The independent commission investigating
the 2001 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington has issued a report highly
critical of the performance of U.S. law enforcement agencies in the period leading
up to the September 11th attacks.
The 9/11 commission issued an interim report taking the Justice Department
and the Federal Bureau of Investigation to task for not making terrorism more
of a priority in the months leading up to the 2001 attacks.
The day before the September 11th attacks, Attorney General John Ashcroft
turned down an FBI request for more money for counter-terrorism efforts. And
the 9/11 commission says the FBI was limited in its efforts to collect and
analyze intelligence information about domestic terrorist threats.
Commission Chairman Thomas Kean says the critical report on the FBI amounts
to what he called an indictment. Former FBI Director Louis Freeh took issue
with that assessment, and said the main problem was a lack of resources devoted
to identifying terror threats and dealing with them.
Commission member Bob Kerrey, a former Democratic senator from Nebraska,
pressed former FBI Director Freeh as to why law enforcement agencies were not
better prepared at a time of increasing threat warnings.
"We were at ease," he said. "We stacked arms (did not have arms at the ready).
I mean, we were not prepared at all, and it is baffling to me why some alert
was not given to the airlines to alter their preparedness, and to go to a much
higher state of alert."
Mr. Freeh defended the FBI's counter-terrorism efforts before the September
11th attacks, calling them very effective, given the limited resources available
to the agency. He added, "It was never our notion in the FBI that criminal
prosecution of terrorists and investigations of their organizations was a substitute
for military action, for foreign policy action, for the United States doing
what it did on September 11th, declaring war on an enemy that had declared
war on us many years ago."
The commission report says the FBI had a culture in which agents were often
promoted for investigations that led to arrests and prosecutions, but that
probes involving intelligence and counter-terrorism efforts were considered
low priority within the agency.
The 9/11 commission was established by Congress and the White House in 2002
for the purpose of finding out what went wrong before the 2001 attacks and
what can be done to prevent future attacks. A final commission report is due
by the end of July.