The CIA has been ordered to release by Labor Day a declassified summary of an internal report on the agency’s performance prior to the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, possibly shedding light on whether senior officials made fundamental lapses in judgment.
Under the 9/11 bill that President Bush signed into law Friday, the agency must release a public summary within 30 days of the law’s enactment, along with a classified annex for Congress that explains the report’s redactions.
CIA spokesman George Little told The Hill in an e-mail Monday that the agency “will, of course, comply with the law.”
Until now, the CIA had refused to disclose any part of the report since its former inspector general (IG), John Helgerson, completed the final draft more than two years ago. The 9/11 bill, which addresses most of the 9/11 Commission’s unfulfilled recommendations, is the first successful legislation to mandate a declassified summary.
According to previous media accounts, the IG report is more hard-hitting about the CIA’s internal failings than the 9/11 Commission’s 2004 account, and points fingers at specific senior individuals at the agency. Those reportedly include former CIA Director George Tenet, former Deputy Director of Operations James Pavitt, and former CIA Counterterrorism Center Chief Cofer Black. All have left the agency.
Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), a member of the Intelligence panel, told The Hill shortly before the bill’s signing that “No one has come even close to giving a good national security argument as to why the public should be denied access to this information.”
Wyden long had pushed for this and other transparency provisions, including declassification of the intelligence budget total and a more defined role for the independent Pubic Interest Declassification Board, both of which also were codified by the 9/11 legislation. He and other Intelligence panel members have seen the classified CIA report, but are barred by committee rules from discussing its content.
“All I can say is that it’s an extraordinarily important, independent assessment, written with a specific purpose to learn how we can improve our security,” he said.
Senate Intelligence Committee Vice Chairman Kit Bond (R-Mo.), who has backed Wyden and Chairman Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) on this issue, said he hoped that the bill’s passage sends “a sufficient signal” to the CIA.
“Everyone else has taken their lumps, and this should have been declassified a long time ago,” Bond said.
Congress ordered the report in late 2002, and Helgerson completed the bulk of the work in 2003 and 2004, when Tenet was still CIA director. Following Tenet’s resignation in July 2004, his successor, Porter Goss, reportedly stalled an internal distribution of the report’s draft and asked Helgerson to make changes before it was sent to Congress.
In August 2005, the congressional intelligence committees received the report as well as responses from the officials cited in the text. Two months later, however, Goss declined to follow the report’s recommendation that the CIA convene “accountability boards” or reprimand specific individuals, according to media reports.
Tenet, Pavitt and Black did not return calls from The Hill asking for comment. But when Tenet appeared on NBC’s “Meet the Press” last May, he charged that there are “many pieces of this report that many of us felt were terribly flawed.”
Questions remain as to how much the CIA will declassify. The agency held lengthy negotiations with Congress over the 2003 release of the congressional 9/11 inquiry report and the 2004 report by the Senate Intelligence Committee on prewar intelligence, both of which contained substantial redactions.
When the Senate Intelligence panel released in September 2006 two further chapters of its prewar intelligence inquiry, Wyden argued that too much had been redacted. “Parts of these reports read like a dictionary with the definitions cut out,” he said at the time in a press release.
Wyden asked the Public Interest Declassification Board, which reviews classification procedures and disputes, to take up the matter. The board said it would defer until it received clarification on whether it could launch a review ordered solely by Congress. The 9/11 bill stipulated that the panel did indeed have that authority.