CIA Director Porter Goss must decide whether to heed the recommendation of his top watchdog to hold disciplinary reviews for current and former officials who were involved in faulty intelligence efforts before the Sept. 11 attacks.
But CBS News has learned that all of the former top CIA officials singled out in the inspector general's report have already filed strong rebuttals to the agency.
The officials named in the report — including former CIA Director George Tenet — view the inspector general's report as "wrongheaded and wildly off the mark," a former intelligence official told CBS News correspondent Peter Maer.
Despite that, the official, who is close to Tenet, said the report will "send a chill" through the CIA, which he describes as already "devastated."
A CIA spokesman refuted the former official's sentiment.
"We are hardly beleaguered. We are focused on our mission," the spokesman told Maer. "We don't look back. We are looking to the future and fighting the war on terror."
The former officials are likely candidates for proceedings before an accountability board, which could take a number of actions, including letters of reprimand or dismissal. Alternatively, the proceedings could clear the former officials of wrongdoing.
The highly classified report, which spans hundreds of pages, was delivered to Congress on Tuesday night.
It contains censures of Tenet for allegedly failing to enact a plan to fight al Qaeda before 9/11, one of Tenet's former colleagues told CBS News, describing that as "particularly annoying," considering Tenet's testimony before the 9/11 commission covered plans that were used to pursue al Qaeda.
Following a two-year review into what went wrong before the suicide hijackings, Helgerson harshly criticizes a number of the agency's most senior officials, according to people familiar with the report. Among those singled out for criticism are George Tenet, former clandestine service chief Jim Pavitt and former counterterrorism center head Cofer Black.
Goss was among those who requested the inspector general's review as part of a 2002 congressional inquiry into the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on New York City and Washington that killed nearly 3,000 people.
At the time, Goss, a Florida Republican, chaired the House Intelligence Committee. A CIA officer himself in the 1960s, Goss now must decide whether the current and former agency personnel should be considered for sanctions.
Those who know Goss well question whether the director, who took over the agency last September, will commission the disciplinary reviews.
He may not want to go after less-senior people still in the CIA's employ. Intelligence veterans say these CIA employees are the government's mostly highly trained in counterterrorism and before the Sept. 11 attacks, devoted their time to trying to stop al Qaeda terrorists. The hearings would force them to defend their careers rather than working against extremist groups.
In addition, the numerous investigations after Sept. 11 determined that an intelligence overhaul was essential to attack Muslim extremism.
Some members of Congress, including California Rep. Jane Harman, the Intelligence Committee's senior Democrat, are pushing for the CIA to produce a declassified version of the report so the public can debate these and other issues. Some family members of 9/11 victims have also called for the report's immediate release.
"The findings in this report must be shared with all members of Congress and with the American public to ensure that the problems identified are addressed and corrected, thus moving to restore faith in this agency," a group called Sept. 11 Advocates said in a statement Thursday.
The final version comes after much internal debate at the CIA and new national intelligence director's office about whether to simply scrap the document because it looks backward and is so harsh, said one official who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Beth Marple, spokeswoman for National Intelligence Director John Negroponte, said, "As expected, there has been discussion between Director Negroponte and Director Goss about this report. But there were absolutely no efforts to kill it."
The CIA declined to comment on the substance of the report.
Accountability boards are normally made up of top CIA officials. In the case of the most serious issues, it would not be unusual for the agency's No. 3, the executive director, to lead the proceedings.
People familiar with the inspector general's process said the document largely covers ground already plowed in the 9/11 commission's report and the House-Senate inquiry that issued its own report on the attacks in December 2002. Those 37 lawmakers, who included Goss, requested the inspector general's review to consider issues of accountability.
Among items that received significant attention in the past was the CIA's failure to put two known operatives, Khalid al-Midhar and Nawaf Alhazmi, on government watchlists and to let the FBI know that the future Sept. 11 hijackers had entered the United States.
The new report, however, comes at the events from a different perspective, focusing more narrowly on the agency's performance.