The 567-Page Story of a Humbled America
"Blame, if there's blame, has to be spread all across the board," commissioner James R. Thompson (R), a former governor of Illinois, said yesterday. Even the public could be said to have failed, "because the American people never demanded more or better."
Even the government's successes quickly turned to failure: Various FBI agents came across important clues to the unfolding plot but could not get that information through the walls separating agencies. The CIA tracked some of the terrorists but failed to keep them out of the country. Once they were in the country, no one added their names to the no-fly list.
Even on the morning of the attacks, several hijackers were identified by an airport screening program for special review. But the review was designed to keep bombs out of baggage, while the bombs were those winged tubes parked at the gates.
The enemy had evolved. U.S defenses had not.
Time will no doubt surface a few more intriguing papers, and perhaps an important witness or two will yet be located -- perhaps in a mountain cave on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border.
Yet, the 9/11 commission report had the meaty feeling of a history that will endure, thanks to the political pressure, and the subpoena power, that opened up more than 2.5 million pages of information and the testimony of 1,200 interviews. Though quick, the historical judgment seems conclusive: That American leadership failed across the board.
The panel's recommendations also felt historic. Arguing that 9/11 was but an early battle in a global struggle, the commissioners proposed major changes at the Pentagon, the CIA, the FBI, the State Department, the White House, Congress, the private sector -- and more.
Not since the outbreak of the Cold War more than 50 years ago has such an enormous rethinking of American government been seriously contemplated. No sooner was the document released than Commissioner Bob Kerrey (D), a former senator from Nebraska, pronounced himself "not optimistic" that so many entrenched interests and hidebound bureaucracies could be compelled to surrender prerogatives and recalibrate power.
"This is the challenge of our generation," said the commission chairman, Thomas H. Kean (R), a former governor of New Jersey, and it demands not just exhortations and appropriations -- those Washington stocks in trade -- but a whole new way of doing business.
© 2004 The Washington Post Company
Customers wait at the Government Printing Office store here to purchase copies of the 567-page final report of the 9/11 commission.
(Cathy Kapulka -- The Washington Post)
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CIA-Like Counterterror Center Urged (The Washington Post, Jul 23, 2004)
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Relatives Praise Commission and Push for Changes (The Washington Post, Jul 23, 2004)
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Tracking 'Terrorist Travel' Is a Key Defense (The Washington Post, Jul 23, 2004)
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