The NSA Draws Fire

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The FBI and the CIA have come under plenty of fire for their failure to prevent 9/11. Now, it seems, it?s the turn of the National Security Agency (NSA). The agency, whose job is to protect U.S. government information and ferret out foreign secrets, has already drawn criticism for being slow to analyze two cryptic messages it intercepted last Sept. 10, warning that something big was going to happen the next day. Now a scathing report issued by the House Intelligence Committee has concluded that the agency is badly mismanaged — congressional sources tell TIME — which resulted in its failing "to provide tactical and strategic warning" of Sept. 11.

The intelligence panel's Subcommittee on Terrorism and Homeland Security, which released an unclassified summary of its report last week, found that the NSA is "unable to identify" how it spends the money it gets from Congress each year "to any level of detail." A number of its projects duplicate one another, the report said. And while the NSA had listened in on "large volumes of phone calls from the part of the world [where] al-Qaeda was located," says Representative Saxby Chambliss, who chairs the terrorism subcommittee, "the problem was, they didn't focus on al-Qaeda," so that those messages could be identified and processed quickly.

Another problem is that the cash-strapped agency, which spent billions on cold war?era satellites, hired no new employees for "an extended period of time" before Sept. 11. That was a big mistake, the subcommittee believes, because the NSA was already chronically short of computer scientists, engineers and foreign-language experts. The NSA even established incentive programs to entice more employees to take early retirement. What's worse, the agency's overworked linguists and analysts were allowed to continue taking advantage of the early-retirement program — even after Sept. 11.