|Sept. 11 Panel Unsure How to Enact Reform
FOX-News / AP April 15, 2004
WASHINGTON — The
reasons behind the pre-Sept. 11 intelligence failures just kept
growing: not enough staff, poor technology, inadequate
information-sharing, a piecemeal approach to intelligence analysis.
Yet after two days of hearings examining flaws and searching for solutions, members of the Sept. 11 commission said they have yet to reach firm conclusions on what change is necessary. The bipartisan panel is scheduled to issue its final report in July.
"Everybody speaks of reform," said the panel's Democratic vice
chairman, Lee Hamilton, a former congressman from Indiana. "It's
easy to come out for reform. The task of the commission is going
to put specificity to that, and that's going to be a major job."
The 10-member commission is reviewing proposals on how to
future domestic terror attacks, including expanding the powers of the
director of central intelligence, establishing a domestic intelligence
agency or endorsing more limited measures embraced by the heads of the
CIA and FBI.
The panel on Wednesday
heard from those two men — CIA
Director George Tenet (^) and FBI Director Robert Mueller (^).
It also released statements
criticizing the CIA for failing to fully
appreciate the threat posed by Al Qaeda before Sept. 11 and questioning
the progress of what commissioners
say are the FBI's badly needed
Among other examples, the panel statement cited a briefing titled "Islamic Extremist Learns to Fly" presented to Tenet and other top CIA officials in August 2001 about the arrest that month of Zacarias Moussaoui (^) because of his suspicious behavior in a Minnesota flight school.
But the briefing had "no evident effect on warning," the commission said. Moussaoui is the only U.S. defendant charged with terrorism related to the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.
Tenet testified that
intelligence-gathering flaws exposed by the
attacks will take five years to correct. He said that in
the 1990s the
CIA had lost 25 percent of its staff and was haphazard in training
undercover officers who worked overseas to penetrate terror cells and
recruit secret informants.
The commission in its statement also found that Tenet, like his predecessors, had limited authority over the direction and priorities of intelligence agencies, hampering his ability to devise a more comprehensive defense strategy.
"By no stretch of the imagination am I going to tell you that I've solved all the problems of the community in terms of integrating and in lashing it up," said Tenet. "But we've made an enormous amount of progress."
He noted that the National Security Agency, which handles
surveillance, and U.S. mapping and analytic intelligence agencies need
time and continued funding to improve.
But the commission's chairman, former New Jersey Gov. Thomas Kean (^), said he was concerned by how long it would take to rebuild. "It scares me a bit that we dismantled the CIA to the point that it now takes five years to rebuild it," he said.
Mueller recounted a range of steps the FBI has taken since the Sept. 11 attacks to improve its intelligence capabilities, sharpen its focus on terrorism and replace outmoded technology. He urged the panel to let those improvements continue and not to risk derailing them by recommending creation of a new domestic intelligence agency outside the FBI.
"We don't want to have historians look back and say, 'OK, you
the war on terrorism but you lost your civil liberties,'" Mueller
"We have become, since Sept. 11, a member of the intelligence community
in ways we were not in the past."
The commission's statement
credited the CIA with collecting a vast
array of intelligence on Usama bin Laden and Al Qaeda, which
in thousands of individual reports circulated at the highest levels of
government. These carried titles such as "Bin Laden Threatening
Attack U.S. Aircraft" in June 1998 and "Bin Laden's Interest in
Biological and Radiological Weapons" in February 2001.
Despite this intelligence, the CIA never produced an
summary of Al Qaeda's involvement in past terrorist attacks, nor did it
fully appreciate bin Laden's role as the leader of a growing extremist
The commission also said the CIA didn't recognize Al Qaeda as an organization until 1999, even though Al Qaeda had been formed in 1988 after the Soviet Union abandoned Afghanistan.
"Before the attack we
found uncertainty among senior officials about
whether this was just a new and especially venomous version of the
ordinary terrorist threat America had lived with for decades, or
radically new, posing a threat beyond any yet experienced," the
commission statement said.
Tenet strenuously disagreed — "That's flat wrong," he said, adding that the CIA put in place a plan to combat Al Qaeda in 1999 that included clandestine intelligence inside Afghanistan using 25 people and movement of a spy satellite to increase coverage of the terror training camps.
The staff statement also said several threat reports produced by the intelligence apparatus had "mentioned the possibility of using an aircraft laden with explosives," such as the terrorists used on Sept. 11 in attacks that killed nearly 3,000 people in New York City, Washington and Pennsylvania.
Yet the CIA counterterrorism center "did not analyze how a hijacked aircraft or other explosives-laden aircraft might be used as a weapon," the statement said.