9/11 Panel Chronicles U.S. Failures
• The report concludes that the stated intent of the Clinton administration to kill Osama bin Laden "was never well communicated or understood within the CIA."
Clinton and his national security adviser Samuel R. "Sandy" Berger told the commission that by 1999, the president "wanted him dead." Tenet, however, testified that he believed the CIA was authorized to kill bin Laden only if force became necessary in an attempt to capture him.
A former chief of the unit pursuing bin Laden said that was a crucial difference. "We always talked about how much easier it would have been to kill him," the former unit chief said.
• Bush and Clinton, both interviewed by the commission, disagreed in their recollection of a two-hour meeting on national security and foreign policy issues in December 2000. Clinton recalls telling Bush that "by far your biggest threat is Bin Ladin and the al Qaeda" and that he regretted not capturing or killing the al Qaeda leader.
Bush told the commission "that he felt sure President Clinton had mentioned terrorism, but did not remember much being said about al Qaeda." Bush said Clinton emphasized other issues, such as North Korea and the Israeli peace process.
• In a long footnote, the 10 commissioners upbraid Attorney General John D. Ashcroft for claiming during commission testimony that a 1995 memo had laid the foundation for a legal wall between intelligence and criminal investigations that hampered counterterrorism. The memo's author, former deputy attorney general Jamie S. Gorelick, is a Democratic member of the commission.
Ashcroft's testimony "does not fairly or accurately reflect the significance of the 1995 documents" and the memo had no bearing on key decisions made in the summer of 2001 related to the Sept. 11 plot, the report said.
The panel did not draw conclusions about another dispute involving Ashcroft, who denied telling former acting FBI director Thomas J. Pickard in the summer of 2001 that he did not want to hear about terrorist threats. The panel identifies additional witnesses who support Pickard's account, but Ashcroft aides have disputed it.
• The panel sharply criticized both the Bush and Clinton administrations for failing to respond to the October 2000 attack on the USS Cole in Yemen that killed 17.
• The commission also concluded that the failed airstrikes in 1998 against bin Laden camps in Afghanistan and an alleged chemical weapons plant in Sudan may have made the Clinton administration overly wary of using military force against al Qaeda. The panel noted allegations by some Republicans that Clinton may have ordered the strikes to distract attention from the Monica S. Lewinsky scandal, echoing the plot of the 1997 movie "Wag the Dog." "The failure of the strikes, the 'wag the dog' slur, the intense partisanship of the period and the nature of the al Shifa evidence, likely had a cumulative effect on future decisions about the use of force against Bin Ladin."
Staff writers Dan Morgan, Mike Allen, Glenn Kessler, Spencer S. Hsu, Michael Powell, Susan Schmidt, Peter Slevin, Bradley Graham, Ceci Connolly and Walter Pincus contributed to this report.
© 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)
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