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25 July 2003

Senators Spar Over Joint Committee's September 11 Report

Classified section says foreign officials aided terrorists, says Graham

Two senators with long experience in intelligence matters clashed July 24 over the report of the Joint Congressional Inquiry on 9/11, which was released that day.

Senator Robert Graham (Democrat of Florida), a candidate for the Democratic Party's presidential nomination in 2004, in remarks to the Senate July 24 said classified parts of the report alleged that "officials of a foreign government" aided and abetted the terrorist attacks on the United States, which took over 3,000 lives.

He criticized the use of classification that left Americans without knowledge of "the specific sources of that foreign support."

That information, Graham complained, "is contained in the censured portions of this report, which are being denied to the American people."

Said the Florida Democrat, "This obsession with excessive secrecy is deeply troubling."

Graham, the one-time chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence who was on the joint inquiry, said he intended to introduce legislation "soon," with other members of that panel, to implement the reforms that require legislative action.

Senator Saxby Chambliss (Republican of Georgia), who was a member of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence and a participant in the joint inquiry, took the position that there were solid security reasons for not making all the information available to the public.

"The public does have a right to know everything we can tell them about the facts leading up to September 11," said Chambliss, "But the intelligence community does not have the right and should not release information relative to sources and methods."

The inquiry, he added, said there was "nothing that could have been done on the part of the intelligence community" that would have prevented the terror attacks from happening.

The intelligence community, Chambliss said, "has learned a lesson" from the attacks.

"We are moving forward to make sure our children and our grandchildren live in a safe and secure America just like we have enjoyed," said the Georgia Republican.

The Report of the Joint Inquiry into the Terrorist Attacks of September 11, 2001 by The House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence and The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence was released on July 24 and is available at: www.access.gpo.gov.

Following are the transcripts of remarks by Senators Graham and Chambliss from the July 24 Congressional Record:

(begin text)

JOINT INTELLIGENCE REPORT POST-9/11

Senate

July 24, 2003

Mr. GRAHAM of Florida. Mr. President, earlier this afternoon a declassified version of the report of the House and Senate Intelligence Committees on the events of September 11, 2001, (was) released to the public. I will take a few minutes to recognize those who performed a great public service in producing this report and to commend it to my colleagues and those who are watching. The public version of this report is available at the Web site of the Government Printing Office, www.access.gpo.gov.

This report fulfills the commitment that was made to the American people and particularly to the families of those who perished in this tragedy. The commitment was to conduct a thorough search for the truth about what our intelligence agencies knew or should have known about al-Qaida and its intentions prior to September 11. It was then to apply the lessons learned from that experience to reform the intelligence community in such a way as to mitigate the likelihood of a repetition of September 11.

This was a historic first-of-a-kind effort. For the first time in the history of the Congress, two standing committees, the House and the Senate, joined together to conduct a special inquiry with its own staff. That staff was led by the very capable Ms. Eleanor Hill. The staff reviewed nearly 1 million documents and conducted some 500 interviews. The joint inquiry committee held 22 hearings last year, 9 of which were open to the public. The result of this effort was released today.

This document includes both findings of fact and 19 recommendations for reform. I am extremely proud of the commitment that the Members of the House and Senate Intelligence Committee have given to this review. I would especially like to recognize the vice chairman of the Senate committee, Senator Shelby, and the chairman and vice chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Congressman PORTER GOSS and Congresswoman NANCY PELOSI.

The report's findings are grouped in 24 subject areas, but they have a single bottom line: The attacks of September 11 could have been prevented if the right combination of skill, coordination, creativity, and some good luck had been brought to the task.

There is an abundance of important information in this report that suggests, for example, institutional resistance to making counterterrorism a high national priority prior to September 11. This resistance took many forms. It included a lack of information sharing among key agencies. It included budget cuts at the Department of Justice for the FBI's counterterrorism program. Simply put, those problems contributed to the Government's inability to successfully launch an offensive against al-Qaida.

As an example of this difficulty, a previously classified finding, No. 14 in the report, states that senior military officials were reluctant to use military assets to conduct offensive counterterrorism efforts in Afghanistan or to support or participate in CIA operations directly towards al-Qaida prior to September 11.

In part, this reluctance was driven by the military's view that the intelligence community was unable to provide the intelligence necessary to support military operations. For example, the report confirms that between 1999 and 2001, U.S. Navy ships and submarines armed with cruise missiles were positioned in the north Arabian Sea. Their mission was to attack Osama bin Laden, but it was a mission frustrated because they were not able to get the actionable intelligence which only could have come by our ability to place spies close enough to al-Qaida to tell us what that organization would be doing and where Osama bin Laden might be on any given day.

The report makes it clear we should have known that potential terrorists were living among us. Indeed, two of the terrorist-turned-hijackers lived with an FBI informant in San Diego, CA, for 6 months or more in the year 2001. A resourceful FBI agent in Phoenix wanted to follow up on suspicions about foreign-born students who were honing their skills at American flight schools. Officials at FBI central headquarters shut him down.

To assure the American people that we take such actions seriously, we included a recommendation, No. 16 that calls for the Director of Central Intelligence to implement new accountability standards throughout the intelligence community. These standards would identify poor performance and affix responsibility for it. It would also set a standard to recognize and reward excellent performance.

Had such standards been in place 2 years ago, we might have been able to hold those whose performance fell short of what our country deserves accountable for their errors, omissions and commissions, particularly in the critical period immediately before September 11.

Had these standards been implemented last year, it is possible the Nation could have avoided the embarrassment and damage to our Government's credibility that has occurred because of the use of discredited intelligence information in the President's State of the Union Address. So far, we have seen no one suffer more than the indignity of a newspaper headline in either incident.

With the release of the joint inquiry report, it is time to look ahead and continue to implement the important reforms of the intelligence community that are necessary and to enhance the Federal Government's partnership with State and local law enforcement and other first responders.

If the recommendations in this report are heeded by the White House, by the agencies, and by this Congress, we should be able to make great strides in improving the security of the American people.

It is my intention to introduce legislation soon, with co-sponsorship of members of the joint inquiry that would implement the reforms, which require legislative action. I hope it will move expeditiously to passage with the full support of the administration. I will also begin that effort with a sense of outrage because we have lost valuable time.

It took 7 months, almost as long as it took to conduct the inquiry, for the intelligence agencies to declassify the portions of the report that we are releasing today.

What are the consequences of that 7 months' delay? One is that the momentum for reform, which was at a high tide in the weeks and months immediately after 9/11, has begun to diminish despite the scope of the tragedy. We will learn shortly whether we can reinvigorate that reform movement. This Senate will face the test of its will to do so.

I, for one, am committed to see this report is not forgotten or overlooked.

In my view, the delay reflects the excessive secrecy with which this administration appears to be obsessed and which is keeping important findings of our work from the American people. Such censorship also saps the urgency of reform and precludes the American peoples' ability to hold its leaders accountable.

The most serious omission, in my view, is part 4 of the report, which is entitled ``Finding, Discussion and Narrative Regarding Certain Sensitive National Security Matters.'' That section of the report contained 27 pages between pages 396 through 422. Those 27 pages have almost been entirely censured. This is the equivalent of ripping out a chapter in the middle of a history book before giving it to your child or grandchild and then telling her ``good luck on the test.''

The declassified version of this finding tells the American people that our investigation developed ``information suggesting specific sources of foreign support for some of the September 11 hijackers while they were in the United States.''

In other words, officials of a foreign government are alleged to have aided and abetted the terrorist attacks on our country on September 11, which took over 3,000 lives.

I would like to be able to identify for you the specific sources of that foreign support but that information is contained in the censured portions of this report, which are being denied to the American people.

What are the consequences of this? It significantly reduces the information available to the public about some of the Government's most important actions, or more accurately, inactions prior to September 11. Second, it precludes the American people from asking their Government legitimate questions such as, How was the information that our Government might have had prior to September 11 utilized after September 11 to enhance the security of our homeland and American interests abroad? Third, almost 2 years after the tragedy of September 11, the administration and the Congress, in the main, have not initiated reforms, which would reduce the chances of another September 11.

For example, we are allowed to report that the estimates of the CIA's counterterrorism center is that between 70,000 and 120,000 recruits went through al-Qaida's training camps in Afghanistan before those troops were attacked in late 2001. The important questions as to the significance of that statement, to the security of the American people, are not available.

This obsession with excessive secrecy is deeply troubling. The recognition of the evils of secrecy in a free society date back to the beginnings of our Nation. Patrick Henry declared: The liberties of a people never were, nor ever will be, secure when the transactions of their rulers may be concealed from them.

President John F. Kennedy observed in the first year of his Presidency: ``the very word secret is repugnant in a free and open society, and we are, as people, inherently and historically opposed to secret societies, to secret oaths, and to secret proceedings. We decided long ago that the dangers of excessive and unwarranted concealment of pertinent facts far outweighed the dangers, which are cited to justify.'' These are traditional American values that are being trampled.

So the joint committee included our report with this recommendation, recommendation No. 15. ``The President should review and consider amendments to the Executive Orders, policies, and procedures that govern the national security classification of intelligence information in an effort to expand access to relevant information for Federal agencies outside the intelligence community and for State and local authorities which are critical to the fight against terrorism and for the American public''.

In addition, the President and heads of Federal agencies should assure that the policies and procedures to protect against unauthorized disclosure of classified intelligence information are well understood, fully implemented, and vigorously enforced.

It is my observation that because classification is used so excessively, the corollary is only a minimal effort to enforce classification of materials that truly do deserve to be classified.

Again, I remind my colleagues that these recommendations were written late in 2002 before the current crisis developed over the use and possible misuse of intelligence leading us to war in Iraq. But that crisis has given this recommendation even greater urgency for the Government's credibility with the American people and our credibility with the rest of the world.

These qualities have been severely eroded in large part because of excessive secrecy. To regain the people's trust we must bring new transparency to our decision makers. We must bring new transparency to our decision-making. We must move decisions and governmental information into the sunshine. We owe that and much more to the 3,000 victims of September 11.

(end Graham text)

(begin Chambliss text)

JOINT INTELLIGENCE REPORT POST--9/11

Senate

July 24, 2003

Mr. CHAMBLISS. Mr. President, I rise tonight in response to the comments of my friend, the Senator from Florida, about the report that was issued today about September 11. There were a lot of innuendoes and direct statements by the Senator from Florida with respect to the administration, faults on the part of the administration leading up to September 11 and the connection of causation between the administration and some deficiencies with the administration and September 11. Nothing could be further from the truth.

My friend from Florida made the comment that the lack of resources in our intelligence community played a big part in the intelligence deficiencies that allowed September 11 to happen. I agree with him 100 percent. What he failed to say is that this administration had been in office less than 8 months when September 11 happened. This administration had not even been through an appropriations cycle. It is this body and the House that made the appropriations over the last several years that, in fact, did lead to a decline in resources, with the leadership of the previous administration, that caused the resources not to be put in the right place, that allowed the problems within the intelligence community to arise.

The Senator mentioned certain declassification, or failure to declassify certain aspects of the September 11 report that were not included in the report that was released today. Again, he is exactly right. But there is a reason for that. The public does have a right to know everything we can tell them about the facts leading up to September 11. But the intelligence community does not have the right and should not release information relative to sources and methods.

The intelligence community is a very complex community. The intelligence community has human assets in place all around the world, gathering information from an intelligence standpoint that is important to saving the lives of Americans.

In addition to that, we have methods of gathering intelligence that we simply cannot disclose and divulge to people we are gathering that intelligence from, or it will reduce or significantly lessen, or maybe even not allow us to gather information from them. So it is very important that we not release sources and methods.

Last, let me say my friend made the comment about secrecy on the part of this administration, this President. Again, nothing could be further from the truth. Secrecy is not the issue here, as set forth in that report that was released today.

The real issue as set forth in that report is the protection of America and the protection of Americans. This administration had done everything within its power leading up to September 11 to make sure the intelligence community had the ability to gather intelligence and that the law enforcement community had the ability to interrupt and disrupt intelligence activity. Unfortunately, as was concluded in the report today -- the Senator from Florida was the chairman of the Intelligence Committee that participated in that report -- that report says that, in spite of everything, there is nothing that could have been done on the part of the intelligence community that would have prohibited September 11 from happening.

What we need to be aware of and what the American people need to be aware of is that the intelligence community has learned a lesson from September 11, and we are moving forward to make sure our children and our grandchildren live in a safe and secure America just like we have enjoyed. We have a lot of recommendations within that report that are being followed today to make sure America is a safer place.

While I commend the men and women -- and I was part of it -- who worked very hard to get that report together, there is a lot of information in that report that was not declassified and which should not be declassified so that we can have a safer and more secure America.

(end text)

(Distributed by the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)