Prior to Sept.11, 2001, the CIA didn't have the vision thing when it came to terrorism. That's one conclusion of the panel investigating the events surrounding the 9/11 terrorist attacks, in any case.
Analysts were stretched thin providing material for daily rounds of briefings to many people on many subjects, according to a newly released commission staff report. The rise of the Internet and round-the-clock news shows pressured the CIA to pass along reports at an ever-faster pace, to provide context for information policymakers were receiving from the media.
"The analysts will tell you they hardly have time to keep up with the daily beat," says Fred Hitz, a former CIA Inspector General who is now a lecturer in public affairs at Princeton University.
As late as 1997, the CIA's Counterterrorist Center (CTC) was still describing Osama bin Laden as simply a terror financier, for instance, even though the US intelligence community had by that time received new information revealing that Mr. bin Laden had his own targeting agenda and terrorist commanders.
A few analysts within the CTC were focused on strategic issues regarding the bin Laden network, says a 9/11 panel staff study. But their work did not generally attract notice at higher levels.
One analyst had developed a comprehensive paper on bin Laden's network by 1998. But her supervisor did not deem the paper "publishable," according to the study. The topic was broken down into papers assigned to four other analysts.
"As an indicator of the scarcity of analysts and the press of current intelligence reporting work, it took more than two years for two of these papers to be published at all," says the staff report. "The other two were not finished until after 9/11."
In testimony on Wednesday, CIA Director George Tenet predicted that it would take another five years of work to produce the kind of clandestine service the nation needs to fight Al Qaeda.
Tight budgets following the fall of the Berlin Wall meant that by the mid-1990s intelligence agencies "lost close to 25 percent of our people," said Mr. Tenet.