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Last Updated: Wednesday, 22 August 2007, 18:34 GMT 19:34 UK
Has the CIA learned its lessons?
Rob Watson
BBC Defence Correspondent

11 September 2001 attack in New York (AP)
The CIA has ploughed resources into tackling al-Qaeda since 9/11

The debate about whether more could have been done by America's intelligence agencies to tackle al-Qaeda before the 9/11 attacks has never really gone away.

But it has certainly been given renewed impetus by publication of the CIA's own internal inquiry into the agency's failings.

Although actually completed two years ago, the summary of the report has only just been published thanks to the insistence of the US Congress.

Put simply it says while the CIA did at least recognise the threat posed by al-Qaeda, its leaders failed to come up with a winning strategy to tackle the threat.

Singled out for particular criticism is the former head of the CIA, George Tenet, who the report says failed to push for adequate resources and information sharing despite having declared the US "at war" with al-Qaeda in 1998.

Raising the alarm

Not surprisingly the report has provoked mixed reactions.

Some former agents have wholeheartedly agreed with the criticisms and have even chipped in with more of their own.

George Tenet in a long statement described the report as "flat wrong".

Mr Tenet says there was a robust plan and that he had made repeated attempts to sound warnings about al-Qaeda to both the US Congress and the Bush and Clinton administrations.

But as the debate about blame continues, the publication of the report has also raised questions about whether the CIA is doing a better job now.

George Tenet
Ex-CIA chief George Tenet has flatly rejected the inquiry's criticisms

At one level things clearly have changed since 9/11 to make the work of the CIA and the other intelligence agencies easier.

If before 9/11 their concerns about the threat posed by al-Qaeda sometimes fell on deaf ears or were at least greeted by scepticism in government that is surely no longer the case.

When the intelligence community raises the alarm, government tends to listen these days.

Since the "war on terrorism" began the agencies have also learned more about al-Qaeda from the interrogations of those captured - though that in itself has been a controversial issue.

And the intelligence agencies have far more resources.

Nearly six years on from the attacks on New York and Washington the CIA claims to have tripled the number of trained case officers and to have opened or re-opened more than 20 stations or bases overseas.

'Problems remain'

Certainly other Western intelligence agencies look on with awe and occasionally some envy at the amounts of money, manpower and technology available to their American counterparts.

But critics say problems remain.

Some question whether reforms intended to improve the co-ordination and information sharing among America's 16 intelligence agencies and with the FBI have truly broken down old traditions of secrecy and turf protection or whether they have just added more layers of bureaucracy.

As to capability, other analysts say it will take years for the CIA to rebuild its capacity for clandestine operations, much of which was lost in the immediate aftermath of the cold war and that above all the CIA needs more spies capable of fulfilling its two core missions of fighting terrorism and stealing other countries secrets.

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