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CIA Officials Tout Intelligence Successes to Counter Criticism

By Walter Pincus

CIA Director George Tenet and other intelligence officials have been attempting to counter criticism of their failure to disrupt the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon last year by speaking more openly about successes in thwarting what the government believes were planned terrorist actions.

Last year, for example, U.S. authorities stymied plots to kidnap Americans in three countries by using information from a captured senior associate of Osama bin Laden, the al-Qaida leader. Attacks on U.S. facilities and personnel in Yemen, Saudi Arabia, and the Incirlik air base in Turkey, as well as against U.S. embassies in Rome and Paris, also were disrupted.

In 2000, the United States was able to break up planned attacks against U.S military and civilian facilities in the Persian Gulf and Europe. The previous year, U.S. agencies disrupted use of a chemical weapon in a planned Dec. 31, 1999, millennium attack in Jordan.

In 1998, U.S. intelligence agencies used information gleaned from human sources and intercepted communications to prevent the hijacking of a U.S. airliner that was designed to pressure the release from prison of Omar Abdel Rahman, who was convicted in 1996 of conspiring to bomb the Statue of Liberty and other New York landmarks.

Tenet and other intelligence officials detailed these successes in a series of public and closed-door appearances before Congress in recent weeks.

In only a few cases did the United States have access to informants who provided the approximate time, place or participants in a planned attack, according to the officials. More often, they said, information leading to disrupted attacks came from interrogations of suspected terrorists, intercepted communications and information provided by foreign police and intelligence services.

An invaluable tool, they said, is the practice in which U.S. agencies transfer individuals arrested in one country to another allied country that is able to extract information from them and relay it to the United States.