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This article is a subsection of Joint Enquiry into Intelligence Community Activities full text
Our review of the events surrounding September 11 has revealed a number of systemic weaknesses that hindered the Intelligence Community’s counterterrorism efforts before September 11. If not addressed, these weaknesses will continue to undercut U.S. counterterrorist efforts. In order to minimize the possibility of attacks like September 11 in the future, effective solutions to those problems need to be developed and fully implemented as soon as possible.
Prior to September 11, the Intelligence Community was neither well organized nor equipped, and did not adequately adapt, to meet the challenge posed by global terrorists focused on targets within the domestic United States. Serious gaps existed between the collection coverage provided by U.S. foreign and U.S. domestic intelligence capabilities. The U.S. foreign intelligence agencies paid inadequate attention to the potential for a domestic attack. The CIA ’s failure to watchlist suspected terrorists aggressively reflected a lack of emphasis on a process designed to protect the homeland from the terrorist threat. As a result, CIA
employees failed to watchlist al-Mihdhar and al-Hazmi. At home, the counterterrorism effort suffered from the lack of an effective domestic intelligence capability. The FBI was unable to identify and monitor effectively the extent of activity by al-Qa’ida and other international terrorist groups operating in the United States. Taken together, these problems greatly exacerbated the nation’s vulnerability to an increasingly dangerous and immediate international terrorist threat inside the United States.
Discussion: The United States has a long history of defining internal threats as either foreign or domestic and assigning responsibility to the intelligence and law enforcement agencies accordingly. This division reflects a fundamental policy choice and is codified in law. For example, the National Security Act of 1947 precludes CIA from exercising any internal security or law enforcement powers. The [[Congressional investigations of the 1970’s into the activities of the intelligence agencies]], including their efforts to collect information regarding anti-Vietnam War activists and other “radicals,” reinforced the importance of this division in the minds of the Congress, the American public, and the agencies.
The emergence, in the 1990s, of a threat posed by international terrorists who operate across national borders demanded huge changes in focus and approach from intelligence agencies traditionally organized and trained to operate primarily in either the United States or abroad. The legal authorities, operational policies and cultures that had molded agencies like CIA, NSA and the FBI for years had not responded to the “globalization” of terrorism that culminated in the September 11 attacks in the United States. While some efforts, such as the creation of the CTC at CIA in 1986, were made to increase collaboration between these agencies, the agencies focused primarily on what remained essentially separate spheres of operations. In the absence of any collective national strategy, they retained significant autonomy in deciding how to attack and array their resources against Usama Bin Ladin and al-Qa’ida. Efforts to develop such a strategy might have exposed the significant counterterrorism gaps that existed between the agencies as well as the increasingly urgent need to compensate for those gaps in the absence of more fundamental changes in organization and legal authority.
Prior to September 11, CIA and NSA continued to focus the bulk of their efforts on the foreign operations of terrorists. While intelligence reporting indicated that al-
Qa’ida intended to strike in the United States, these agencies believed that defending against this threat was primarily the responsibility of the FBI. This Joint Inquiry found that both agencies routinely passed a large volume of intelligence to the FBI, but that neither agency followed up to determine what the FBI learned from or did with that [page 37] information. Neither did the FBI keep NSA and CIA adequately informed of developments within its areas of responsibility.
As noted earlier, the record confirms instances where, despite numerous opportunities, information that was directly relevant to the domestic threat was simply overlooked and not disseminated in a timely manner to the FBI. For example, the CIA analyst who neglected to raise the information concerning al-Mihdhar and al-Hazmi’s U.S. travel in a June 2001 meeting with the FBI in New York said in a Joint Inquiry interview that the information he had learned concerning the pair’s travel to Los Angeles “did not mean anything to him.” He also explained to the Joint Inquiry that the information was operational in nature and he would have needed permission before disclosing it.
The CIA’s inconsistent performance regarding the watchlisting of suspected terrorists prior to September 11 also suggests a lack of attention to the domestic threat. Watchlists are a vital link in denying entry to the United States by terrorists and others who threaten the national security, and CTC had reminded personnel of the importance of watchlisting in December 1999 (see Appendix, “CTC Watchlisting Guidance – December 1999”). Yet, some CIA officers in CTC indicated they did not put much emphasis on watchlists. The Joint Inquiry confirmed that there was no formal process in place at the CTC prior to September 11 for watchlisting suspected terrorists, even where, as was the case with al-Hazmi and al-Mihdhar, there were indications of travel to the United States.
Other CIA personnel reported that they received no training on watchlisting and that names were added on an ad hoc basis. In the days and weeks following the September 11 attacks, more focused CIA review of over 1,500 Classified Intelligence Reports that had not previously been provided to the State Department for watchlist purposes resulted in the identification of 150 suspected terrorists and the addition of 58
suspected terrorist names to the watchlist. DCI Tenet acknowledged in his testimony before the Joint Inquiry that CIA’s watchlisting training had been deficient and that a [page 38] mistake had been made in the failure to watchlist both al-Mihdhar and al- Hazmi promptly.
[There were also gaps between NSA’s coverage of foreign communications and the FBI’s coverage of domestic communications that suggest a lack of sufficient attention to the domestic threat. Prior to September 11, neither agency focused on the importance of identifying and then ensuring coverage of communications between the United States and suspected terrorist-associated facilities abroad [ ]. Consistent with its focus on communications abroad, NSA adopted a policy that avoided intercepting the communications between individuals in the United States and foreign countries].
NSA adopted this policy even though the collection of such communications is within its mission and it would have been possible for NSA to obtain FISA Court authorization for such collection. NSA Director Hayden testified to the Joint Inquiry that NSA did not want to be perceived as targeting individuals in the United States and believed that the FBI was instead responsible for conducting such surveillance. NSA did not, however, develop a plan with the FBI to collect and to ensure the dissemination of any relevant foreign intelligence to appropriate domestic agencies. This further evidences the slow response of the Intelligence Community to the developing transnational threat.
[The Joint Inquiry has learned that one of the future hijackers communicated with a known terrorist facility in the Middle East while he was living in the United States. The Intelligence Community did not identify the domestic origin of those communications prior to September 11, 2001 so that additional FBI investigative efforts could be coordinated. Despite this country’s substantial advantages, there was insufficient focus on what many would have thought was among the most critically important kinds of terrorist-related communications, at least in terms of protecting the Homeland]. [Page 39]
While most of the Intelligence Community focused on the collection of foreign intelligence, the Joint Inquiry was told repeatedly that the nation lacked an effective domestic intelligence capability prior to September 11. Former National Coordinator for Counterterrorism Richard Clarke saw this as a longstanding problem that became painfully obvious in the aftermath of September 11:
Well, I hear all of these comments about the Phoenix memo, the Minnesota case, whatever. I think they miss the point that the failures
were years earlier. It was a failure on the part of the United States to not have a domestic intelligence collection capability. I understand the reasons for the lack of the ability. I know the abuses the FBI engaged in [during] the 1950s and 1960s. I know the reason we have the Attorney General-levied guidelines. But I think the pendulum swung too far, and when we became aware of the fact that there were forces in the world such as al-Qa’ida, and others, Iran, Hezbollah, that meant us ill, certainly by the 1980s or 1990s we should have recognized the need for a domestic intelligence collection capability. Other democracies with civil rights and civil liberties have that. It doesn’t mean you become a totalitarian state if you do a good job of oversight and control. We needed to have a domestic intelligence collection and analysis capability, and we did not have it, and only now are we beginning to get it.
. . . .
But my point about the FBI was not just a few hints were missed or dots weren’t connected; it is – my point was, they didn’t have the mission. It was not their job to be a domestic collection service. Their job was to do law enforcement. And they didn’t have the rules that permitted them to do domestic intelligence collection.
While the FBI’s counterterrorist program had produced successful investigations and major prosecutions of both domestic and international terrorists, numerous witnesses told the Joint Inquiry that the program was, at least prior to September 11, incapable of producing significant intelligence products. The FBI’s traditional reliance on an aggressive, case-oriented, law enforcement approach did not encourage the broader collection and analysis efforts that are critical to the intelligence mission. Lacking appropriate personnel, training, and information systems, the FBI primarily gathered intelligence to support specific investigations, not to conduct all-source analysis for dissemination to other intelligence agencies. Former National Security Advisor Sandy Berger testified about the FBI’s failure, prior to September 11, to assess the extent of the foreign terrorist threat to the United States adequately: [page 40] Until the very end of our term in office, the view we received from the Bureau was that al-Qa’ida had limited capacity to operate in the United
States and that any presence here was under surveillance. That was not implausible at the time. With the exception of the World Trade Center bombings in 1993, not attributed before 9/11 to Bin Ladin, plots by foreign terrorists within the United States have been detected and stopped. But revelations since September 11 have made it clear that the Bureau underestimated the domestic threat. The stream of threat information we received continuously from the FBI and CIA pointed overwhelmingly to attacks on U.S. interests abroad. Certainly, the potential for attacks in the United States was there.
Former National Security Advisor Brent Scowcroft told the Joint Inquiry hearing on September 19, 2002, that:
. . . .I was thinking back [on] intelligence information from the FBI, and I
was trying to think of cases where we actually got it. Not very much, because we are or I was focused on foreign intelligence primarily. There was some counterintelligence issues where the FBI intelligence was particularly involved, and the one case I mentioned. Pan Am 103, but that was investigative intelligence and the FBI and the CIA did an absolutely brilliant job on that. But I can't think of many--can't recall of any instances of pure intelligence product from the FBI. And I don't say that pejoratively at all.
Former National Coordinator for Counterterrorism Richard Clarke voiced similar concerns about the extent of the FBI’s understanding of the domestic threat:
Let me give you the FBI case, because I think it is the most clear.
Following the Millennium alert . . . and . . . review, it became very clear to . . . the [FBI] Assistant Director for Counterterrorism, there was the potential for sleeper cells in the United States, people . . . the United States that had been involved in the planned attacks. . . . . This was in 2000. The Assistant Director . . . then began a program to try to get more control of the 56 FBI field offices, and I visited five or six of the field offices and asked them what they were doing about al-Qa’ida. I got sort of blank looks of “what is al-Qa’ida?”
He compared the effort to add priority to al-Qa’ida investigations in the FBI field offices to ”trying to . . . sort of turn this big Queen Mary luxury liner, trying to turn it.” [Page 41] Numerous individuals told this Inquiry that the FBI’s 56 field offices enjoy a great deal of latitude in managing their work, consistent with the dynamic and reactive nature of its traditional law enforcement mission. In counterterrorism efforts, however, that flexibility apparently served to dilute the FBI’s national focus on Bin Ladin and al-
Qa’ida. Although the FBI made counterterrorism a “Tier One” priority, not all of its field offices responded consistently to this FBI Headquarters decision. The New York Field Office did make terrorism a high priority and was given substantial responsibility for the al-Qa’ida target following the first attack on the World Trade Center in 1993. However, many other FBI offices were not focused on al-Qa’ida and had little understanding of the extent of the threat it posed within this country prior to September 11.
The combination of these factors seriously handicapped efforts to identify and defend against the foreign terrorist threat to the domestic United States. It is not surprising, in the absence of more focused intelligence, that senior policymakers told this Inquiry that, prior to September 11, they believed the terrorist threat was focused on U.S. interests overseas. Deputy Secretary of State Armitage, for example, testified that “. . . I don’t think we really had made the leap in our mind that we are no longer safe behind these two great oceans. . . .” Former Deputy Secretary of Defense John Hamre said in a Joint Inquiry interview that he could not remember ever seeing an intelligence report on the existence of terrorist sleeper cells in the United States. In retrospect, he recalled: “. . . we thought we were dealing in important things, but we missed the domestic threat from international terrorism.”
Prior to September 11, 2001, neither the U.S. Government as a whole nor the Intelligence Community had a comprehensive counterterrorist strategy for combating the threat posed by Usama Bin Ladin. Furthermore, the Director of Central Intelligence (DCI) was either unwilling or unable to marshal the full range of Intelligence Community resources necessary to combat the growing threat to the United States. Discussion: The Intelligence Community is a large distributed organism. It encompasses 14 agencies and tens of thousands of employees. The number of people [page 42] employed exclusively in the effort against Usama Bin Ladin and al-Qa’ida was relatively small. In addition, these people were operating in geographically dispersed locations, often not connected by secure information technologies, and within established bureaucracies that were not culturally or organizationally attuned to one another’s requirements. Many of them had limited experience against the target, and did not know one another. To achieve success in such an environment, leadership is a critical factor. The Joint Inquiry found that the Intelligence Community’s structure made leadership difficult. TOP SECRET 39 TOP SECRET Usama Bin Ladin first came to the attention of the Intelligence Community in the early 1990s, initially as a financier of terrorist activities. In 1996, as Bin Ladin’s direct involvement in planning and directing terrorist acts became more evident, the DCI’s Counterterrorist Center (CTC) created a special unit to focus specifically on him and the threat he posed to the interests of the United States. Personnel within CTC recognized as early as 1996 and 1997 that Usama Bin Ladin posed a grave danger to the United States. Following the August 1998 bombings of two U.S. embassies in East Africa, the DCI made combating the threat posed by Usama Bin Ladin one of the Intelligence Community’s highest priorities, establishing it as a “Tier 0 priority.” The DCI raised the status of the Bin Ladin threat still further when he announced in writing in December 1998 regarding Bin Ladin: “We are at war…I want no resources or people spared in this effort, either inside the CIA or the [Intelligence] Community.” This declaration appeared in a memorandum from the DCI to CIA senior managers, the Deputy DCI for Community Management and the Assistant DCI for Military Support. The Intelligence Community as a whole, however, had only a limited awareness of this declaration. For example, some senior managers in the National Security Agency and the Defense Intelligence Agency say they were aware of the declaration. However, it was apparently not well known within the Federal Bureau of Investigation. In fact, the Assistant Director of the FBI’s Counterterrorism Division testified to the Joint Inquiry that he “was not specifically aware of that declaration of war.” [Page 43] Furthermore, and even more disturbing, Joint Inquiry interviews of FBI field office personnel indicated that they were not aware of the DCI’s declaration, and some had only a passing familiarity with the very existence of Usama Bin Ladin and al-Qa’ida prior to September 11. Neither were the Deputy Secretary of Defense or the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff aware of the DCI’s declaration. This suggests a fragmented Intelligence Community that was operating without a comprehensive strategy for combating the threat posed by Bin Ladin, and a DCI without the ability to enforce consistent priorities at all levels throughout the Community. TOP SECRET 40 TOP SECRET The Director of NSA at the time of the DCI’s 1998 declaration was Lieutenant General Kenneth Minihan. He acknowledged in a Joint Inquiry interview that he was aware of that declaration, but believed that the DCI was speaking for CIA only. In his experience, he said, the DCI generally left Intelligence Community matters to the head of the Community Management Staff. The record of this Joint Inquiry indicates that the DCI did not marshal resources effectively even within CIA against the threat posed by al-Qa’ida. Despite the DCI’s declaration to CIA officials that the Agency was at war with Bin Ladin, there is substantial evidence that the DCI’s Counterterrorist Center needed additional personnel prior to September 11, and that the lack of resources had a substantial impact on its ability to detect and monitor al-Qa’ida’s activities. For example: • In a September 12, 2002 Joint Inquiry hearing, the former Chief of CTC testified that he did not have enough people to counter the threat posed by Bin Ladin’s network: “The three concepts I would like to leave you with are people, the finances, and operational approvals or political authorities. We didn’t have enough of any of these before 9/11.” • In the same hearing, a senior CTC manager said, “Did we have enough personnel resources? No. We always needed more.” [Page 44] • In the same hearing, a former Chief of the CTC unit dedicated to focusing on Bin Ladin explained: “We never had enough officers from the Directorate of Operations. The officers we had were greatly overworked….We also received marginal analytic support from the Directorate of Intelligence….” • In a September 20, 2002 Joint Inquiry hearing, a CIA officer commented on the reasons for the CIA’s failure to follow-up regarding the two September 11 hijackers who came to the attention of the Intelligence Community in January 2000: How could these misses have occurred?… The CIA operators focused on the Malaysia meeting while it occurred; when it was over, they focused on TOP SECRET 41 TOP SECRET other, more urgent operations against threats real or assessed. Of the many people involved, no one detected that the data generated by this operation crossed a reporting threshold, or, if they did, they assumed that the reporting requirement had been met elsewhere…. They are the kinds of misses that happen when people – even very competent, dedicated people such as the CIA officers and FBI agents and analysts involved in all aspects of this story – are simply overwhelmed. • When asked why there was no marshaling of personnel to CTC to fight Bin Ladin’s network, the former Chief of CTC recalled that the CIA’s Deputy Director of Operations said there were not enough personnel to go around and CTC was already well-endowed with people as compared to other divisions in CIA. Almost immediately after September 11, 2001, there was a substantial infusion of personnel into the CTC. No comparable shift of resources occurred in December 1998 after the DCI’s declaration of war, in December 1999 during the Millennium crisis, or after the attack on USS Cole in October 2000. In his testimony before the Joint Inquiry on October 17, 2002, the DCI said, “In hindsight, I wish I had said, ‘Let’s take the whole enterprise down,’ and put 500 more people there sooner.” It is noteworthy that the DCI’s comments were limited to the CIA [page 45] and did not encompass marshaling the resources of other agencies within the Intelligence Community. Despite the DCI’s December 1998 declaration of war, other priorities continued to detract from the Intelligence Community’s effort against Bin Ladin. The Joint Inquiry heard repeatedly about intelligence priorities that competed contemporaneously with Bin Ladin for personnel and funds. These included a range of regional and global issues. The NSA Director described the pre-September 11 situation at NSA: We, like everyone else at the table, were stretched thin in September. The war against terrorism was our number one priority. We had about five number one priorities. And we had to balance what we were doing against all of them. . . . . [Further, the NSA Director testified that he knew what NSA had to do to improve its capabilities against the modern means of communications used by Bin Ladin and other TOP SECRET 42 TOP SECRET targets prior to September 11, but was unable to obtain Intelligence Community support and resources for that effort: Given all the other intelligence priorities, it would have been difficult at that time within the [Intelligence Community] or the Department of Defense to accept the kind of resource decisions that would have been necessary to make our effort against the target more robust. NSA was focused heavily on [a range of regional and global issues]. Our resources, both human and financial, were in decline. Our efforts in 2000 to churn money internally were not accepted by the Community; its reliance on [signals intelligence] had made it reluctant to give it up]. The inability to realign Intelligence Community resources to combat the threat posed by Usama Bin Ladin is a relatively direct consequence of the limited authority of the DCI over major portions of the Intelligence Community. As former Senator Warren Rudman noted on October 8, 2002 in his testimony before the Joint Inquiry: “You have a Director of Central Intelligence who is also the Director of CIA; eighty-five percent of [the Intelligence Community’s budget] is controlled by the Department of Defense.” [Page 46] While the DCI has statutory responsibility that spans the Intelligence Community, his actual authorities are limited to the budgets and personnel over which he exercises direct control, i.e., the CIA, the Office of the DCI, and the Community Management Staff. As former Congressman and House Intelligence Committee Chairman Lee Hamilton stated in his testimony to the Joint Inquiry on October 3, 2002: Currently, the Director of Central Intelligence, the leading intelligence figure, as we all know, does not control but a small portion of his budget. The DCI has, as I understand it, enhanced authority after 1997, and that permits him to consolidate the national intelligence budget, to make some trade-offs, but given the overwhelming weight of the Defense Department in the process, that is of limited value. . . . . The very phrase “Intelligence Community” is intriguing. It demonstrates how decentralized and fragmented our intelligence capabilities are. . . . The Intelligence Community is a very loose confederation. . . . . . . . [T]he thing that puzzles me here is why we reject for the Intelligence Community the model of organization that we follow in every other enterprise in this country. We have someone at the head who has responsibility and accountability. We accept that. But for some reason we reject it when it comes to the Intelligence Community. TOP SECRET 43 TOP SECRET Further evidence of the absence of authoritative leadership and a comprehensive counterterrorist strategy can be found in what the DCI referred to in his Joint Inquiry testimony on October 17, 2002 as “The Plan.” In his testimony, the DCI said: In spring of 1999, we produced a new comprehensive operational plan of attack against [Usama Bin Ladin] and al Qaeda inside and outside of Afghanistan. The strategy was previewed to senior CIA management by the end of July of 1999. By mid-September it had been briefed to the CIA operational level personnel, to NSA, to the FBI and other partners. The CIA began to put in place the elements of this operational strategy which structured the agency’s counterterrorism activity until September 11 of 2001. [According to documents reviewed by the Joint Inquiry, “The Plan” of 1999 consisted primarily of a variety of CIA covert action efforts directed against Usama Bin Ladin. Later, “The Plan” also included [ ]. Thus, “The Plan” was focused principally on CIA, Afghanistan, covert action, and technical collection aimed at Usama Bin Ladin]. From a broader perspective, “The Plan” was significant for what it did not include: • An Intelligence Community-wide estimate of the threat posed by Usama Bin Ladin’s network to the United States and to U.S. interests overseas; • Significant participation by other elements of the Intelligence Community; • A delineation of the resources required to execute “The Plan;” • Any decisions to downgrade other Intelligence Community priorities to accommodate the priority of “The Plan;” • Any attention to the threat to and vulnerabilities of the U.S. homeland; and • Any FBI involvement. The absence of involvement by agencies other than CIA in “The Plan” is particularly troubling, given gaps that existed in the efforts by other agencies to address Bin Ladin. While the CIA was putting significant effort and attention into Usama Bin Ladin, covert action, and Afghanistan, the FBI, for example, was focused on other issues. Although FBI leadership recognized after the Embassy bombings in August 1998 that al- TOP SECRET 44 TOP SECRET Qa’ida posed an increasing threat to United States interests, investigations in the United States of those who raised funds for other terrorist groups continued to consume considerable field resources and attention prior to September 11. While the FBI devoted considerable resources to the criminal investigations of the terrorist attacks overseas, substantial efforts to prevent similar attacks at home were lacking. Former National Security Advisor Sandy Berger told the Joint Inquiry: “. . . if there was a flood of intelligence information [on terrorism] from the CIA, there was hardly a trickle from the FBI.” In some FBI field offices, there was little focus on, or awareness of, Usama Bin Ladin and al-Qa’ida. This included the San Diego field office where FBI agents would discover, after September 11, that there had been numerous local connections to at least two of the hijackers. [Page 48] The Executive Assistant Director of the FBI’s Counterterrorism Division testified to the Joint Inquiry that the FBI had no war plan against Bin Ladin: “Did we have a war plan, a five-paragraph ops order issued on Usama Bin Ladin and al-Qa’ida? Absolutely, we did not at that time.” When asked how the FBI's counterterrorism program fit into the overall Intelligence Community counterterrorism program, the same Assistant Director replied: “I am not sure if I know the answer to that. I talked to [the DCI] briefly about this. I have talked to [the CTC Chief] prior to -- the answer to your question is, I don't know the answer.” Without a comprehensive strategy in place for the whole Intelligence Community, there was no assurance that agencies like the FBI were focused on the DCI’s “war” effort. Consistent with the absence of any comprehensive strategy, a recent Department of Justice Inspector General (IG) report found that: “The FBI has never performed a comprehensive written assessment of the risk of the terrorist threat facing the United States." As the IG report explained: "Such an assessment would be useful not only to define the nature, likelihood, and severity of the threat but also to identify intelligence gaps that need to be addressed. Moreover, we believe that comprehensive threat and risk assessments would be useful in determining where to allocate attention and resources...on programs and initiatives to combat terrorism." This kind of assessment still had not been completed as recently as Director Mueller’s testimony on October 17, 2002. Nor did the DCI’s National Intelligence TOP SECRET 45 TOP SECRET Council ever produce a National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) regarding the threat to the United States posed by al-Qa’ida or Usama Bin Ladin. Without the support of a comprehensive strategy or credible domestic threat assessment, DCI resource requests were often unsuccessful. In response to questions about his own efforts to obtain additional counterterrorism resources, the DCI described to the Joint Inquiry hearing on June 18, 2002 his inability, prior to September 11, to generate necessary support within the Executive Branch: [I would ask e]very year in [the] budget submission. [Page 49] . . . . I'm not talking about the Committee. I'm talking about the front end at OMB and the hurdle you have to get through to fully fund what we thought we needed to do the job. Senator Kyl once asked me a question in Senator Shelby's Committee and said, how much money are you short. I'm short $900 million to $1 billion every year for the next five years, is what I answered. And we told that to everybody downtown for as long as anybody would listen and never got to first base. So you get what you pay for in terms of our ability to be as big and robust as people - and when I became Director, we had [ ] case officers around the world. Now we're up to about [ ] and the President's given us the ability to grow that by another [ ]. And everybody wonders why you can't do all the things people say you need to do. Well, if you don't pay at the front end, it ain't going to be there at the back end. Having said that, I think we made an enormous amount of progress against this target. That would be my view].
- Main article: Joint Inquiry:Part One Section III C 3
While technology remains one of this nation’s greatest advantages, it has not been fully and most effectively applied in support of U.S. counterterrorism efforts. Persistent problems in this area included a lack of collaboration between Intelligence Community agencies, a reluctance to develop and implement new technical capabilities aggressively, the FBI’s reliance on outdated and insufficient technical systems, and the absence of a central counterterrorism database. Discussion: The Joint Inquiry confirmed that the Intelligence Community had not yet fully incorporated the benefits of technology in the war against terrorism. Lack of agency collaboration in the areas of technical collection and systems development was one contributing factor. While CIA and NSA have had many successful joint counterterrorism technical operations, the Inquiry was told that overlapping targets and greater use of similar technologies caused friction between the two agencies in some instances. Disputes emerged regarding which agency should be in charge of developing and using such technologies against which targets. The Director of NSA explained to the Joint Inquiry that “the old divisions of labor are impractical – the new electronic universe [page 58] requires more and more cooperation.” He added that he “would not be surprised if someday the closeness of this relationship would require organizational changes.” In Joint Inquiry interviews, agency personnel stated that, while individual relationships and cooperation between CIA and NSA at the working level had often been very good, relationships at the mid- and upper-management levels of those agencies were often strained. CIA perceived NSA as wanting to control technology use and development, while NSA was concerned that CIA was engaged in operations that were NSA’s responsibility. TOP SECRET 54 TOP SECRET As a result, significant agency resources were devoted to documenting authorities and responsibilities. For example, no less than seven executive-level memoranda (including one from the President) have been necessary to reach agreement and define the responsibilities and authorities of CIA and NSA in one counterterrorism effort. The agencies also established a Senior Partnership Advisory Group to continue to deal with these issues and CIA assigned several officers to NSA to enhance technology development. Prior to September 11, the Director of NSA publicly acknowledged the challenge posed by Usama Bin Ladin’s access to the modern communications technology developed by a three trillion dollar industry. Despite this recognition, NSA failed to focus its efforts against al-Qa’ida’s use of certain forms of this technology, [ ]. NSA also had not adapted technology fully to the challenge of transnational threats such as terrorism. These present much different challenges than those posed by state actors, such as the former Soviet Union, that were NSA’s primary targets in the 1980’s. As a result, prior to September 11, NSA provided little counterterrorism intelligence from certain important technical sources. More critically, NSA has not been able to describe to the Joint Inquiry its plans to address this technical problem on a larger scale. [Page 59] Similarly, NSA could not demonstrate its current analytic tools to the Joint Inquiry and could not identify upgrades that will assist NSA analysts in identifying critical intelligence amidst the large volumes of information it collects. In the absence of such tools, NSA language analysts must still conduct the bulk of their work with pencil and paper. Many develop their own personal “databases” on index cards that cannot be made readily available to counterterrorism analysts at other agencies. NSA’s highly publicized TRAILBLAZER program was often cited by NSA officials as the solution to many of these problems, but the implementation of those solutions is three to five years away and confusion still exists at NSA as to what will actually be provided by that program. The FBI’s Deputy Assistant Director for Counterterrorism Analysis testified to the Joint Inquiry that “one of the FBI’s major deficiencies was that the FBI confronted a TOP SECRET 55 TOP SECRET variety of problems in sharing information, not only with other agencies but within the Bureau itself. This was and is largely attributable to inadequate information technology.” Likewise, Director Mueller acknowledged to the Joint Inquiry that “[o]ver the years, [the FBI] failed to develop a sufficient capacity to collect, store, search, retrieve, analyze, and share information.” In their testimony, FBI field agents from Phoenix, Minneapolis and New York all cited the FBI’s technology problems as among the top three things they would like to see addressed in terms of the counterterrorism effort. As a New York agent explained: The technology, number one. The FBI is a member of the Intelligence Community. We have to be able to communicate with them. We have to be able to have databases that can be integrated with them, and right now we do not. It is a major problem. It is a major problem for our analysis. The FBI deployed its Automated Case System (ACS) in 1995 to replace a system of written reports and indices. The ACS was supposed to enable agents to send leads to other FBI offices and units and to have access to a vast array of data electronically. [Page 60] However, study after study has concluded that ACS is limited in its search capacity, difficult to use, and unreliable. The Chief of the FBI’s Radical Fundamentalist Unit (RFU) testified that ACS remains unfriendly, unreliable and unworkable, and that, instead of using ACS to manage cases, many agents rely on e-mail and paper copies to transmit important data. In interviews, some FBI personnel conceded that “routine” leads, on which there were no automated communications, might have “fallen through the cracks.” Despite the priority given to the war against terrorism since September 11, the Joint Inquiry heard testimony that, at least as of the end of September 26, 2002, there were still 68,000 outstanding, unassigned leads directed to the Counterterrorism Division, dating back to 1995. Because many FBI personnel did not use ACS to track outstanding leads, the FBI has been unable to determine how many of these leads have been completed. As the RFU Chief explained: I think we need to make it very clear, though, because there is [sic] 68,000 leads outstanding on that point, that does not mean that those leads were not handled.... [E]ven though the lead is shown in the computer as not covered by the Counterterrorism Division, it is covered by the operational TOP SECRET 56 TOP SECRET
unit. So there is a lot of duplication. . . .[T]he system is very cumbersome, and people unfortunately have just become very frustrated with it, to the point where . . . [w]hat will frequently happen, for example, is even though a field division sends a lead to headquarters and ACS, they are also e-mailing that communication to the particular FBI headquarters [supervisory special agent]. So they are getting it and working on it via the e-mail but not necessarily within the ACS system. . . . Even though a couple of years ago . . . there was a directive that went out to the field telling them to stop sending hard copies to headquarters because they should be retrieved electronically, it was well known, both in the field and at headquarters, that you wouldn’t get the communication or there was a good chance that you weren’t going to get it. As such, the field would routinely still send hard copy. ACS requires that FBI analysts search for information relevant to their analytical responsibilities. This is in stark contrast to the CIA’s automated system, which automatically routes communications to analysts that are relevant to their interests. Before September 11, 2001, many FBI field agents did not include sensitive information in ACS because they believed the system was not secure. In addition, many agents who did include information in ACS blocked access to it in order to limit the number of FBI [page 61] personnel who could obtain the information. Given these limitations, ACS does not provide assured retrieval of complete, authoritative information on any subject. The fact that many FBI personnel do not understand how to make maximum use of the limited capabilities of ACS and the FBI’s other databases compounds the problem. Because of its limitations, many agents simply did not use ACS as a research or case management tool. When the Phoenix FBI field office agent was drafting his July 2001 Electronic Communication, he had no easy or reliable way of querying a central FBI system to determine whether there were other reports on radical fundamentalists taking flight training or whether other FBI field offices were investigating similar cases. As a result, the agent did not know that another FBI field office had voiced concern about Middle Eastern men taking flight lessons in 1998 or that an operational unit in the Counterterrorism Section at FBI Headquarters had directed twenty-four field offices (including Phoenix) to pay close attention to certain Islamic students engaged in aviation training in 1999. TOP SECRET 57 TOP SECRET In addition, because of the limitations of ACS, a number of addressees on the Phoenix communication, including the Chief of the FBI Headquarters Radical Fundamentalist Unit, were not aware of the communication before September 11. Further, even though that Unit handled both the Phoenix communication and the exchanges with the Minneapolis FBI field office in connection with the Moussaoui investigation, no one connected the two matters. Likewise, the Minneapolis FBI field office agents investigating Moussaoui had no reliable way of determining whether there was information in FBI files about threats to aviation or terrorist plots to hijack planes and, therefore, did not know about the Phoenix communication and other concerns about Middle Eastern men taking flight lessons. While ACS and most other FBI databases are classified at the Secret level, a large percentage of the information disseminated throughout the Intelligence Community is classified Top Secret and, therefore, cannot be maintained on ACS. The information is instead maintained on a separate database to which FBI counterterrorism personnel do [page 62] not have access at their desks. Further, the CIA places human intelligence information in a special compartment at the Secret level and that information also cannot be shared within the FBI’s databases. The Chief of the FBI’s Radical Fundamentalist Unit described the FBI’s situation in September 24, 2002 testimony to the Joint Inquiry: . . . [C]ommunications coming into our building from NSA, from CIA cannot be integrated into our existing databases. So if an analyst is working, say, on a subject in Phoenix division and they run that person's name through our databases, they will not retrieve information on that person that other agencies may also have. It is required of them to get up, walk over to a different set of--or a different computer that has access to a different database and search that name in that database; and the two databases will never come together and be integrated. So it is a setup for failure in terms of keeping a strategic picture of what we are up against. Although some FBI personnel have access to separate Top Secret Intelligence Community networks, the FBI’s computer systems are not linked to Intelligence Community systems or even to the Department of Justice. TOP SECRET 58 TOP SECRET
Prior to September 11, The Intelligence Community was not prepared to handle the challenge it faced in translating the volumes of foreign language counterterrorism intelligence it collected. Agencies within the Intelligence Community experienced backlogs in material awaiting translation, a shortage of language specialists and language-qualified field officers, and a readiness level of only 30% in the most critical terrorism-related languages. Discussion: The language problem has been one of the Intelligence Community’s perennial shortfalls. Prior to September 11, the shortage of language specialists who would be qualified to process large amounts of foreign language data in general, and Arabic in particular, was one of the most serious issues limiting the Intelligence Community’s ability to analyze, discern, and report on terrorist activities in a timely fashion. According to a senior NSA official, [ ]. These are promptly scanned for intelligence value, and only the most important – [ ] -- are then translated into English. Yet, prior to September 11, NSA had [ ] personnel assigned to this task. [Analyzing, processing, translating, and reporting al-Qa’ida-related [ ] communications requires the highest levels of language and target knowledge expertise that exist at the National Security Agency. The large number of TOP SECRET 70 TOP SECRET communicants whose native origins cover all of the major Arabic dialects makes this [page 75] analysis linguistically and analytically difficult. The target lives in and understands life in a thoroughly Islamic milieu, a milieu that is often reflected in the target’s communications]. Evaluating these communications requires considerable subject matter expertise in Islam in general and Islamic extremism in particular in order to ensure the best possible interpretations. Very few Arabic language analysts at NSA have done any graduate work in Islamic Studies and the vast majority of these linguists [ ]. The NSA Senior Language Authority explained to the Joint Inquiry that the Language Readiness Index for NSA language personnel working in the counterterrorism “campaign languages” is currently around 30%. This Index is based on the percentage of the mission that is being performed by qualified language analysts. The current low level of the Index is due in part to the fact that NSA has moved roughly [ ] language personnel since September 11 from areas in which they were performing quite well to counterterrorism, where they must gain experience and expertise before their performance can improve. [According to the Chief of the FBI’s Language Services Division, prior to September 11, the Bureau employed [ ] Arabic speakers and was experiencing a translation backlog. As a result, 35% of Arabic language materials derived from Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) collection were not reviewed or translated. If the number of Arabic speakers were to remain at [ ], the projected backlog would rise to 41% in 2003.] The Director of the CIA Language School testified that, given the CIA’s language requirements, the CIA Directorate of Operations is not fully prepared to fight a world- [page 76] wide war on terrorism and at the same time carry out its traditional agent recruitment and intelligence collection mission. She also added that there is no strategic TOP SECRET 71 TOP SECRET plan in place with regard to linguistic skills at the Agency. When asked about the language ability of CIA field officers, the Language School Director stated: [Traditionally we have had an adequate number of Arabic speakers to conduct their business in [ ]. Level of language required to use with a volunteer or for a thorough debriefing is very different than the level of language you need to socially chit-chat with somebody or to even recruit someone. And that is where the bar has been raised much higher, and that's why we must now have a cadre of language speakers, [ ] who indeed can debrief and write up reports with these volunteers]. The Director of the CIA Language School explained that CIA should have a pool of interpreters to meet language support needs at home and abroad, but that this is not easy to achieve. She stated that: “With the progress of technology, we keep on getting more material – [ ]. These things need translation, we don’t have that capability.” In her view, CIA field officers are typically generalists, and this has been important to their career progression culture since the mid- 1970s. Now, however, it is an absolute must that these officers possess expertise rather than mastery of “one little dab here and one little dab there.” Her recommendation was that either a culture change within CIA is called for or that a cadre of specialists be developed and not penalized.
[Prior to September 11, the Intelligence Community’s ability to produce significant and timely signals intelligence on counterterrorism was limited by NSA’s failure to address modern communications technology aggressively, continuing conflict between Intelligence Community agencies, NSA’s cautious approach to any collection of intelligence relating to activities in the United States, and insufficient collaboration between NSA and the FBI regarding the potential for terrorist attacks within the United States]. Discussion: While one of the Intelligence Community’s greatest strengths is its ability to rely on its advanced technical collection capabilities, the Joint Inquiry confirmed that the Community did not, prior to September 11, fully exploit those [page 77] capabilities in the effort against Bin Ladin and al-Qa’ida. Pre-September 11, [ ]. Post-September 11, this increased to [ ]. TOP SECRET 72 TOP SECRET It became very clear after September 11 [ ]. In testimony before the Joint Inquiry, the NSA Director acknowledged that “little was known prior to 11 September of how al-Qa’ida used [ ] communications. . . .We continue to attack key gaps that remain in our . . . [ ] exploitation capabilities.” Similarly, NSA has long had a program to use [ ], but again little was known about al- Qa’ida targets and few such operations were mounted before September 11. After September 11, this changed and the NSA Director was able to testify that: “[ ].” The inability to bring technical collection capabilities to bear in the counterterrorism area was particularly apparent in regard to signals intelligence that could have shed greater light on the potential for terrorist activity within the domestic United States. Both the NSA and the FBI have the authority, in certain circumstances, to intercept international communications, to include communications that have one communicant in the United States and one in a foreign country, for foreign intelligence purposes. While those authorities were intended to insure a seamless transition between U.S. foreign and domestic intelligence capabilities, significant gaps between those two spheres of intelligence coverage persisted and impeded domestic counterterrorist efforts. [Page 78] Before September 11, it was NSA policy not to target terrorists in the United States, even though it could have obtained a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court order authorizing such collection. NSA Director Hayden testified that it was more appropriate for the FBI to conduct such surveillance because NSA does not want to be TOP SECRET 73 TOP SECRET perceived as targeting individuals in this country and because the intelligence produced about communicants in the United States is likely to be about their domestic activities. [As a result, NSA regularly provided information about these targets to the FBI – both in its regular reporting and in response to specific requests from the FBI – [ ] that NSA acquired in the course of its collection operations. The FBI used this information in its investigations and obtained FISA Court authorization for electronic surveillance [ ] when FBI officials determined that such surveillance was necessary to assist one of its intelligence or law enforcement investigations]. [One collection capability that was used by both NSA and FBI under approval of the FISA Court (the “FISA Court technique”) had a [ ] probability of collecting [ ] communications between individuals in the United States and foreign countries. NSA did not use the FISA Court technique against [ ], however, precisely because of this [ ] probability]. As NSA Director Hayden has testified to the Joint Inquiry, NSA believed it was the FBI’s responsibility to collect communications of individuals in the United States. General Hayden stated two reasons for this position. One is that, since the individual is in the United States, the information obtained is most likely to relate to domestic activity that is of primary interest to the FBI. The second reason is that NSA does not want to be viewed as targeting persons in the United States. Joint Inquiry interviews of a wide range of NSA personnel, from the Director down to analysts, revealed the consistent theme that NSA did not target individuals in the United States. This is so ingrained at NSA that one counterterrorism supervisor at NSA admitted that she had never even thought about using this technique against [ ]. [Page 79] Despite the NSA view that this category of intelligence collection was the FBI’s responsibility, NSA and the FBI did not develop any plan to ensure that the Bureau made an informed decision about whether to use the FISA Court technique to collect communications between the United States and foreign countries that NSA was not covering. Thus, a gap developed between the level of coverage of communications TOP SECRET 74 TOP SECRET between the United States and foreign countries that was technically and legally available to the Intelligence Community and the actual use of that surveillance capability]. [This gap was potentially very damaging in the case of Khalid al-Mihdhar during the period in early 2000 when he was in the United States. [ ]. His presence in the United States was not determined by the Intelligence Community at the time. [ ]. [NSA and CIA officers often worked closely together in [ ] collection efforts against al-Qa’ida. The two agencies conducted [ ] operations, And these operations often met with some success. However, one type of these operations – [ ] – caused much friction between NSA and CIA. This was especially true at the mid- and upper-management levels where struggles developed regarding which agency was in charge of developing and using such technology when human intelligence and signals intelligence targets overlapped. CIA perceived NSA as wanting to control technology deployment and development, while [page 80] NSA was concerned that CIA was conducting NSA-type operations. The NSA Chief of Data Acquisition noted to the Inquiry that this has been an issue during his entire tour of almost three years. These frictions persisted even after the September 11 attacks. In the first six months of 2002, for example, no less than seven executive-level memoranda (including one from the President) were issued in attempts to delineate CIA and NSA responsibilities and authorities in this collection area]. The Chief of NSA’s Signals Intelligence Directorate acknowledged these frictions in a Joint Inquiry interview, but cited the executive memoranda as evidence that the situation is improving. NSA Director Hayden, told the Joint Inquiry that “the old divisions of labor are impractical; the new electronic universe requires more and more TOP SECRET 75 TOP SECRET cooperation. ” He also added that he “would not be surprised if someday the closeness of this relationship would require organizational changes.”
The continuing erosion of NSA’s program management expertise and experience has hindered its contribution to the fight against terrorism. NSA continues to have mixed results in providing timely technical solutions to modern intelligence collection, analysis, and information sharing problems. Discussion: One of the side effects of NSA’s downsizing, outsourcing, and transformation has been the loss of critical program management expertise, systems engineering, and requirements definition skills. These skills were devalued by NSA during the 1990s when most technical development was done within the agency, and the impact of their loss was evident in NSA’s response to the Joint Inquiry’s attempts to gather information concerning NSA’s plans for developing solutions to its current technology gaps in areas of particular importance to counterterrorism. [ ]. NSA was able to provide little more than very high-level and general vision statements. The impact of this lack of program management was evident during interviews with analysts who expressed frustration regarding their current working environment. [page 81] For example, they must now write three versions of reports in order to accommodate the demands of various customers and uses. The TRAILBLAZER program, which the NSA Director has described as NSA’s “effort to revolutionize how we produce SIGINT in a digital age,” is now not expected to produce such results until 2004 at the earliest and confusion still exists as to what those results will actually be. In the meantime, none of the analysts were aware of any near term efforts to alleviate their current system’s technical limitations. NSA personnel also stated that NSA’s efforts to collect [ ], reveals a critical deficiency in its capabilities. The solution to this deficiency is well understood and estimated to cost less than $1 million to implement. However, the project manager is still struggling for funds to pay for an upgrade that would not be completed until 2004. TOP SECRET 76 TOP SECRET The Joint Inquiry also found a high level of frustration among contractors who do business with the NSA. Common themes repeated to the Joint Inquiry concern the extremely poor quality of solicitation packages and acquisition expertise on the part of NSA employees and the inability of program managers to speak with consistency and authority on future contract opportunities. NSA also lacks a formal Contracting Officer Technical Representative certification program. This is of special concern as NSA continues to increase its reliance on contractors. In testimony to the Joint Inquiry in October 2002, the NSA Director stated that NSA “spent about a third of our SIGINT development money this year making things ourselves. Next year the number will be [dropping to] 17%.” The Chief of Staff for NSA’s Signals Intelligence Directorate (SID) told the Joint Inquiry he fears that “SID has lost its business acumen…and [he] worries greatly about the lack of acquisition experience and program planning, especially in light of NSA’s huge budget increase.” He also told the Joint Inquiry that he has worked actively on this issue, especially in providing program management training to frontline workers. [Page 82]
The U.S. Government does not presently bring together in one place all terrorism-related information from all sources. While CTC does manage overseas operations and has access to most Intelligence Community information, it does not collect terrorism-related information from all sources, domestic and foreign. Within the Intelligence Community, agencies did not adequately share relevant counterterrorism information, prior to September 11. This breakdown in communications was the result of a number of factors, including differences in the agencies’ missions, legal authorities and cultures. Information was not sufficiently shared, not only between different Intelligence Community agencies, but also within individual agencies, and between the intelligence and the law enforcement agencies. Discussion: Counterterrorism, like other transnational threats such as drug trafficking, requires close coordination and information sharing among and within the Intelligence Community agencies. Despite some improvement, significant problems remained in the sharing of information within the Intelligence Community, prior to September 11. As a result, the Community was unable to exploit the full range of capabilities and expertise in the counterterrorist effort. TOP SECRET 77 TOP SECRET Each of the principal collectors and analyzers of counterterrorism intelligence -- the FBI, CIA, NSA, and DIA -- has its own distinct missions, sets of legal authorities and restraints, and cultures. Unfortunately, these factors, while serving many other legitimate purposes, often hinder collaboration and willingness to share information. In his testimony, former Congressman and House Intelligence Committee Chairman Lee Hamilton described the problem: The very phrase “Intelligence Community” is intriguing. It demonstrates how decentralized and fragmented our intelligence capabilities are. . . . The Intelligence Community is a very loose confederation. There is a redundancy of effort, an imbalance between collection and analysis, and problems, as we have repeatedly heard in recent weeks, of coordination and sharing. While DCI George Tenet and former FBI Director Louis Freeh testified that collaboration and information sharing in the Intelligence Community have markedly improved in recent years, this Inquiry found that the agencies still act too often and at too many levels as a loose collection of entities. The Joint Inquiry heard testimony that confirmed problems in sharing information between different Intelligence Community agencies, within individual Intelligence Community agencies, and between law [page 83] enforcement and intelligence agencies. For example, the former FBI agent who had handled the San Diego informant testified about his personal experience with information sharing between the FBI and the CIA: Ms. Hill: You also [said] that, in your opinion, information sharing between the FBI and the CIA prior to 9/ll was almost nonexistent. Former FBI Agent: It was bad. Well, it’s not nonexistent, but . . . if you have a case that has a common mission and everybody can benefit from it, you’re going to get their assistance. But if you don’t have that, asking them for something, it’s very, very difficult. . . . . Former FBI Agent: If I had to rate it on a ten-point scale, I’d give them about a 2 or a 1.5 in terms of sharing information. Ms. Hill: Well, could you tell us what your experience was? Why do you say that? Former FBI Agent: [P]art of the problem here, I think, is being able to communicate with them. . . . TOP SECRET 78 TOP SECRET Ms. Hill: By “them,” you mean the CIA? Former FBI Agent: With the CIA. Everything’s got to go through headquarters, usually. Ms. Hill: Through your headquarters, or through CIA? Former FBI Agent: Through [FBI] headquarters. Normally, . . . you have some information you want the Agency to check on. You end up writing it up, sending it back through electronic communication or teletype, . . . or memo. . . . And then the Bureau, FBI headquarters, runs it across the street to the Agency. And then, maybe six months, eight months, a year later, you might get some sort of response. Even after the first World Trade Center attack in 1993, the Millennium plot, and attacks against U.S. embassies in East Africa in 1998 revealed that global Islamic extremists were capable of reaching into the United States, there was little sustained effort by the FBI, NSA, and CIA to work together to collect and share information about contacts between foreign persons in the United States and those abroad. For example, while a great amount of information that NSA collects is routinely transmitted electronically into CTC databases at CIA, this is not true of terrorist information collected domestically by the FBI. The Acting Chief of the FBI’s Radical Fundamentalist Unit, told the Joint Inquiry in an interview that, prior to September 11, the FBI would primarily think to provide the [Page 84] CIA with information obtained through FISA surveillance only when it was also being passed to a foreign government. The FBI did not share such information with CTC on a routine basis, partly due to the FBI’s inadequate information technology, but also because they believed that sharing information with intelligence agencies raised legal concerns relating to the traditional separation between law enforcement and intelligence operations. As a consequence, gaps occurred in the collection and analysis of information about individuals and groups operating in the United States and abroad. The FBI has traditionally viewed intelligence primarily as a tool for developing evidence to be used in FBI cases, rather than as the basis for valuable strategic analysis for the FBI or other intelligence agencies. As Director Mueller noted to the Joint Inquiry: TOP SECRET 79 TOP SECRET . . . one of the things that we have to do, and I think is changing since September 11, is for agents who are very good in the criminal sphere to look at a piece of information and not run it through the sifting that you do to determine whether it would be admissible in court. In other words, is it hearsay? Well, I am going to thrust it aside. Do I have lack of foundation? Therefore, I am going to disregard that. Prior to September 11, FBI personnel were not trained or equipped to share intelligence developed during FBI counterterrorism investigations with the Intelligence Community or even with other units within the FBI on a regular basis. For example, after receiving the Electronic Communication from the Phoenix field office in July 2001 indicating that al-Qa’ida might be sending operatives to the United States for flight training, a Headquarters Intelligence Operations Specialist (IOS) did not send it to the FBI’s analytic unit or to the CIA. Instead, the IOS forwarded it to the FBI field office in Portland, Oregon, primarily because of possible connections to an individual case there. The Joint Inquiry’s review of a July 2002 CIA cable that it found within a local FBI field office’s investigative files provides another example of information sharing problems within the FBI. A CIA officer assigned to a Joint Terrorism Task Force in California sent a cable to CIA Headquarters after analyzing information gleaned primarily from a review of the local FBI field office’s investigative files. He also [Page 85] provided a copy to the local FBI agent who was responsible for those files. The cable sets forth the CIA officer’s concerns regarding indications that persons associated with a foreign government may have provided financial support to some of the September 11 hijackers while they were living in the United States. Those indications, addressed in greater detail elsewhere in this report, obviously raise issues with serious national implications. Nevertheless, the FBI agent to whom he provided a copy viewed it only in relation to ongoing investigations and did not consider its possible value for other cases or the FBI’s national counterterrorism strategy. Thus, the FBI agent placed the cable in only one case file and did not forward a copy to FBI Headquarters. Similarly, the FBI typically used information obtained through the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) only in connection with the cases in which it was TOP SECRET 80 TOP SECRET obtained and would not routinely disseminate it within the FBI or to other members of the Intelligence Community. FBI personnel advised the Joint Inquiry that FISA information was not included in the FBI’s Automated Case System (ACS) because both criminal and intelligence agents had access to that system. Culture and policy issues also limited the extent to which CIA shared counterterrorism information within the Intelligence Community. As noted earlier, a lack of focus on the domestic terrorist threat, which was viewed as an FBI, rather than CIA, mission, accounted for some information sharing problems. For example, the DCI acknowledged in his testimony that CIA was not sufficiently focused on advising the State Department to watchlist all terrorist operatives who might be traveling to the United States, even though this would provide valuable information to domestic agencies in targeting these persons at ports of entry. On at least three occasions between January 2000 and August 2001, there were opportunities to watchlist future hijackers Nawaf al- Hazmi and Khalid al-Mihdhar, but the CIA failed to do so. In his testimony on October 17, 2002, the DCI admitted this failure, attributing it to: . . .uneven practices, bad training and a lack of redundancy. The fact that [CTC personnel] were swamped does not mitigate the fact that we didn’t overcome that [with] a separate unit or better training for those people. [Page 86] Aside from the formal watchlist procedure, the record strongly suggests that, despite numerous related contacts with the FBI during the period, no one at CIA advised the FBI about al-Mihdhar’s U.S. visa and the fact that al-Hazmi had traveled to the United States. Ironically, this occurred despite the fact that both CIA and FBI personnel were at the time working in CTC where the information was received. The CIA employee who briefed FBI personnel about al-Mihdhar on January 6, 2000, but did not mention any information about al-Mihdhar’s visa and potential travel to the United States, indicated in an e-mail to a colleague at CIA that same day: “In case FBI starts to complain later . . . below is exactly what I briefed them on.” This CIA employee told the Joint Inquiry that he had, at the time, been assigned to work at the FBI Strategic Information Operations Center specifically to fix problems “in communicating between the CIA and the FBI.” Obviously, such problems remained. TOP SECRET 81 TOP SECRET The Joint Inquiry also heard from many different agencies within the Intelligence Community, most notably the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), that the perception that collecting agencies have “ownership” of the intelligence they acquire impedes the free flow of information. In a Joint Inquiry interview, one DIA official complained that analysts were often denied access to critical intelligence held in other Intelligence Community agencies: We have to get raw data to the analysts. The analysts have been separated from source-generated data that is important. There is excessive, filtering, packaging and selective product reporting that is not helpful. Some problems are so important that the U.S. Government cannot afford any longer to filter. In his testimony, the DCI confirmed that this filtering will continue when he noted that even all-source analysts within the new Department of Homeland Security will not have access to all raw intelligence on anything like a routine basis. This tendency to ownership, in its simplest form, means that the originating agency is free to edit and otherwise truncate the information it collects before it disseminates it to other agencies. On the other hand, analysts frequently argued that, in the world of counterterrorism, there is information in this filtered data that the collecting agency may not recognize as having significance in the aggregate to analysts elsewhere. In interviews, DIA officials [page 87] emphasized that they always received threat information from other Intelligence Community agencies, but did not always have access to the background information necessary to understand the nature of the threat reporting fully. A senior DIA analytical official testified that: Senior [Defense Department] officials received information that his analysts did not receive. However, to extract meaning from that data, to perform the true analytic function, we need to get that information into the hands and the brains of analysts who are paid to fill in the gaps of missing information to compensate for absent evidence and to turn information into knowledge. That’s what we pay them to do. They don’t have the information, they can’t do that. In a written statement to the Joint Inquiry, the new Director of the DIA noted: “ In my opinion, one of the most prolonged and troubling trends in the Intelligence Community is the degree to which analysts – while being expected to incorporate the full TOP SECRET 82 TOP SECRET range of source information into their assessments – have been systematically separated from the raw material of their trade. “ Information sharing is also limited by the longstanding Intelligence Community practices of narrowly limiting disclosures of intelligence information outside normal channels in order to protect sources and methods. Disclosures to criminal investigators and prosecutors were intentionally limited to avoid having intelligence become entangled in criminal prosecutions. In deference to those kinds of restrictions, CIA did not provide the FBI New York field office criminal agents who were investigating the USS Cole bombing information regarding the al-Qa’ida meeting in Malaysia that was attended by hijackers-to-be al-Hazmi and al-Mihdhar. A 1995 Department of Justice policy that established procedures -- often referred to as the “wall” -- governing FBI sharing of Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA)-derived intelligence information with investigators handling parallel criminal investigations also prevented sharing of important intelligence. Under this policy, the FBI could share information from FISA surveillances with criminal investigators if the information was relevant to a crime under investigation and an attorney in an FBI field office or in the Office of Intelligence Policy and Review (OIPR) at the Department of [page 88] Justice authorized its release. In al-Qa’ida FISA cases, the FISA Court directed that the Court itself act as the “wall” and determine whether the information in question was relevant to a criminal investigation and, thus, could be shared. Unfortunately, the Inquiry confirmed that the Intelligence Community agencies, perhaps overly “risk averse” in dealing with FISA-related matters, restricted the use of information far beyond what was required. The majority of FBI personnel interviewed in the course of the Inquiry incorrectly believed that the FBI could not share FISA-derived information with criminal investigators at all or that an impossibly high standard had to be met before the information could be shared. Most did not know that FISA-derived information could be shared with criminal investigators if it was simply relevant to the criminal investigation. Because of these misunderstandings, FBI intelligence investigators rarely sought approval to pass FISA-derived information to FBI criminal investigators. TOP SECRET 83 TOP SECRET Further, as a result of the FISA Court decision, NSA placed a caveat on all its [ ] terrorism intelligence products requiring OIPR approval before information could be shared with criminal investigators. This stemmed from NSA’s concern that it could not determine which of its intelligence reports were the result of information obtained through FBI-conducted FISA surveillances (and therefore subject to the “wall” requirements) and which were not. The effect of this NSA effort to comply with the FISA Court’s decision was an unnecessary restriction on the sharing of NSA-acquired intelligence information with criminal investigators. In August 2001, when the FBI was attempting to locate al-Hazmi and al-Mihdhar in the United States, an FBI Headquarters e-mail prohibited New York field office criminal agents from participating in the search because the information had originated in intelligence channels. However, because this information was not derived from a FISA surveillance, there was no reason it could not be shared with FBI criminal agents. Expressing his utter frustration with the system, a New York FBI agent responded by email: [page 89] Whatever has happened to this - someday someone will die – and wall or not – the public will not understand why we were not more effective and throwing every resource we had at certain “problems.” Let’s hope the [FBI’s] National Security Law Unit will stand behind their decisions then, especially since the biggest threat to us now, UBL, is getting the most “protection.”