What Went Wrong?
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MARGARET WARNER: Now to the top two senators on the Joint Senate-House 9/11 Inquiry Committee: Bob Graham, Democrat of Florida, who’s chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, and Richard Shelby, Republican of Alabama, who is vice chairman. Welcome to you both.
Before we turn to today, let me ask you, Senator Graham, how do you think the U.S. should respond to these revelations about the North Korean nuclear program?
SEN. BOB GRAHAM: Well, it’s a very serious matter, because the North Koreans had made some strong commitments in 1994 that they would dismantle their efforts at achieving nuclear weapons in exchange for United States’ and other countries’ assistance in developing a commercial nuclear capability.
Apparently, North Korea has now renounced that 1994 agreement. I think that this is – may be another matter that we need to take before the United Nations, because North Korea is in violation of their anti-proliferation agreements. They have just violated this international agreement to dismantle. We may be in a situation very similar to Iraq, where we first seek international assistance but reserve the right to act unilaterally if we feel that our security is threatened.
MARGARET WARNER: Do you agree with that, Senator Shelby, we should approach this essentially as we’re approaching Iraq?
SEN. RICHARD SHELBY: Well, I think there are differences but there are parallels here too. One parallel that I believe is here – North Korea agreed to do something and they didn’t do it. In other words, they agreed not to develop nuclear weapons. And instead of going the plutonium route, they obviously have gone the enriched uranium route. I worry myself and am troubled by what could be going on in Iraq as we speak — a similar program perhaps. People will not keep their word. They will not honor their commitments. As Senator Graham says, North Korea is in breach of their agreement.
MARGARET WARNER: But do you think that the U.S. should take it to the UN and have the threat of military force if North Korea didn’t fully comply, open it up to inspections, destroy the weapons and so forth?
SEN. RICHARD SHELBY: Well, I think that – at this juncture I would defer to President Bush and his senior advisers, but my concern here is this is a breach that we cannot ignore. This is a breach that will be deeply troubling not only to Japan, South Korea, perhaps all of Asia.
MARGARET WARNER: And Senator Graham, just to understand your position, you’re saying really that the U.S. should be basically as hard-nosed about North Korea as it is being about Iraq?
SEN. BOB GRAHAM: Well, it seems to me the parallels are very similar. There’s another thing that’s similar that we should do. One of the most startling statements made in my 10 years on the Intelligence Committee was when one United States official when asked this question: What does the leadership of North Korea, of Iraq, of Iran, of Libya, of other of these rogue states, what do they think the United States would do if they launched a weapon of mass destruction against the United States. The answer was: we didn’t know what they felt our reaction would be. I think that’s a very dangerous area of ambiguity. We should let these nations know that if they use their weapons of mass destruction against us or against our allies, that they will face the strongest retaliation.
SEN. RICHARD SHELBY: I agree with that, Margaret. I agree there has to be-it has to be clear and unambiguous what our policy will be, because ambiguous policy will bring on trouble, always has in international waters.
MARGARET WARNER: All right. Senator Graham, let’s move on now to your committee’s work today. CIA Director Tenet said that the threat level, the threat environment, I think was his phrase, is as dangerous today towards Americans as it was in the months leading up to 9/11. And my question is: After all these months of looking at what went wrong before 9/11, do you think our intelligence and law enforcement agencies are substantially better prepared today to do what it would take to avert another attack?
SEN. BOB GRAHAM: I think they’re some better; I wouldn’t use the word “substantially.” We have not reached the levels that we are going to have to do as we prepare not just for an episode every once in a while but a continuous threat of terrorists, particularly those terrorists who were recruited, trained, and placed inside the United States and are waiting the call to attack us.
MARGARET WARNER: So you – let me just make sure I understand that. You feel that as the threat intensifies, America is really quite vulnerable here at home?
SEN. BOB GRAHAM: Yes, the CIA in a declassified analysis last week said that in the event that a U.S.-led attack against Saddam Hussein, causes Saddam Hussein to feel as if he is about to be toppled, then there is a probability, 75 percent or more likelihood, that he will use his weapons of mass destruction, including using them inside the United States of America in conjunction with one of the several international terrorist organizations, which have their operatives placed within the United States.
Given the fact that this a war, which could start within the next hundred days, I think it’s imperative that we use every hour between now and then to first attempt to protect us here at home by identifying and — where we can — detaining those persons that are the operatives sleeping among us, and then, second, initiating a very strong assault against the international terrorists where they live to cut off the head of their organization, so they cannot provide support, financing, and give that telephone call to attack American citizens.
MARGARET WARNER: Senator Shelby, what’s your view, after you heard CIA Director Tenet say that today about how much better intelligence in law enforcement is today than 14 months ago?
SEN. RICHARD SHELBY: Well, first of all, I would dispute that. I think most observers, most of the testimony that’s been before our joint inquiry, both in closed and open sessions, would paint a different picture than Director Tenet has painted today. I believe that a year after September 11, that we have improved some, but not a lot, as far as our ability to combat terrorism in this country. Brent Scowcroft, who’s a very well respected former National Security Adviser to President Bush, 41 as we said – the first President Bush – he testified under oath before our committee several weeks ago that the safest place for a terrorist, in his opinion, in the world was in the United States of America. That ought to say a lot.
MARGARET WARNER: Today, as you heard, both Director Tenet and Director Mueller repeatedly said that the administration has… well, we had lots and lots of general warnings, but nothing specific as to time and place and date. I guess time and date are the same. Do you think the agencies are any better on that front, Senator Shelby?
SEN. RICHARD SHELBY: I don’t think so. I’ll tell you why. Senator Graham and I both have advocated the creation of an analytical center where… in the Homeland Security Office it has been proposed, where they would have a fusion of all intelligence on, say, a terrorist subject, and so forth. We don’t have that today. There’s no place in our government today that the President of the United States or anyone can go to one source and say, “this is everything all put together, fused together.” We’ve got a long way to go.
MARGARET WARNER: Senator Graham, you all had several go-rounds with Tenet and Mueller today. On this question of accountability, do you think… and they both acknowledged that no one had been disciplined or fired at their agencies. Do you think heads should roll at these agencies?
SEN. BOB GRAHAM: I think there should be accountability — that just as the captain of the ship, when it goes into the rocks, even if he was not on deck or directly responsible, he is responsible. I think somebody has to be held accountable when there is such a major breach of national security as occurred on September 11.
MARGARET WARNER: But now their defense to this was that the line officers all through the organization were dedicated employees who didn’t have the training, the resources, the budget, the tools that they needed.
SEN. BOB GRAHAM: Well, it seems to me you’ve just identified then who was accountable. Who are the people that failed to give them the training, the supervision, the direction? Who was it that should have, for instance, told the officers who were on the desk at the FBI Office here in Washington that when you get a document that is as powerful as the one that came from Phoenix, you’re not supposed to just file it; you’re supposed to do something with it? We have to go up the chain of command to find a responsible party, but somebody’s got to be accountable when you have such a major failure.
SEN. RICHARD SHELBY: Margaret, if there’s no accountability at the FBI, at the CIA, at the other agencies that make up the intelligence community, if there’s not– and I don’t believe there has been any accountability from the testimony today– there’s not going to be, in my judgment, a meaningful reform or changing the way they do business.
MARGARET WARNER: What do you mean? Are you calling on Tenet and Mueller to fire people in their agencies? Are you calling on them to resign?
SEN. RICHARD SHELBY: Well, you asked the question. I think in Bob Mueller’s position, he’s only been there… he came to work just a few days before September 11. Director Tenet had been on the job a long time. I could point out that under his watch, as CIA Director, there were probably more failures in intelligence than in the history of the agency.
MARGARET WARNER: But now, Senator Graham, he… Tenet pointed to the lack of resources and to the fact that often he didn’t get from the Congress what he wanted in counterterrorism.
SEN. BOB GRAHAM: Yes, and I think Congress does have part of the responsibility here in terms of the resources and the fact that we probably didn’t shake the agencies hard enough after the fall of the Berlin Wall to say, “look, the world is changing now. You’re going to have to change the way in which you operate. We’re not going after one big enemy, the Soviet Union. We’ve now got dozens, particularly dozens of these non-governmental terrorist groups that we’re going to have to have new strategies, new personnel, a new culture within these agencies to deal with.” It was probably… we should have been more demanding of these intelligence agencies. But just as I’m suggesting we have some accountability, I think the agencies have accountability, and ultimately the American people are our clients and they deserve to have the highest standard of actions to protect their safety.
SEN. RICHARD SHELBY: Margaret, I was always taught that excuses won’t get the job done, but performance will. And there has to be, has to be better performance at all levels of… in our intelligence community.
MARGARET WARNER: All right -
SEN. RICHARD SHELBY: Thirteen months later, not many changes.
MARGARET WARNER: All right. Thank you both very much.
SEN. BOB GRAHAM: Thank you.
SEN. RICHARD SHELBY: Thank you.