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Panel urged disciplinary { December 11 2002 }

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Disciplinary Action Urged For Failures Before 9/11

By Dana Priest and Susan Schmidt
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, December 11, 2002; Page A01

Intelligence and law enforcement officials whose blunders may have failed to stop terrorists from mounting the Sept. 11, 2001, strikes should be disciplined, a congressional panel investigating the matter has concluded, but decisions about punitive action should be made by the inspectors general of their individual agencies.

The House-Senate intelligence panel investigating the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks also criticizes the FBI for doing too little to "penetrate terrorist organizations operating in the United States," according to the committee's recommendations, which are scheduled to be released today. The FBI should "increase substantially" its efforts in this area through greater "use of electronic surveillance, development of human sources, and the use of undercover operations," the report asserts.

In one of the most contentious areas of the current intelligence debate, the report also recommends that Congress and the administration consider the creation of a separate domestic spying agency because of "the FBI's history of repeated shortcomings within its current responsibility for domestic intelligence."

The report culminates six months of investigation by the joint intelligence committee into the failures of the FBI, the CIA, the National Security Agency and other government agencies before the attacks on New York and Washington that left 3,000 people dead.

The panel's most damaging accusations, which emerged during a series of public hearings this fall, are expected to be included in the final report. They include findings that FBI and CIA officials failed to grasp the magnitude of the terrorism threat on U.S. soil and did not pursue leads or share information that might have allowed them to unravel the plot.

As previously reported, the report calls for the appointment of a Cabinet-level intelligence czar to oversee the government's wide array of intelligence units.

More broadly, the joint panel, clearly worried that the pace of change within the overall intelligence community is still not sufficient to meet the ongoing threat from terrorists, recommends that "efforts by the National Security Council to examine and revamp existing intelligence priorities should be expedited, given the immediate need for clear guidance in intelligence and counterterrorism efforts."

In addition to Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda terrorist network, the report identifies the radical anti-Israel groups Hezbollah and Hamas as terrorist organizations the United States should more aggressively try to thwart.

The FBI has said, and repeated yesterday, that it is making the changes that its own leadership and the congressional panel believe are necessary to transform the bureau into a domestic intelligence agency more suited to disrupting potential terrorist acts than to building criminal cases.

But many members of the committee believe FBI agents' culture and cumbersome bureaucracy continue to work against change. "It is not something they've cured in a year," one lawmaker said.

Since Sept. 11, 2001, the Justice Department, which oversees the FBI, has aggressively sought and won legal changes in court and in Congress to give agents more authority to conduct wiretaps and searches in counterterrorism investigations. Attorney General John D. Ashcroft has rewritten department rules to permit much greater use of Internet searches and surveillance in public places, including mosques, where some terrorism networks have found havens.

The issue of punishing individuals that the committee believes may be culpable has divided the panel. Sen. Richard C. Shelby (R-Ala.) has argued that responsibility for the intelligence failures starts with CIA Director George J. Tenet, who, Shelby has said, should resign. Shelby is expected to issue a dissenting statement today that is more critical of those involved.

The panel, however, said it did not have the time or resources to evaluate individual job performances. It requests that the inspectors general of the FBI, CIA, Defense Department and other agencies use its information to thoroughly review the cases it identified.

FBI officials say such a review is already underway. The Justice Department's inspector general has been investigating the way the FBI handled clues before the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. These include the case of Zacarias Moussaoui, later accused of conspiracy in the terrorism strikes, and the shelving of a memo from an FBI counterterrorism agent who recommended investigating U.S. flight schools where terrorists might be training. The Department of Justice report is not expected to be completed until after the first of the year.

Some panel recommendations have already been undertaken by FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III, among them moving to revamp the bureau's outmoded computer systems and hiring more linguists. The FBI has recently hired or contracted with 110 Arabic speakers and is seeking more.

"In many areas we agree with the committee's recommendations and have already begun to make improvements," a bureau spokeswoman said.

The CIA declined comment, saying it had not yet seen the recommendations.

The panel also recommends that the FBI "aggressively address the possibility that foreign governments are providing support" for terrorists targeting the United States. The committee recently concluded that an associate of two of the Sept. 11 hijackers indirectly received charitable donations from the wife of the Saudi ambassador to the United States.

The panel suggests more training for FBI national security lawyers. During the fall hearings, the committee staff cited the failure of FBI attorneys to understand and disseminate the rules on searches under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. In August 2001, agents in the Minneapolis field office of the FBI suspected that Moussaoui could be preparing for a terrorism attack involving aircraft, but were unable to get approval from lawyers at FBI headquarters to search his computer.

Also in the summer of 2001, the FBI's national security law section rejected a desperate plea from a New York agent to begin a full nationwide criminal search for Khalid Almihdhar when it was discovered that the known al Qaeda associate had slipped into the United States. The FBI lawyer cited rules that he believed barred information sharing between criminal and intelligence investigations.

Mueller and Ashcroft, aided by new authorities approved by the courts, have since revamped the procedures for FISA searches and wiretaps, making them easier to undertake.

Staff writer Walter Pincus contributed to this report.

2002 The Washington Post Company

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