Spy chief says US was ‘unprotected’

George Tenet told the 9/11 commission systemic problems in the intelligence community had left the country vulnerable to the attacks which killed nearly 3,000 people.

He also warned the problems would take years to fix, saying it will take “another five years of work to have the kind of clandestine service our country needs” to combat al-Qaeda and other terrorist threats.

Mr Tenet added: “The same can be said for the National Security Agency, our imagery agency and our analytic community.”

He told the panel investigating the September 11 attacks that a series of tight budgets since the end of the Cold War meant that by the mid-1990s, intelligence agencies had “lost close to 25 percent of our people and billions of dollars in capital investment.”

A needed transformation is underway, he said, and appealed for a long-term commitment in funding. “Our investments in capability must be sustained,” he added.

At Wednesday’s hearing Mr Tenet was first to testify, defending the CIA, before FBI Director Robert Mueller recounted a range of steps the agency has taken since the attacks to improve its intelligence capabilities, sharpen its focus on terrorism and replace outmoded technology.

Just before the intelligence chiefs took the stand, the commission released a critical report, saying intelligence services lacked a strategic plan before September 11 to gather and examine information collected about al-Qaeda – and that they had no way to properly spread the information.

But in his second public appearance before the commission, Mr Tenet took issue with the report and defended the CIA’s strategies.

The CIA head said his agency warned policy makers about the growing threat of al-Qaeda, and was “making the right investments” to prepare for the fight against the terror group.

Still, he admitted, the CIA was never able to penetrate the 9/11 plot.

He also said he did not speak to George W Bush in the month before the attacks, when Mr Bush was on holiday in Texas.

“He’s in Texas and I’m either here [in Washington] or on leave for some of that time,” Mr Tenet said in response to a question from commissioner Tim Roemer. “In this time period, I’m not talking to him, no.”

Mr Mueller, who took the top job at the FBI just a week before the September 11 attacks, said in the past two-and-a-half years, the FBI has been turning itself into an “intelligence-driven” agency and has greatly improved its relationship and coordination with the CIA.

Responding to reports that the commission may recommend the establishment of a new domestic intelligence agency outside the FBI, Mr Mueller urged the panel to let the current improvements continue and not to risk derailing them by recommending the creation of a new agency.

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