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Wednesday, 17 July, 2002, 18:03 GMT 19:03 UK
Congress damns US intelligence agencies
World Trade Center as second plane strikes
The CIA neglected 'basic' intelligence methods
The United States Congress has listed serious failings by all of the country's main intelligence agencies before last September's terror attacks.

CIA did not sufficiently penetrate the al-Qaeda organisation before September 11th

Congressional report

The Senate and the House of Representatives have been investigating the agencies' roles in a series of closed-door meetings.

The bulk of the report is secret, but its authors, members of the House Intelligence Committee, accuse the CIA of poor penetration of the al-Qaeda network before 11 September.

The document comes a day after President Bush announced a wide-ranging strategy to protect the United States from further terror attacks.

'Excessive caution'

Members warn that the CIA must invest more in human intelligence and recruiting agents on the ground.

"More collectors need to be put on the street," it says.

US Capitol
Congress held hearings behind closed doors
Main points:

  • The FBI and CIA were not sharing information
  • Agencies lacked people to quickly translate intercepted conversations
  • Human spying was given too low a priority
  • Intelligence and law enforcement officials were reluctant to take risks

  • The document also says that CIA officials have largely ignored a law approved last October, requiring them to eliminate guidelines that make it difficult for field officers to recruit human rights offenders and other unsavoury characters.

    "The excessive caution and burdensome vetting process resulting from the guidelines undermined the CIA's ability and willingness to recruit foreign assets," according to the committee.

    The CIA must also take more interest in language skills and reward agents who achieve proficiency in languages.

    The Committee also looked at the National Security Agency which eavesdrops on phone and internet messages around the world.

    The Agency is told to stop being a "passive gatherer" of information and start to be an "active hunter".

    According to press leaks from the hearings, on 10 September the NSA intercepted two messages in Arabic - which reported said "The match is about to begin" and "Tomorrow is zero hour" - but they were not translated until 12 September.

    Changing role

    The FBI is accused of not placing sufficient emphasis on preventing terrorism acts.

    FBI Director Robert Mueller
    FBI Director Robert Mueller was grilled by the panel

    Until 11 September, the FBI was mainly a law-enforcement agency. It focused on fighting organised crime, drug trafficking and other domestic criminals.

    It had an intelligence unit, but its chief focus was stopping foreign powers from spying in America.

    Last July, an unnamed FBI agent in Phoenix, Arizona, issued a memo calling for an investigation into the large number of Middle Eastern men enrolled in pilot training programmes.

    However, senior FBI officials paid little attention to the memo, which was marked "non-urgent".

    Experts have said turf battles between the agencies and an inability of key classified computer systems to work together have led to US intelligence agencies having pieces of the puzzle without anyone having the ability to fit those pieces together.

    Finally, the Committee criticised Congress itself: American politicians share the blame for the intelligence failings it says, because they fail to provide sufficient resources to do the job.

    In a speech on Tuesday, President Bush unveiled a long-awaited homeland security strategy.

    It includes using troops to enforce quarantines during a biological attack and "red teams" of agents thinking like terrorists to pinpoint weaknesses.

    The 88-page plan also calls for tighter border controls, more executive powers and new secrecy laws.

    Key stories

    European probe


    See also:

    16 Jul 02 | Americas
    16 Jul 02 | Americas
    11 Jun 02 | Americas
    04 Jun 02 | Americas
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