CIA report reveals alarming flaws in US intelligence

PARIS — Two years ago, former NSA contractor and CIA employee Edward Snowden bailed to Hong Kong with a stash of digitized top-secret documents, some of which have since dribbled out into the public domain. According to a newly declassified report by the CIA’s Office of the Inspector General, systemic vulnerabilities in the intelligence community long predate Snowden. One might even argue that Snowden himself is just a symptom of those vulnerabilities. The persistence of these exploitable weaknesses represents a far more insidious threat to American national security than any individual.



Most troubling is the fact that the 465-page “Report on CIA Accountability Regarding Findings and Conclusions of the Report of the Joint Inquiry into Intelligence Community Activities Before and After the Terrorist Attacks of September 11, 2001” could have been written today rather than a decade ago:

Then-CIA Director George Tenet recognized as far back as 1998 that Osama bin Laden was a threat to the U.S., and that “we are at war” with global terrorism. Tenet wanted “no resources or people spared in this effort, either inside the CIA or the (intelligence) Community.” But then, according to the newly declassified report, no one actually created a “documented, comprehensive plan.”

Has this changed at all? Let’s ask U.S. President Barack Obama. Last week, he admitted to not yet having a complete strategy for training Iraqi forces to fight against the Islamic State, even though training began months ago.

The CIA Counterterrorism Center (CTC) officers responsible for bin Laden “did not have the operational experience, expertise and training necessary to accomplish their mission,” and the CTC “did not recognize the significance of reporting from credible sources in 2000 and 2001 that portrayed (Khalid Sheikh Mohammed) as a senior al-Qaeda lieutenant and thus missed important indicators of terrorist planning.”

That sounds similar to what happened in the vicinity of the palatial U.S. Embassy in Baghdad last year — a $750 million complex teeming with intelligence operatives around which the Islamic State managed to spring up last year and start taking over the Middle East. If there was any intelligence suggesting the possibility of such an outcome, the CIA sure wasn’t screaming about it.

In January 2000, an FBI officer assigned to the CTC wrote a critical travel memo about two of the 9/11 hijackers that was intended to be sent from the CIA to the FBI. It was never sent because it was “in the wrong format or needed editing.”

And to think that this incident took place before it became widely common to ignore email. Nowadays, would anyone be aware of a critical message falling into the cyber-abyss unless related to a lunch order that failed to appear in a timely fashion?

The personnel from various agencies who were gathered at the Osama bin Laden counterterrorism station — FBI, NSA, Federal Aviation Administration and State Department — were “unclear about the nature of their responsibilities.” Further, the NSA and CIA really didn’t like sharing intelligence.

Cooperation between agencies is still a problem. Every agency wants to do whatever gets the most publicity and gets the biggest chunk of the budget.

The CIA’s nonofficial cover (NOC) program was “not effectively engaged in the battle against al-Qaida,” reflecting “the weakness of the program itself.”

In other words, the spooks were warming ergonomic chairs inside embassies and swanning around the diplomatic dinner circuit under official diplomatic cover, on the premise that someone might provide them with useful intelligence in that context. Meanwhile, CIA officers tasked with gathering intelligence out in the real world were failing at it. This revelation ultimately gave rise to the CIA’s “Global Deployment Initiative,” an attempt to get more CIA officers out of embassies and out into the arenas of business and academia, where they’re more likely to encounter assets who can provide actionable intelligence, or where CIA officers can exert influence without raising suspicion. In 2013, a former senior CIA official told the Los Angeles Times that the program was a “colossal flop.”

CIA Counterterrorism Center reports were found to have a distinct inability to read the tea leaves and derive implications from the data. They tended to be informational rather than strategic: “One of the most striking characteristics of this material is the absence in many papers of any discussion of implications.”

Finally, an objective evaluation of the analytical output of an intelligence agency. If this is what the bureaucracy produces, it’s hard to imagine a better argument for outsourcing intelligence analysis to the private sector.

Intelligence agencies have presumably adapted to mitigate the Snowden leaks. It’s unacceptable that they have failed to just as aggressively address systemic problems that still remain a decade after the report was issued.

Rachel Marsden is a columnist, political strategist and former Fox News host based in Paris. She is the host of the syndicated talk show “UNREDACTED with Rachel Marsden” Tuesdays at 7 p.m. Eastern: Her website can be found at

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