U.S. spy agencies urged to be more aggressive


WASHINGTON, Reuters

The first formal congressional review since the Sept. 11 attacks on Wednesday urged U.S. spy agencies to be more aggressive in pursuing terrorism suspects and change from passive gatherers into active hunters of intelligence.

Since the hijacked plane strikes exposed U.S. intelligence failings, the CIA, FBI and National Security Agency have been widely criticized for not sharing enough information, missing clues and having inadequate technology and language skills.

Broadly underlining those criticisms, the House subcommittee on terrorism and homeland security gave a 140-page classified report on intelligence shortcomings to House leaders and released a shorter unclassified summary.

“This report is significant because it attempts to change the culture in the intelligence agencies — one which has been too passive, and make it more predatory, make it aggressive going after these terrorist targets,” Rep. Tim Roemer, a California Democrat, said.

The CIA “did not sufficiently penetrate” al-Qaida before Sept. 11 and its central focus now must be on collecting intelligence through spies on the streets, the report said.

The CIA must develop tools to penetrate terrorism cells, disrupt their operations and capture them. The CIA has been overly reliant on relationships with foreign intelligence services and must strengthen its ability to unilaterally collect intelligence on al-Qaida because foreign services may have different interests, it said.

Lawmakers said the CIA should immediately rescind 1995 guidelines on recruiting foreign spies that might be human rights violators because restrictions had hampered operations.

The CIA should also ensure agencies such as the FBI and the homeland security agency have access to a common database on terrorism suspects, and the report recommended creating a “terrorism watchlisting unit” at the CIA.

A CIA spokesman declined to comment on the report.

With a high-profile joint investigation by Senate and House intelligence committees into the Sept. 11 attacks not due to report its findings until next year, the report by this subset of the House Intelligence Committee provided early insight into what may be to come.

The agencies, which will not be folded into a proposed new government department of homeland security, have responded to Sept. 11 with a series of changes, most notably with the FBI’s transformation to focus mainly on terrorism instead of crime.

The report said improvements in foreign language proficiency was an issue for all three agencies.

It also said the NSA, which eavesdrops on electronic communications worldwide, “needs to change from a passive gatherer to a proactive hunter — a revolution in how it conducts its work.”

NSA in a statement on the report said: “Since the end of the Cold War, NSA is one-third smaller in population and has one third fewer resources at its disposal. As a result, NSA has been faced with making difficult choices in the areas of hiring, technology, and level of efforts.”

The FBI in a statement said it had taken a number of steps to address those issues. “A new set of priorities are in place and since 9-11 the FBI has devoted every resource needed to prevent another attack,” the FBI said.

The lawmakers said their report did not call for any intelligence agency heads to step down from their posts.