careers rather than working against extremist groups.
In addition, the numerous investigations after Sept. 11 determined that an intelligence overhaul was essential to attack Muslim extremism.
Some members of Congress, including California Rep. Jane Harman, the Intelligence Committee's senior Democrat, are pushing for the CIA to produce a declassified version of the report so the public can debate these and other issues. Some family members of Sept. 11 victims have also called for the report's immediate release.
"The findings in this report must be shared with all members of Congress and with the American public to ensure that the problems identified are addressed and corrected, thus moving to restore faith in this agency," a group called Sept. 11 Advocates said in a statement Thursday.
The final version comes after much internal debate at the CIA and new national intelligence director's office about whether to simply scrap the document because it looks backward and is so harsh, said one official who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Beth Marple, spokeswoman for National Intelligence Director John Negroponte (search), said, "As expected, there has been discussion between Director Negroponte and Director Goss about this report. But there were absolutely no efforts to kill it."
The CIA declined to comment on the substance of the report.
Accountability boards are normally made up of top CIA officials. In the case of the most serious issues, it would not be unusual for the agency's No. 3, the executive director, to lead the proceedings.
People familiar with the inspector general's process said the document largely covers ground already plowed in the Sept. 11 commission's report and the House-Senate inquiry that issued its own report on the attacks in December 2002. Those 37 lawmakers, which included Goss, requested the inspector general's review to consider issues of accountability.
Among items that received significant attention in the past was the CIA's failure to put two known operatives, Khalid al-Midhar (search) and Nawaf Alhazmi (search), on government watchlists and to let the FBI know that the future Sept. 11 hijackers had entered the United States.
The new report, however, comes at the events from a different perspective, focusing more narrowly on the agency's performance.