9/11 Panel Chronicles U.S. Failures
Final Report Faults Two Administrations and Calls for Broad Reforms
By Dan Eggen
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, July 23, 2004; Page A01
The U.S. government was utterly unprepared on Sept. 11, 2001, to protect the American people from al Qaeda terrorists, who outwitted and outmaneuvered a bureaucracy that had never seriously addressed them as a threat and had never fathomed the possibility of such a calamitous assault on U.S. soil, according to a searing account of failures and missteps released yesterday.
The 567-page final report of the commission investigating the Sept. 11 attacks chronicles in exhaustive detail the sporadic and failed attempts of the CIA, the FBI and other intelligence agencies to track some of the Sept. 11 plotters and their associates. Although it stops short of blaming President Bush or former president Bill Clinton for the attacks, the document concludes that both administrations were lackluster in their efforts to combat Islamic terrorism and derides congressional oversight of the issue as "dysfunctional."
"The 9/11 Commission Report," available in paperback in bookstores nationwide, proposes a series of controversial reforms that would amount to perhaps the most dramatic restructuring of the U.S. government in half a century. The 10-member bipartisan panel recommends forming a new Cabinet-level office of national intelligence and creating a terrorism center that would not only analyze intelligence but also run its own counterterrorism operations at home and abroad. The commission wants Congress to completely change the way it governs the intelligence community as well.
In proposals that would have a major impact on virtually every American, the report advocates encoding U.S. passports with personal information -- as is now required for some foreigners entering the United States -- and recommends standardized driver's licenses nationwide. Both ideas were met with immediate criticism from civil liberties advocates.
After 20 months of interviews, hearings and other research, the commissioners concluded that the United States had not even come close to thwarting the attacks.
"Since the plotters were flexible and resourceful, we cannot know whether any single step or series of steps would have defeated them," the commission's chairman, former New Jersey governor Thomas H. Kean (R), said at a news conference in Washington. "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 Qaeda plot. . . .
"The government failed to protect the American people," Kean added. "The United States government was simply not active enough in combating the terrorist threat before 9/11."
Congressional leaders have sent mixed signals in recent days about the chances of enacting the proposed reforms in an election year, but Kean and other commissioners vowed to lobby for the changes in coming months. The panel plans to assemble a "report card" in six to 12 months on the government's progress.
At a news conference with the commission's leaders yesterday, Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Joseph I. Lieberman (D-Conn.) said that after the summer break they will offer legislation that embodies most of the panel's recommendations. McCain said he will urge the congressional leadership to schedule hearings to begin after the election, in a lame-duck session, with the goal of completing congressional action next year.
Bush praised commissioners for their work and said he agreed with them "that the terrorists were able to exploit deep institutional failings in our nation's defenses that developed over more than a decade."
"The commission has suggested a number of reforms to improve our intelligence capabilities so we can better anticipate emerging threats," he said in a speech in Glenview, Ill. He said the administration will "carefully study all of their proposals," but did not take a position on the commission's major recommendations.
National security adviser Condoleezza Rice told reporters after the report was released: "I don't think it's a matter of whether there will be further intelligence reform. I think there will be further intelligence reform. It's a matter of how and precisely when, and precisely what will be done."
Democratic presidential candidate John F. Kerry, who has endorsed some reforms that are similar to those the commission advocated, told reporters in Detroit that the "report carries a very simple message for all of America about the security of all Americans: We can do better."
About three dozen relatives of Sept. 11 victims were briefed on the report in Washington just before its public release, and most praised the commission for its steadfastness and urged quick adoption of all its recommendations. A small cadre of activist Sept. 11 families had lobbied for the panel's formation and has closely followed its work.
© 2004 The Washington Post Company
"The government failed to protect the American people," the panel chairman, Thomas H. Kean, left, said at a news conference. With him are Vice Chairman Lee H. Hamilton, Fred F. Fielding, Bob Kerrey, John F. Lehman and Richard Ben-Veniste.
(Michael Robinson-chavez -- The Washington Post)
The 567-Page Story Of a Humbled America (The Washington Post, Jul 23, 2004)
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New Details Revealed on 9/11 Plans (The Washington Post, Jul 23, 2004)
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