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Posted at 8:44 PM ET, 05/18/2010

After intelligence report, Leiter should go

By Jeff Stein

Another day, another wake-up call for U.S. Intelligence. How many of those have we heard since the 1993 attack on the World Trade Center?

It’s uncanny how similar the 9/11 Commission’s report is to Tuesday’s verdict by the Senate Intelligence Committee on the so-called underwear bomber incident.

The only thing missing is the dots.

“The attacks were a shock,” the 9/11 Commission said almost six years ago, “but should not have come as a surprise.”

Likewise, on Tuesday, the Democratic-led SSCI said “there were systemic failures across the Intelligence Community.”

Or as Republican Senators Saxby Chambliss (Ga.) and Richard Burr (N.C.) put it in their minority report: “Some of the systemic errors this review identified also were cited as failures prior to 9/11.”

But it was the National Counterterrorism Center, specifically created after 9/11 to be "the primary organization in the United States Government for analyzing and integrating” threat intelligence, which took the biggest hit, surely dashing any dreams its director, Michael Leiter, might have harbored for higher office.

Specifically, the committee said, “NCTC was not organized adequately to fulfill its missions.”

Really? If U.S. intelligence hasn't completely eluded accountability -- and there's widespread doubt about that -- then somebody's got to take the fall.

Why not start with Leiter?

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Of course, the NCTC says it’s doing its best to fix the problem, particularly by setting up “pursuit teams” to follow up on tips.

But we’ve seen these kinds of quick fixes before.

The committee identified “fourteen specific points of failure --a series of human errors, technical problems, systemic obstacles, analytical misjudgments, and competing priorities -- which resulted in [Umar Farouk] Abdulmutallab being able to travel to the United States on December 25, 2009.”

The CIA didn’t do this, the State Department didn’t do that, NSA didn’t do this, the FBI didn’t get the memo, and so on.

The director of national intelligence, Adm. Dennis Blair, says "institutional and technological barriers remain that prevent seamless sharing of information."

Note the passive voice. Blair certainly doesn't accept responsibility.

And to be sure, the Intelligence Committee pointed the finger at Leiter, in all but name.

“NCTC personnel had the responsibility and the capability to connect the key reporting with the other relevant reporting,” the committee said. “The NCTC was not adequately organized and did not have resources appropriately allocated to fulfill its missions.”

We’re told again and again how the analysts work themselves to the bone, yet the report fairly screams (in a red-lettered headline): "NCTC's Watchlisting Office Did Not Conduct Additional Research to Find Additional Derogatory Information to Place Abdulmutallab on a Watchlist.”

Further, another headline yells, “Analysts Did Not Connect Key Reports Partly Identifying Abdulmutallab and Failed to Ensure Dissemination of All Relevant Reporting.”

Evidently, as with Sept. 11, 2001, the intelligence agencies, with an estimated $75 billion annual budget, remain a few light bulbs short of an imagination.

“Prior to the 12/25 plot,” the SSCI said, “counterterrorism analysts at NCTC, CIA, and NSA were focused on the threat of terrorist attacks in Yemen, but were not focused on the possibility of [al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula] attacks against the U.S. homeland. These other priorities contributed to the failure of analysts to recognize and collate the several pieces of intelligence reporting that mentioned Abdulmutallab.”

That’s even after Abdulmutallab’s father told the U.S. Embassy in Lagos that his son had fallen in with a bad crowd and might be up to no good.

But it turns out that the NCTC didn’t even know what its job was. At the time the report was written in March, it still didn’t.

As Chambliss and Burr put it, “Despite its statutory mission, NCTC did not believe it was the sole agency in the IC for piecing together all terrorism threats.”

“In fact,” the senators noted, “NCTC flatly declared to the committee that, "no one entity within the IC has sole responsibility nor bears the entire burden of either connecting dots or accountability for failing to do.”

Sure, they’re Republicans -- and therefore not shy about beating up on a Democratic administration.

But there’s not much daylight between them and the Democrats on this latest intelligence failure.

“Almost nine years after 9/11, we are concerned about whether or not the Intelligence Community is organized effectively to identify and disrupt terrorist attacks,” Chambliss and Burr said.

Who isn’t?

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By Jeff Stein  | May 18, 2010; 8:44 PM ET
Categories:  Intelligence  
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Comments

Does anyone really believe that 9/11 was not known about in advance and could not have been disrupted?

Every homeowner knows that flipping on the portch light will scare off a prowler, but no one even did that before 9/11.

3,000 were killed by terrorists because our leaders believed it would do us good. Okay, maybe they didn't know the towers would collapse.

Posted by: blasmaic | May 19, 2010 7:31 AM | Report abuse

I've worked with these agencies most of my 25-yr career and can you tell you that we will never be safe with the current manner in which the intelligence community is organized. It's not Leiter's or Obama's fault, if you must place blame it'd be with the 9/11 Commission that failed to mandate a full re-organization when they had everyone's attention. 16 agencies plus the DoD plus innumerable support organizations only clog the information pipeline instead of streamlining it.

Posted by: Eludium-Q36 | May 19, 2010 4:04 PM | Report abuse

Jeff, Can you name one single USG official who was ever fired or otherwise held accountable for any terrorist attack against any U.S. embassy, aircraft, the bombing of the Marine Barracks, Khobar Towers, 9/11, Oklahoma City etc...? Instead the system tends to recycle these individuals such as selecting Charlie Allen to head DHS IA despite Allen's dismal record while at the CIA where he presided over gross analytical failures or Kappes or Brennan or even Tenet for that matter. Who was held accountable for the death of seven agency personnel? No one. We don't have leaders in such positions who take personal responsibility. Has any government official ever resigned in the wake of these attacks? No, instead its finger pointing, commissions, hearings etc...We have a culture that does not hold anyone accountable for such things. It certainly won't start with Leiter. But Congress speaks with a forked tongue in trying to fix the blame on him alone. They endorse such individuals as Caryn Wagner who has zero IC experience other than what she acquired on the Hill. Her main qualification is that she is connected to the Hill. Unfortunately more tragedies won't change anything.

Posted by: baalex1 | May 19, 2010 8:49 PM | Report abuse

Yaawwnnn......
Dog bites man.
Is anyone surprised that the government /intelligence community is staffed by lazy dimwits who spend their time drinking coffee and stealing office supplies?
9/11, underwear bomber, Shazad, etc., etc.

Posted by: graywolf98 | May 19, 2010 10:21 PM | Report abuse

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