9/11 Panel Calls for Major Changes
Final Report to Urge Counterterrorism Center
By Dan Eggen and Steve Coll
Washington Post Staff Writers
Sunday, July 18, 2004; Page A01
The final report of the commission investigating the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks recommends a major restructuring of the nation's intelligence community and includes broad criticism of the White House, Congress and other parts of the U.S. government for failing to detect, thwart and better respond to the deadly hijackings, according to panel members and other officials.
The book-length report -- being readied for public release on Thursday -- has been endorsed by all 10 of the bipartisan panel's members. It features many of the findings that emerged from public hearings and staff investigations, including the conclusion that al Qaeda and Iraq did not form a close working relationship, commission officials said.
But the final report goes beyond the detailed findings of the commission's staff, scolding Congress for poor oversight of the nation's counterterrorism efforts and urging specific and dramatic reforms that include creation of a powerful national counterterrorism center, according to administration officials and those involved in drafting the document. The new center would have far greater authority than the Terrorist Threat Integration Center opened by the CIA last year, officials said.
The report also recommends a Cabinet-level office and director to oversee the CIA, the FBI and other intelligence agencies, as the New York Times reported yesterday, but one official familiar with the report said that was only part of a broader reorganization aimed at shaking up the intelligence community. The five Republicans and five Democrats on the commission say they have jointly agreed not to discuss details of their recommendations before the report is released.
The proposals follow two reports by the House and Senate intelligence committees that faulted the government's intelligence gathering, particularly at the CIA, and come amid a flurry of legislative proposals to remake the intelligence community.
The report caps a remarkable 20-month investigation in which the independent commission -- created amid acrimony by Congress and initially opposed by President Bush -- gained unprecedented access to closely held presidential briefings, transcripts of interrogations of high-level al Qaeda leaders and tens of thousands of pages of other classified material. The panel also privately interviewed Bush, Vice President Cheney and their predecessors, Bill Clinton and Al Gore.
Deadline to Publish
Through 17 detailed statements assembled by its staff and released this year, the commission has already dramatically altered the public understanding of how 19 al Qaeda hijackers were able to carry off the deadliest terrorist attack in U.S. history. The commission revealed, for example, previously unknown conflicts among al Qaeda's leaders and the hijackers, and told of a plot originally intended to involve 10 aircraft in an assault on the East and West coasts.
The panel has been racing over the past three weeks to finalize the report so that it could be released before a July 26 statutory deadline, the same day the Democratic Party's national convention opens. Commission officials feared that issuing the report that day could have opened the panel to political attacks. Nearly 600 pages long, the findings will be available through bookstores, the Internet and the Government Printing Office.
Commissioners interviewed last week said the entire panel was involved in drafting and editing the findings, and reached agreement on how to address some of the most politically sensitive topics. As late as yesterday, officials said, the report was still being edited and the panel continued wrestling with White House lawyers over classification issues.
"The staff statements were genuinely the work of the staff," said Vice Chairman Lee H. Hamilton (D), a former congressman from Indiana. "The report that we will issue next week is a commission product and has been very carefully examined by the commissioners, line by line. . . . There are certainly topics in the report that were not touched on in the staff statements."
Several commissioners said the resulting report was not compromised by the desire of Hamilton, Chairman Thomas H. Kean (R) and others on the panel to reach unanimity.
"We have not pulled any punches," said commissioner Timothy J. Roemer (D), a former Indiana congressman. "We will have dynamic structural changes and a dramatic moving of the boxes to better reflect moving from a Cold War to a hot jihadist threat, but it's also important to keep your eye on tradecraft and nuts and bolts."
Led by co-chairmen who have attempted to steer the panel away from partisan debate, and relying on a staff assembled without direct involvement by the two major political parties, the commission's published statements so far have struck a centrist, judicious tone. In many respects, the panel's work has been closer to the fact-finding, conspiracy-debunking Warren Commission of the mid-1960s, which investigated the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, than to the reform-oriented Church Commission, which exposed assassination plots and CIA abuses during the mid-1970s.
The commission staff has already absolved Saudi Arabia's government of direct support for al Qaeda and debunked widespread reports that Osama bin Laden inherited $300 million. (He received a $1 million annual allowance for about two decades, the commission found.) Panel members also have knocked down questions raised by last year's congressional investigation into Sept. 11 intelligence failures involving possible help for the hijackers by the Saudi Embassy in Washington.
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