The Magazine

The CIA Examines Itself

The results aren't pretty.

Sep 17, 2007, Vol. 13, No. 01 • By GABRIEL SCHOENFELD
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Another management issue, undoubtedly complicating the UBL unit's analytical and operational tasks, was its engagement in a fierce and prolonged episode of bureaucratic friendly fire. Although details here have been heavily redacted, the report states "that UBL Station and [deleted] were hostile to each other and working at cross purposes." Although unable to assess the specific impact of this "counterproductive behavior," the OIG found that the firefight "complicated" and "delayed" certain unspecified counterterrorism efforts. If this intra-organizational warfare took place during his tenure, Scheuer must have been at its very center.

Of course, to be fair, even though the bureaucratic infighting is said to have continued "over a period of years before 9/11," it is not entirely clear if the OIG is describing a conflict that took place under Scheuer's reign or that of his successor. On the other hand, it is completely clear that while Scheuer was running the UBL Station, the unit was producing shoddy work.

As part of its mandate, the OIG assessed the quality of the CIA's counterterrorist "analytic products," that is, its studies of bin Laden and al Qaeda, in the relevant period. It found that "important elements were missing." It seems that when facts were gathered, "discussion of implications was generally weak." But facts were not always gathered. Indeed, "a number of important issues were covered insufficiently or not at all." In a conclusion unquestionably bearing on Scheuer's tenure, it found that there had been no "strategic assessment of al Qaeda by CTC or any other component" and that "no comprehensive report focusing on UBL [Osama bin Laden]" had been produced in the period running from 1993 to September 11, 2001. In other words, in 1996, after Scheuer was assigned the job of countering Osama bin Laden, he never bothered with the first and most elementary task of intelligence tradecraft: assembling and evaluating the known facts about his principal target.

All told, the lapses committed by the UBL unit were so egregious that the OIG report recommends that the CIA formally consider taking disciplinary action against the chiefs of the counterterrorism section--Scheuer's superiors--for "the manner in which they staffed the UBL component." A plausible inference, but one difficult to confirm without further declassification, is that putting and keeping the negligent Scheuer in charge was one element of their malfeasance.

If the full OIG report does indeed contain far more detailed criticism of Scheuer's performance, it would not come as a surprise. Significant questions have been raised in the past not only about Scheuer's competence as a manager and an analyst, but also about his probity.

Scheuer testified at length before the 9/11 Commission. Serious doubts have emerged about the veracity of the information he provided. Two of the 9/11 report commissioners, Jamie Gorelick and Slade Gorton, one a Democrat and the other a Republican, have described "thoroughly and exhaustively" interviewing Scheuer in the course of the commission's investigation. Their conclusion did not mince words: "On a number of factual issues, he was of real value. But much of what he had to say was not borne out by our investigation."

Scheuer's integrity is more radically called into question by his own false statements about his career, including his 2005 claim in the correspondence section of Commentary that he was awarded the CIA's Intelligence Commendation Medal in part for "supply[ing] all of the information used in the federal indictment of Osama bin Laden." Osama bin Laden was indicted in 1998. Scheuer was given his CIA medal in 1995, three years before the indictment and one year before he was assigned to the UBL Station.

On top of incompetence, such résumé embellishment does not form a pretty picture. As the prime plotter of September 11, Osama bin Laden would seem to have good reason to heap praise now on Michael Scheuer. Be that as it may, it would be wrong for us to place blame for the great intelligence failure on any one individual. The more dots one connects about the CIA, the more Scheuer appears to be a representative figure. Along with the continuing respect accorded this counterterrorism expert by the media, that is the real scandal revealed by the OIG report.

Gabriel Schoenfeld, the senior editor of Commentary, writes regularly for contentions, the magazine's blog.