By Dafna Linzer and Walter Pincus
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, October 6, 2005; Page A01
The CIA will not seek to hold any current or former agency officials, including ex-director George J. Tenet, responsible for failures leading up to the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, CIA Director Porter J. Goss said yesterday, despite a recommendation by the agency’s inspector general that he convene an "accountability board" to judge their performance.
Goss’s decision, coming four years after hijackers commandeered four jets and killed nearly 3,000 people, appeared to end the possibility that a high-level official will be held responsible for what several investigations found to be significant failures throughout the government. The inspectors general of the departments of State, Justice and Defense completed their own investigations without publicized disciplinary actions taken against anyone.
The CIA’s report, which severely criticized actions of senior officers, will remain classified, Goss said in his announcement, which was welcomed by some former officials mentioned in the document but assailed by families of victims of the attacks.
Goss said in his statement that the voluminous report by CIA Inspector General John L. Helgerson "unveiled no mysteries," and that making it public would only bring harm to the agency when it is trying to rebuild. Goss said the report in no way suggests "that any one person or group of people could have prevented 9/11."
"Of the officers named in this report," he said, "about half have retired from the Agency, and those who are still with us are amongst the finest we have."
Goss had supported an internal CIA review in December 2002, while he was chairman of the House intelligence committee. The CIA report, which was mostly completed in February, is the last known government inquiry on the counterterrorism failures ahead of the attacks and has been the most secretive.
It also had the potential to pit Goss against his own agency. Convening a review board could have embarrassed his predecessors and renewed questions over President Bush’s decision to award Tenet the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
"I think it is utterly reprehensible for Director Goss to be hinting towards not holding anyone accountable, particularly since he was in an oversight capacity as house chairman and is now in a position to atone for his own failures," said Kristin Breitweiser, whose husband, Ron, was killed at the World Trade Center. "He is either avoiding embarrassment or trying to hide something."
More than a dozen intelligence officials, including Tenet; his former director of operations, James L. Pavitt; and J. Cofer Black, former head of the counterterrorism center, are faulted in the CIA report, said officials who have read the classified findings. Tenet vigorously disputed the findings, arguing that he and his officers had done more than anyone else in the intelligence community to warn about al Qaeda.
The report also names some current undercover operatives working in the counterterrorism center. Officials had said exposing them to public criticism would harm their work and the agency during a time of war.
Tenet had no comment yesterday. Pavitt said he was relieved. "He did what was right for the institution and its people, and for their work," Pavitt said of Goss.
Goss’s former congressional colleagues, who have urged that the report be declassified, reacted coolly to his decision to forgo accountability reviews. They said Goss and John D. Negroponte, the director of national intelligence, will be summoned to appear before the Senate intelligence committee to answer questions this month.
"I am concerned to learn of the Director’s decision to forego this step in the process," Sen. Pat Roberts, (R-Kan.) said in a statement. "However, I spoke with Director Goss and Negroponte earlier today and they both strongly believe that this is the correct course of action."
The CIA’s internal report was done in response to a recommendation of the House-Senate committee that looked into the attacks. The committee called on the CIA’s inspector general to conduct an investigation "to determine whether and to what extent personnel at all levels should be held accountable for any omission, commission or failure to meet professional standards" to prevent or disrupt the attacks.
Based on those findings, the CIA director was to "take appropriate disciplinary and other action," with the result to be passed on to the president and to the House and Senate intelligence committees.
But Goss declined. He noted that before Sept. 11, when he was chairman of the House intelligence panel, the CIA suffered from cutbacks and reduced budgets. "Stars" were singled out and asked "to take on some tough assignments," he said. "Unfortunately, time and resources were not on their side, despite their best efforts to meet unprecedented challenges."
"Risk is a critical part of the intelligence business. Singling out these individuals 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," he said.
Citing classified information about intelligence sources and methods, Goss said the report should not be made public.
Rep. Jane Harman (Calif.), the ranking Democrat on the House intelligence panel, said she will work to get some elements declassified and said Goss has a responsibility to "persuade the public that he has dealt fairly with his agency’s past mistakes."