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Saturday, September 17, 2005

Republicans Join in Call for Release of 9/11 Report on CIA

By Douglas Jehl
The New York Times

Saturday 17 September 2005

Washington - Senior Republican members of Congress have joined Democrats in asking Porter J. Goss, the CIA director, to declassify and make public an internal agency report that criticizes his predecessor, George J. Tenet, and others for lapses on terrorism in advance of the Sept. 11 attacks.

The requests were sent last week by leaders of the House and Senate Intelligence Committees, said members of Congress and their aides. They add to the pressures on Mr. Goss, who has made clear that he would prefer not to make the report public, at least in part because its publication could be damaging to the agency's morale.

Mr. Goss is also still weighing difficult decisions about whether to impose any kind of disciplinary action against the dozen or so current and former intelligence officials, including Mr. Tenet, who are said to have been singled out in the report.

The report was prepared by the Central Intelligence Agency inspector general, John L. Helgerson, at the request of the joint Congressional committee that completed its own review in 2002 of the Sept. 11 attacks. Mr. Goss delivered a highly classified version of the document to Capitol Hill last month, and Mr. Helgerson has briefed the Intelligence Committees on his findings, but distribution of the report has otherwise remained very limited.

The CIA spokeswoman, Jennifer Millerwise Dyck, declined on Friday to comment on whether Mr. Goss might agree to make the report public. She said that the agency's focus remained on "improvements in all we do" and that Mr. Helgerson had acted "as required by law" in preparing the report and presenting it to Congress.

Mr. Tenet has prepared a lengthy rebuttal to the report, and people close to him have denounced the report as unfair. But in a telephone interview on Friday, Representative Peter Hoekstra, the Michigan Republican who is chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, said he believed that Mr. Helgerson had conducted a "thorough and balanced review" and that the public deserved to know whether intelligence officials were being held accountable for any failures.

A spokeswoman for Senator Pat Roberts, the Kansas Republican who is chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said he had told Mr. Goss in making his request that "there is material in the report that the public should know."

Until last week, only the top Democrats on each panel, Senator John D. Rockefeller IV of West Virginia and Representative Jane Harman of California, had called for Mr. Helgerson's report to be made public. The White House has not commented on the issue.

Any decision on whether to declassify the report remains in the hands of Mr. Goss, who has the authority to keep it secret. But Mr. Goss is in a difficult position, in part because he was the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee at the time he and other members of Congress initially requested the report. He must also contend with relatives of victims of the Sept. 11 attacks, who have wielded considerable political clout and who have joined in asking for the report to be made public.

In the telephone interview, Mr. Hoekstra said he recognized that any effort to make the report public was "going to be difficult." He described the subject as "very sensitive," and said, "It's very difficult to do an honest appraisal of a lot of people's personal and professional performance without demeaning them, and to do it fairly and in hindsight."

But he also described himself as "pretty impressed" with the quality of Mr. Helgerson's review.

Mr. Hoekstra's request, in a Sept. 8 letter to Mr. Goss, was also signed by Ms. Harman, Congressional officials from both parties said. The letter also urged that Mr. Goss order a separate review of the comments submitted by Mr. Tenet and other current and former intelligence officials in response to the report, to determine if they, too, should be declassified and made public.

A spokeswoman for Senator Rockefeller, Wendy Morigi, said that he supported Mr. Roberts's request that the internal CIA report be declassified and that he "hopes that as much of it as possible is made available to the public."

Current and former government officials who have seen Mr. Helgerson's report or been briefed on it have said it faulted Mr. Tenet as failing to develop a strategic plan against Al Qaeda and carry it out in the years before 2001. Others who are said to be criticized in the document include James L. Pavitt, the former deputy director of operations, and J. Cofer Black, the former director of the agency's Counterterrorist Center, though the report also offers praise for some specific actions taken by them and others, they said.

Mr. Tenet is specifically censured, even after he wrote in a 1998 memorandum to intelligence agencies that "we are at war" with Al Qaeda, according to the officials, who have agreed to speak only on condition of anonymity, because the report itself remains highly classified. But Mr. Tenet's supporters have argued that a CIA effort known as "The Plan," instituted in 1998, amounted to exactly such a strategy.

In its report last year, the independent commission on the Sept. 11 attacks cited that 1998 plan as evidence that the CIA, under Mr. Tenet, was the most proactive agency within the government in trying to counter the terrorist threat.


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