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Goss refuses to discipline cia officials for 911 lapse { October 5 2005 }

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October 5, 2005
C.I.A. Chief Refuses to Seek Discipline for 9/11 Officials

WASHINGTON, Oct. 5 -- The C.I.A. will not pursue disciplinary action against George J. Tenet, a former director, or anyone else among current or former officials singled out by an inspector general for poor performance on counterterrorism before Sept. 11, 2001, the agency said today.

The decision by the agency's current director, Porter J. Goss, signifies an end to nearly four years of inquiries into the agency's performance before the Sept. 11 attacks. It means that no current or former officer will be reprimanded for his performance, despite what the inspector general, John L. Helgerson, concluded were serious shortcomings in advance of the attacks.

In a written statement, Mr. Goss said that as "matter of judgment," he had decided not to heed a recommendation by Mr. Helgerson that he convene what the agency calls an "accountability review board" to assess the performance of individual officials, as a prelude to possible disciplinary action.

Mr. Helgerson's report remains classified. But people who have read the document have said that it singled out about 20 current and former officials, including Mr. Tenet; James L. Pavitt, the former deputy director for operations; Cofer Black, the former head of the agency's Counterterrorism Center.

"In no way does this report suggest that any one person or group of people could have prevented 9/11," Mr. Goss said of Mr. Helgerson's report.

In his statement, Mr. Goss said he had concluded that singling out individuals for disciplinary action "would send the wrong message to our junior officers about taking risks -- whether it be an operation in the field or being assigned to a hot topic at headquarters."

Of those named in the report, Mr. Goss said, "about half" have retired from the agency since Sept. 11, 2001, while "those who are still with us are amongst the finest we have."

Mr. Helgerson delivered his report to Congress in August, more than two years after beginning his review. Congressional leaders from both parties have asked that it be made public, but in his statement, Mr. Goss signaled that the agency was unlikely to approve the request, saying that the "extraordinary bulk" of the document bore on sensitive intelligence matters.

The internal report was said to have faulted Mr. Tenet in particular for focusing too little attention on combating Al Qaeda as a whole in the years before Sept. 11, a period in which much of the agency's focus was aimed at the terrorist group's leader, Osama bin Laden. Mr. Tenet and others named in the document objected strongly to that conclusion, and prepared lengthy rebuttals that the C.I.A. has also shared with members of Congress.

The C.I.A. inspector general's report, ordered by Congress in December 2002, was the last in a series of inquiries by Congress, the independent Sept. 11 commission and others that have focused on the agency's performance before Sept. 11. The C.I.A. has acknowledged missteps that prevented information about two future 9/11 hijackers from being shared with the F.B.I. until shortly before the attacks, but it has otherwise defended the agency's performance.

The Sept. 11 commission concluded that the C.I.A., under Mr. Tenet, was the most aggressive of government agencies in trying to call attention to the threats posed by terrorism before Sept. 11. The F.B.I. also conducted an internal review of the bureau's performance before Sept. 11, but that report did not hold any individuals accountable in connection with the attacks.

Mr. Pavitt, who retired as head of the agency's directorate of operations in August 2004, said today that Mr. Goss had done "the right thing" by deciding not to seek disciplinary action against anyone named in the report.

"There has been a great deal of accountability - how many times can we go through it again?" Mr. Pavitt said. "How many times do we need to try to hold a G.S.-13 or, for that matter, a former director responsible for 9/11. We've said, yes, mistakes were made, but there was an awful lot that was done that was good, that was positive, that was extraordinary."

There was no immediate response from members of Congress who had called for the report.

Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company

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