Gaps in Counterterrorism Capabilities at the Central Intelligence Agency, National Security Agency, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation Prior to the Terrorist Attacks of September 11, 2001: Unclassified Findings of the Subcommittee on Terrorism and Homeland Security Report to the Speaker of the House and Minority Leader

Thank you, Jim, and Ranking Member Turner, for holding this important hearing just six days before the first anniversary of the tragic events of September 11, 2001. It’s timing, on the eve of our historic joint session of Congress in New York tomorrow, is propitious and demonstrates the continued priority this Congress has put on making America a safer place. Thank you also for extending this invitation to me and my friend and Ranking Member Jane Harman, to testify before the Armed Services Committee this morning.

In January 2001, at the start of the 107th Congress, the Speaker of the House – with great foresight, as it turned out – established the Working Group on Terrorism and Homeland Security within the Intelligence Committee. Our initial mandate was to examine the terrorist threat to the United States, the counterterrorism capabilities of America’s intelligence and law enforcement communities, and the viability of our homeland security architecture. We were to issue a report at the end of the 107th recommending ways to improve House oversight of counterterrorism and homeland security programs, and to evaluate what might be done to enhance America’s capabilities to combat the terrorist threat.

Our work was well underway when Usama bin Ladin and his evil minions struck the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. We had held literally dozens of classified hearings and briefings, and had traveled abroad to consult with some of our key allies in the war on terrorism and to get a first-hand look at some of our capabilities in action.

While we were generally impressed with the commitment and hard work of the men and women fighting the war on the front lines, we had begun to identify serious and systemic management deficiencies, especially at senior levels of the CIA, NSA, and FBI. In fact, the counterterrorism oversight work of the Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence in the years and months leading up to “9-11” had pointed time and time again to many of these same deficiencies, with little positive response from the leadership of those key agencies. Jane and I will cover some of those deficiencies in detail in just a moment.

In the immediate aftermath of 9-11, Speaker Hastert and Minorty Leader Gephardt met and decided to convert our working group into a full subcommittee of the Intelligence Committee, with expanded powers of jurisdiction. Our first act was to leverage our staff’s unique counterterrorism expertise to hold a series of seminars for Members, Senators, and key staff on the al-Qa’ida network and on terrorism in general. We then held a series of what for the Intelligence Committee were unprecedented public hearings on various aspects of the terrorist threat and our ability to deal with it on all levels. These public events concluded with an open hearing at New York’s City Hall in which Major Rudy Giuliani, the leadership of New York City’s emergency response teams, and Governors Jeb Bush, Roy Barnes, and Frank Keating all testified. The Speaker then asked that we accelerate production of our subcommittee report, but that we focus on the gaps in intelligence counterterrorism capabilities at CIA, NSA, and FBI.

Our classified report was delivered to the Speaker in July, and an unclassified executive summary, which you should have before you, was made public. It is important to note that our work was entirely separate from the investigation being conducted by the bicameral “Joint 9-11 Inquiry” of the intelligence committees of the House and Senate. Our full classified report, however, was made available to the Joint Investigative Staff and we and our subcommittee staff have made ourselves available for consultation. It is my hope and belief that the Joint Inquiry will build on the Subcommittee’s substantial work in developing its own final report.

Now, to the key findings of our report. First and foremost, we concluded – not surprisingly – that the 9-11 attacks caught the Intelligence and Law Enforcement Communities flat-footed. There is no way to get around the fact that this was a massive intelligence failure. The leadership of the Intelligence Community, meeting prophetically three years to the day prior to 9-11, concluded that, and I quote, “Failure to improve operations management, resource allocation, and other key issues … including making substantial and sweeping changes in the way the nation collects, analyzes, and produces intelligence, will likely result in a catastrophic systemic intelligence failure.”

We found that CIA’s counterterrorism capabilities had significantly eroded over the course of nearly a decade, and that on 9-11, CIA had failed to penetrate the al-Qa’ida network sufficiently to get at the issue of plans and intentions – the key to any counterterrorism program. Part of CIA’s problem was money. Resources for intelligence, and particularly for recruiting spies in the enemy camp, dried up after the end of the Cold War. Political support for sometimes politically risky espionage activities just wasn’t there for a protracted period. Top CIA managers tried to argue that even while stations and bases were closing around the world for lack of funds and arguably less productive spies were being culled en masse, funds for CIA’s Counterterrorism Center were increasing. Unfortunately, we learned that the Counterterrorism Center relies on the Directorate of Operations as a whole to conduct its counterterrorism – “CT” – operations worldwide. So, you can’t dismantle the Directorate of Operations without severely damaging the Counterterrorism Center’s ability to do its mission.

While a shortage of resources and support for the intelligence mission were significant factors in CIA’s general decline, the mismanagement of available funds was also a major problem that had a negative effect on the counterterrorism mission at CIA. We found, for example, that over a period of years, the CIA’s executive director – presumably with the support or acquiescence of the Director and other senior managers – was diverting significant sums allocated for field operations of all kinds and for the analysis discipline to feed an insatiable headquarters bureaucracy. Now, some of these “non-core mission” activities that got funded with core mission dollars were important. But it seemed to us that good management practice would have been to strip headquarters bare to make sure core mission was healthy before a single dollar would go to lower priority activities. Clearly, some people in the CIA hierarchy had their priorities mixed up and the counterterrorism mission – along with the human intelligence and analysis missions – suffered.

Risk aversion was another problem at CIA. Lacking political support and dollars in sufficient amounts, and facing an increasingly complex, hard-to-get-at terrorist target, it was natural for CIA managers to become more cautious. Equally natural was the trend at CIA towards bureaucratization, with the number of CIA lawyers increasing exponentially in the years before 9-11. Unfortunately, lawyers and spies don’t mix very well, and the lawyers spent much of their time finding reasons why CIA operations officers should not conduct certain operations rather than finding ways for them to do so. The most glaring example of risk aversion we uncovered – and the catalyst for many of the shortcomings in the CT mission – were the internal human rights guidelines promulgated in 1995 by then-CIA Director John Deutch.

The Deutch Guidelines, as they are commonly and derisively referred to by the rank-and-file at CIA, stifled CT initiatives for years by creating an overly burdensome vetting process that left the rank-and-file with the impression that only boy scouts could be recruited when real terrorists, some with blood on their hands, were the only ones who had the information that could stop a terrorist attack. We had to pass a law in 2001 to get CIA to repeal the guidelines, yet the CIA Director ignored this law until the day after our report was released, when the guidelines were finally formally repealed – in July 2002! Why? Because there remains a big disconnect between what senior managers at CIA headquarters think is being done to recruit terrorist spies and what those in the field actually have to deal with to recruit terrorist spies. This situation improved somewhat after 9-11, but many of the pre-911 problems and perceptions remain.

We also found that CIA tried to compensate for its diminishing capability to recruit terrorist spies unilaterally – without the knowledge of host governments – by doing more and more of its operations with foreign liaison services. Such operations were inherently less politically risky, since getting caught by the host service was no longer a problem. In so doing, however, CIA became overly dependent on these foreign services, which – when push comes to shove – always act in their own interests. What we discovered after 9-11 about the way in which al-Qa’ida operatives were functioning freely in Europe, Africa, the Middle East, and Southeast Asia clearly demonstrates the pitfalls of a strategy that relied too much on others in the spying game. CIA still remains overly reliant on liaison for CT operations, which is further damaging its independent capabilities.

Many of CIA’s pre-911 counterterrorism shortcomings, however, can be traced to things that are much more obvious. The number of CIA operations officers – those who recruit spies – who are adequately trained in a foreign language, any foreign language, is embarrassingly low. The number trained in languages spoken by terrorists is even lower. And CIA’s ability, through cleared linguists, to exploit materials captured from terrorists in anything approaching real time is slim to none. Training in the tradecraft of counterterrorist-related espionage, moreover, is wholly insufficient. Finding, meeting, recruiting, and handling a terrorist as a spy, after all, is quite a bit different than recruiting some foreign official on the diplomatic circuit. Yet, training hasn’t kept up with this reality.

The House Intelligence Committee has been pressing the Intelligence Community as a whole – and CIA in particular – to address its language and other training shortcomings literally for years. More funds have been authorized and appropriated by Congress specifically for this purpose, and sharp direction has been given in authorization language. Yet, CIA – and the rest of the Community – has been slow to respond. Slow is actually a generous way of putting it. They have ignored their language and training shortcomings. There is no excuse for this inaction.

Before I turn the floor over to Jane to synopsize our findings on the National Security Agency and the FBI, I’d just like to say a few words about what we concluded about Congressional oversight of the nation’s counterterrorism and homeland security infrastructure. First, we were somewhat surprised to find that no less than 14 committees and a myriad of subcommittees in the House alone claim some jurisdiction over the executive branch entities involved in these activities. Thus, numerous inefficiencies in this system exist. There is significant overlap and duplication of effort, with committees and subcommittees holding hearings on the same subject, with the same overburdened witnesses, time and time again.

We chose to evaluate 8 options for restructuring this oversight morass. These included creating standing, select, and ad hoc committees, as well as less formal caucuses, commissions, and task forces. Given the importance of protecting the sources and methods of intelligence, we concluded that it would be unwise to enlarge access to the nation’s most sensitive secrets. The establishment of yet another commission, ad hoc committee, caucus, or task force would be at best a half-measure that would risk further bureaucratizing the oversight process. We also found that it would probably be too much to ask for so many important committees with jurisdictional authority to change their charters to discontinue oversight of key counterterrorism and homeland security issues. In the end, we recommended that the Majority and Minority leadership each establish two or three senior staff positions to deconflict and disaggregate jurisdictional issues related to terrorism, homeland security, and related issues that don’t fall neatly under either category. In this way, a leadership “strategic plan” could be devised and implemented from the top down to streamline what is currently a very inefficient and burdensome oversight process.

I’ll now yield the floor to Jane Harman, who has worked diligently at my side on these issues since the start of the 107th Congress. She will quickly run through our findings on the National Security Agency and the FBI. Then, if acceptable to the chair, we thought we’d stay to answer questions for as long as we can.