CIA Director Porter Goss said yesterday that he would not consider punishing agency officials for failures leading up to the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, rejecting pressure from lawmakers, victims' families and the CIA inspector general.
Goss ruled out disciplinary action against former CIA Director George Tenet and at least 11 other current and former agency officials identified in an internal investigation as being responsible for lapses leading up to the attacks.
To date, no CIA employee has been fired or otherwise punished for Sept. 11-related failures. Goss' decision makes it increasingly unlikely that any U.S. official will be held accountable for what has been called the worst intelligence failure in the nation's history.
A 400-page classified report submitted earlier this year by CIA Inspector General John Helgerson had urged Goss to convene "accountability boards" to weigh the actions of at least 12 officers and determine whether they deserved to be reprimanded or punished.
Goss was among those who had pushed for the investigation while he was a member of Congress. But since being named CIA director last year, he has resisted judging his predecessors and risking further damage to agency morale.
He said that about half of the officers named in the inspector general's report had retired and that "those who are still with us are amongst the finest we have.
"Singling out these individuals would send the wrong message to our junior officers about taking risks," said Goss. He added that "in no way does this report suggest that any one person or group of people could have prevented 9/11," reports the Seattle Times.
The September 11 attacks on New York and Washington, which prompted the war on terrorism, starkly revealed the inability of U.S. intelligence to translate or analyze languages from the Middle East and South Asia where the United States faces a deadly threat from Islamic militants including al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.
His remarks echoed those of other intelligence leaders including U.S. intelligence chief John Negroponte, who recently said that U.S. society needs to reverse a decades-long decline of interest in foreign language and foreign cultures.
"Our own existence … depends on our ability to understand and get along with the rest of the world," Negroponte told a military intelligence conference last week.
U.S. intelligence has an urgent need for people fluent in Arabic, Farsi, Pashto, Urdu, Chinese and other languages.
Rep. Rush Holt, a New Jersey Democrat who sits on the House of Representatives intelligence committee, said only 9 percent of U.S. citizens speak more than one language despite generations of immigration from abroad, reminds Reuters.