9/11 Panel Told Terrorism Initially Not 'Urgent' for Bush
He said the Patriot Act, passed after 9/11, was "absolutely essential" to breaking down those walls.
"The country was not systemically protected because even in racing through all these threats, sometimes exhaustively -- we exhausted ourselves -- there was not a system in place to say, 'You've got to go back and do this and this and this.'
"It's not criticizing anybody. But the moral of the story is, if you take in those measures systemically over the course of time and closed seams, you might have had a better chance of succeeding stopping, deterring or disrupting."
While there has been extended criticism of the CIA in the past for failing to prevent or provide warning of the 9/11 attacks, Tenet today was repeatedly praised for having pushed the growing danger from terrorism and al Qaeda in the years and even months before they took place.
In July 2001, amid reports the al Qaeda was planning something dramatic, Tenet said the CIA worked with a network of foreign intelligence services to arrest and detain suspected terrorists in Bahrain, Yemen and Turkey. "We cited plots in the Arabian Peninsula and Europe," Tenet told the panel, "and ultimately in August 2001 we warned about bin Laden's desire to conduct terrorist attacks on the U.S. homeland."
Jamie Gorelick, deputy attorney general in the Clinton administration, asked about the lack of coordination among senior Bush administration officials about the threat. She drew a comparison with the Clinton senior-level meetings that took place almost daily in late 1999 to prepare for terrorist threats surrounding the millennium celebrations.
Gorelick said that the commission had been told that Bush's secretary of transportation did not know about the threats and senior officials did not know what data the FBI had in its files.
Tenet said the Bush administration had a different manner of communication in the pre-9/11 period when dealing with terrorism. Under Bush he was talking to the president, the vice present and national security adviser every day, he said.
Tenet said it took a "galvanizing force" to mobilize both the administration and the American public to take the steps needed to meet the terrorist threat.
He noted that even today the agency is still five years away from having the human intelligence capabilities to have access to the sanctuary areas where terrorist groups operate. He also said the commission had to establish benchmarks for the future, saying he worried that other attacks will be coming while memories of the 9/11 attack fade.
© 2004 The Washington Post Company
Former U.S. counterterrorism official Richard Clarke testifies before the 9/11 Commission.
(Kevin Lamarque - Reuters)
_____War on Al Qaeda_____
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