The independent commission investigating the 2001 terrorist attacks is proposing
a sweeping overhaul of U.S. intelligence gathering in its final report to Congress
and the Bush administration.
The report totals more than 500 pages and comes after 20 months of exhaustive
investigation by the bipartisan, 10-member commission into what went wrong
on September 11th and how to prevent future attacks.
Commission Chairman Tom Kean told a Washington news conference that the most
important failure related to the 9/11 attacks was one of imagination, that
leaders in both the Clinton and Bush administrations never fully realized the
threat al-Qaida posed to the U.S. homeland.
"And since the plotters were flexible and resourceful, we cannot know whether
any single step or series of steps would have defeated them," he said. "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-Qaida plot."
The report pointed to what it called "deep institutional failings" in the
government by missing several opportunities to uncover the plot. However, the
commission does not say that the attacks were preventable.
The 9/11 commission recommends a major overhaul of U.S. intelligence functions
to help prevent future attacks. The main proposal is for the appointment of
a national intelligence director who will report directly to the president
and the creation of a national counterterrorism center to better coordinate
information from the CIA and the other intelligence agencies in the government.
The recommendations also include improved immigration screening to keep terrorists
out of the country and a more focused foreign policy approach to reach out
to moderate Muslims around the world.
"We need to join the battle of ideas within the Islamic world, communicating
hope instead of despair, progress in place of persecution, life instead of
death," said former Congressman Lee Hamilton, the 9/11 commission's vice chairman. "This
message should be matched by policies that encourage and support the majority
of Muslims who share these goals."
Prior to its public release, the report was presented to President Bush at
the White House.
They have done a really good job of learning about our country, learning about
what went wrong prior to September 11th and making very solid, sound recommendations
about how to move forward," said Mr. Bush. "I assure them that where government
needs to act, we will."
Chairman Thomas Kean, left, and Vice Chairman Lee Hamilton of the 9/11
Commission, President Bush addresses the press
White House photo
Democratic presidential contender John Kerry was briefed on the report and
he urged the president and Congress to act quickly on the commission's recommendations.
Some congressional leaders have suggested that enacting some of the changes
could take months. Congressman Robert Menendez, a Democrat from New Jersey,
says that would be unfortunate.
"I think the report gives us an opportunity to understand the sense of urgency
of responding to some of the recommendations and the findings because I think,
to some degree, we may have lost that sense of urgency and I think the report
will be a catalyst for that," he said.
Among the commission's recommendations is better oversight by Congress.
The report sparked a mixed reaction among the families of victims of the
9/11 attacks, many of whom pushed for the creation of the commission in the
"Unfortunately, what we expect they will get in the end is a whitewash and
what most Americans should greet as a farce, an out and out cover up and a
shameful, colossal spin-job [deception]," said Kyle Hence, the co-founder of
a group called 9/11 Citizens Watch.
Commission Chairman Tom Kean says the report should not be seen as a divisive
political document but as a call to arms to ward off future terrorist threats.
"We face a determined enemy who sees this as a war of attrition, indeed as
an epochal struggle," he said. "We expect further attacks. Against such an
enemy, there can be no complacency. This is the challenge of our generation.
As Americans, we must step forward and we must meet that challenge."
The 9/11 report also sheds new light on the relationship between al-Qaida
and Iraq. The report says that although there were friendly contacts, it did
not evolve into what it called a "collaborative relationship." The report also
details links between al-Qaida and Iran, but says there is no evidence that
Iran was involved or was aware of the 9/11 attacks.