The CIA has taken much of the blame for the security lapses that led to 9/11 and the false intelligence on Iraq’s WMDs. But now one spy has broken ranks to point the finger at the politicians – and warn that the war on terror could plunge the US into even greater danger. By Julian Borger
These are not happy times at the CIA. In the space of a few short months, two official reports have found the agency principally to blame for failing to prevent the September 11 al-Qaida attack and for claiming that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. There is no doubt there is a lot of blame to go round. The twin fiascos rank as the worst intelligence failures since the second world war. But the two reports, by the September 11 Commission and the Senate Intelligence Committee respectively, were also testaments to political expedience. Both panels were made up of Republican and Democratic loyalists who reached a political compromise by going relatively easy on both Clinton and Bush administrations, and focused on institutional culprits. The CIA, without a defender after the resignation in July of its long-serving director, George Tenet, presented the easiest target.
Yet most of the agency’s rank and file believe they have done little wrong. They were the first to raise the alarm over the danger posed by Osama bin Laden, long before the 1998 embassy bombings in East Africa. In 1996 they set up a unit called the Bin Laden Issue Station, codenamed “Alex”, dedicated to tracking him down, only to have one operation after another aborted as too politically dangerous.