Transcript: 9/11 Panel Releases Its Final Report
Thursday, July 22, 2004; 1:52 PM
Following is the text of the news conference of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States on the release of its final report:
Speakers: Commission Chairman Thomas H. Kean, Vice Chairman Lee H. Hamilton and commission members Richard Ben-Veniste, Max Cleland, Fred F. Fielding, Jamie S. Gorelick, Slade Gorton, John F. Lehman, Timothy J. Roemer, James R. Thompson and Bob Kerrey.
KEAN: Good morning.
Today we present this report and these recommendations to the president of the United States, to the United States Congress and the American people.
This report represents the unanimous conclusion of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States.
On September 11th, 2001, 19 men armed with knives, box cutters, Mace and pepper spray penetrated the defenses of the most powerful nation in the world. They inflicted unbearable trauma on our people, and at the same time they turned the international order upside down.
At this point, we would like to ask you to remember for a moment how you felt that day: the grief, the enormous sense of loss. But remember also how we came together that day as a nation: young and old, rich and poor, didn't matter whether you were a Republican or a Democrat, we had a deep sense of hurt, but out of that came a deep sense of purpose. We knew what we had to do as a nation to respond, and we did.
But it's also fair to say that on that September day we were unprepared. We did not grasp the magnitude of a threat that had been gathering over a considerable period of time.
As we detail in our report, this was a failure of policy, management, capability and, above all, a failure of imagination.
Now, we recognize, as commissioners, that we have the benefit of hindsight. And since the plotters were flexible and resourceful, we cannot know whether any single step or series of steps would have defeated them.
What we can say with a good deal of confidence is that none of the measures adopted by the United States government before 9/11 disturbed or even delayed the progress of the Al Qaida plot.
There were several unexploited opportunities. Our government did not watch-list future hijackers Hazmi and Mihdhar before they arrived in the United States, or take adequate steps to find them once they were here.
Our government did not link the arrest of Zacarias Moussaoui, described as "interested in flight training for the purpose of using airplane as a terrorist act," to the heightened indications of attack.
Our government did not discover false statements on visa applications or recognize passports that were manipulated in a fraudulent matter.
KEAN: Our government did not expand no-fly lists to include names from terrorist watch lists, or require airline passengers to be more thoroughly screened.
These examples make a part of a broader national security picture where the government failed to protect the American people.
The United States government was simply not active enough in combating the terrorist threat before 9/11.
Our diplomacy and foreign policy failed to extract bin Laden from his Afghan sanctuary.
Our military forces and covert action capabilities did not have the options on the table to defeat Al Qaida or kill or capture either bin Laden or his top lieutenants.
Our intelligence and law enforcement agencies did not manage or share information or effectively follow leads to keep pace with a very nimble enemy.
Our border, immigration and aviation security agencies were not integrated into the counterterrorism effort.
And much of our response on the day of 9/11 was improvised and ineffective, even as extraordinary individual acts of heroism saved countless lives.
KEAN: Our failures took place over many years and administrations. There's no single individual who is responsible for our failures. Yet individuals and institutions cannot be absolved of responsibility. Any person in a senior position within our government during this time bears some element of responsibility for our government's actions.
Having said that, it is not our purpose to assign blame. As we said at the outset, we look back so that we can look forward.
Our goal is to prevent future attacks. Every expert with whom we spoke told us an attack of even greater magnitude is now possible and even probable. We do not have the luxury of time. We must prepare and we must act.
The Al Qaida network and its affiliates are sophisticated, patient, disciplined and lethal. Osama bin Laden built an infrastructure and organization that was able to attract, train and use recruits against even more ambitious targets. He rallied new zealots with each demonstration of Al Qaida's capability. His message and his hate-filled ideology have instructed and inspired untold recruits and imitators.
He and Al Qaida despise America and its policies. They exploit political grievances and hopelessness within Arab and Islamic world. They indoctrinate the disaffected and pervert one of the world's great religions. And they seek creative methods to kill Americans in limitless numbers, including if they can do it, with the use of chemical, biological and nuclear weapons.
Put simply, the United States is faced with one of the greatest security challenges in our long history. We have struck blows against the terrorists since 9/11. We have, we believe, prevented attacks on the homeland. We do believe we are safer today than we were on 9/11. But we are not safe.
Because Al Qaida represents an ideology, not a finite group of people, we should not expect the danger to recede greatly as years to come.
KEAN: No matter whom we kill or capture, including Osama bin Laden himself, there will be still those who plot against us. Bin Laden has inspired affiliates and imitators. Societies they prey on are vulnerable, the terrorist ideology is potent and the means for inflicting harm are readily available. We cannot let our guard down.
HAMILTON: Before continuing our narrative, may I simply rise to a point of personal privilege to say what remarkable leadership we have had from the chairman of this commission?
One of these days, I'm going to create a public servant hall of fame, Tom, and you're going to go in on the first ballot, I assure you.
And we've had remarkable support from a dedicated group of commissioners and a highly talented staff headed by Dr. Zelikow and Chris Kojm and Dan Marcus and others. And we are deeply indebted to them, as Tom will say again in a few minutes.
I begin with the recommendations.
This commission, of course, does not have all of the answers. But we have thought about what to do, a global strategy, and how to do it -- a different way of organizing our government. But based on our thorough review of the government's performance, and our examination of the enemy, we recommend the following elements for a counterterrorism strategy.
This strategy must be balanced. It must integrate all the elements of national power: diplomacy, intelligence, covert action, law enforcement, economic policy, foreign aid, homeland defense and military strength.
There is no silver bullet or decisive blow that can defeat Islamist terrorism. It will take unity of effort and sustained and effective use of every tool at our disposal.
We need to play offense, to kill or to capture the terrorists, deny them sanctuaries and disrupt their ability to move money and people around the globe. We need to ensure that the key countries, like Afghanistan and Pakistan and Saudi Arabia are stable, capable and resolute in opposing terrorism.
HAMILTON: We need to sustain a coalition of nations that cooperates bilaterally and multilaterally with us in the counterterrorism mission.
We need a better dialogue between the West and the Islamic world.
We also highlight the need to restrict and roll back the proliferation of the world's most dangerous weapons.
We need to put forth an agenda of opportunity -- economic, educational, political -- so that young people in the Arab and Islamic world have peaceful and productive avenues for expression and hope.
We need to join the battle of ideas within the Islamic world, communicating hope instead of despair, progress in place of persecution, life instead of death.
This message should be matched by policies that encourage and support the majority of Muslims who share these goals.
At home we need to set clear priorities for the protection of our infrastructure and the security of our transportation. Resources should be allocated based upon those priorities, and standards of preparedness should be set.
The private sector and local governments should play an important part in this process.
We need secure borders with heightened and uniform standards of identification for those entering and exiting the country, and an immigration system able to be efficient, allowing good people in while keeping the terrorists out.
If, God forbid, there is another attack, we must be ready to respond. We must educate the public, train and equip our first responders, and anticipate countless scenarios.
We recommend significant changes in the organization of government. We know that the quality of the people is more important than the quality of the wiring diagrams. Good people can overcome bad structures. They should not have to.
Day and night, dedicated public servants are waging the struggle to combat terrorists and protect the homeland. We need to ensure that our government maximizes their efforts through information sharing, coordinated effort and clear authority.
HAMILTON: A critical theme that emerged throughout our inquiry was the difficulty of answering the question, Who is in charge? Who ensures that agencies pool resources, avoid duplication and plan jointly? Who oversees the massive integration and unity of effort necessary to keep America safe?
Too often, the answer is no one.
Thus we are recommending a national counterterrorism center. We need effective unity of effort on counterterrorism. We should create a national counterterrorism center to unify all counterterrorism intelligence and operations across the foreign and the domestic divide in one organization.
Right now these efforts are too diffuse across the government. They need to be unified.
We recommend a national intelligence director. We need unity of effort in the intelligence community.
We need a much stronger head of the intelligence community and an intelligence community that organizes itself to do joint work in national mission centers.
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