WASHINGTON (AFP) — A US government probe has concluded that a secret wiretap program launched after the September 11, 2001 attacks had a "limited role" in preventing fresh strikes.
The report found that most intelligence officials "had difficulty citing specific instances" when the National Security Agency?s covert wiretapping in the country contributed to successes against terrorists.
Many senior intelligence community officials, the document said, believed that the program "filled a gap in intelligence collection" thought to exist.
The report was compiled by the inspectors general of five government agencies, including the Central Intelligence Agency, and the Departments of Defense and Justice.
It admitted that FBI agents, CIA analysts and officers and other officials "had difficulty evaluating the precise contribution" of the program "to counterterrorism efforts because it was most often viewed as one source among many available analytic and intelligence-gathering tools."
While the program obtained information that "had value in some counterterrorism investigations, it generally played a limited role in the Federal Bureau of Investigation's overall counterterrorism efforts," the report concluded.
Former President George W. Bush had authorized the program and was re-authorizing it every 45 days.
The CIA and other intelligence organizations also viewed the program, which allowed eavesdropping without warrants on the international communications of Americans, as a useful tool.
But even they could not link it directly to counterterrorism successes, the report said.
Officials at the CIA also stated that much of the reporting received thanks to the electronic surveillance program authorized by Bush "was vague or without context."
The report said the secrecy surrounding the program may have limited its effectiveness.
Very few rank-and- file officers were informed about the program at the Central Intelligence Agency that the agency often did not make full use of the leads the wiretapping generated, according to the report.
The inspectors general concluded that the use by the intelligence community of information collected under the program "should be carefully monitored."
Democrat Patrick Leahy, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said in a statement that the conclusions of this review should help shed more light on these rule-of-law issues that the previous administration avoided for a long time.
"This report underscores why we should move forward with a nonpartisan commission of inquiry," Leahy said. "Without a thorough, independent review of decisions that run counter to our laws and treaties, we cannot ensure that these same mistakes are not repeated. Such a commission must have bipartisan support to be able to truly get to the bottom of these issues with objectivity and credibility."
The findings raise questions about assertions from Bush and his most senior advisers that the warrantless wiretapping program was essential in stopping terrorist attacks, The New York Times said.
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