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US spy agencies must be more aggressive -lawmakers
( 2002-07-18 10:11 ) (7 )

The first formal congressional review since the Sept. 11 attacks on Wednesday urged US 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 US 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 United States has blamed Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda network for the attack that killed about 3,000 people and prompted President George W. Bush to launch a global war on terrorism to hunt down suspects. Intelligence information is seen as vital to stopping a fresh strike.


The CIA "did not sufficiently penetrate" al Qaeda 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 Qaeda 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.



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