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Improving Intelligence

December 11, 2002 at 12:00 AM EDT
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KWAME HOLMAN: The release of today’s report by the joint Senate and House Intelligence Committees follows nearly ten months of investigative hearings. They gave insight into how successful the intelligence community was in identifying terrorism threats prior to September 11.

Committee staff director Eleanor Hill:

ELEANOR HILL: From 1994 through as late as August 2001, the intelligence community had received information indicating that international terrorists had seriously considered the use of airplanes as a means of carrying out terrorist attacks.

KWAME HOLMAN: CIA Director George Tenet:

GEORGE TENET: In 1998, I told key leaders at CIA and across the intelligence community that we should consider ourselves at war with Osama bin Laden. I ordered that no effort or resource be spared in prosecuting this war.

The CIA began to put in place the elements of this operational strategy, which structured the agency’s counterterrorism activity until September 11 of 2001.

KWAME HOLMAN: But the hearings also disclosed intelligence failures. One unidentified FBI agent talked of a “wall” that prevented the free flow of information between the FBI and the CIA.

FBI AGENT: In my e-mails, I asked where this new wall was defined. I wrote on August 29, 2001: “Whatever has happened to this, someday someone will die, and wall or not, the public will not understand why we were not more effective in throwing every resource we had at certain problems.”

KWAME HOLMAN: Michigan’s Carl Levin, chairman of the Senate Armed Services committee, picked up on some specific failures.

SEN. CARL LEVIN (D-MI): My question is do you know why the FBI was not notified of the fact that an al-Qaida operative now was known in March of the year 2000 to have entered the United States? Why did the CIA not specifically notify the FBI?

SPOKESMAN: Sir, if we weren’t aware of it when it came into headquarters, we couldn’t have notified them. Nobody read that cable in the March timeframe. It was an information-only cable from the field, and nobody read that information-only cable.

SEN. CARL LEVIN: Should it have been read?

SPOKESMAN: Yes, of course, in hindsight.

KWAME HOLMAN: This morning, Porter Goss, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, talked of the difficulty in assigning specific responsibility for the intelligence failures.

REP. PORTER GOSS (R-Fla.): You all know that we’ve worked very hard trying to create a clearer accountability trail for people with responsibilities here. We’ve also tried to incentivize and motivate people in the intelligence community to take risk. Obviously, that has to come together somewhere in a meaningful way.

KWAME HOLMAN: And so members of the joint investigating committees recommended that it be left to the inspectors general of the various intelligence agencies to review the inquiry’s findings and determine any disciplinary action for individuals.

Members also recommended establishing a cabinet-level director of national intelligence to oversee all intelligence gathering; creating an all-source terrorism information fusion center within the Department of Homeland Security; and improving the FBI’s ability to acquire domestic intelligence through counterterrorism activities.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi was the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee.

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-Calif.): Some of the recommendations — particularly those dealing with the creation of a director of national intelligence, the consideration of alternative ways for conducting domestic intelligence activities, and the affixing of accountability for actions taken or not taken with respect to matters related to the September 11 attacks — are controversial.

They are offered as part of efforts under way already to better protect the American people from terrorist acts. Much discussion and debate remains over the way to accomplish that goal in a manner consistent with the protection of the liberties we hold dear.

KWAME HOLMAN: While the work of the Senate and House Intelligence Committees now is complete, the investigation will continue under the direction of former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger.

President Bush tapped Kissinger two weeks ago to chair a newly created independent commission to examine all aspects of the September 11 attacks.

GWEN IFILL: Now to the chairman and vice chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence: Senator Bob Graham, Democrat from Florida; and Senator Richard Shelby, Republican from Alabama.

Senator Graham, you said today at the beginning of news conference announcing the results of your investigation — that there is almost a certainty in the coming months Americans will face another attempted terrorist assault possibly on the same scale as September 11.

What did you find out in your investigation that led you to say that today?

SEN. BOB GRAHAM: It’s been a whole series of pieces of intelligence which have indicated that the threat level is going up. George Tenet said in October that the threat level today is high or higher than in the weeks before September 11.

We have had some of the most serious terrorist organizations in the world, such as Hezbollah, announce within the last two weeks that they are no longer to going confine their activities to Israel and Palestine but will take a global view and that the United States is in their bull’s eyes.

GWEN IFILL: Senator Shelby, you spent what of your findings surprised you the most that you can tell us about?

SEN. RICHARD SHELBY: The most surprising thing was the extent that the FBI, the CIA and other agencies did not coordinate their information.

In other words, there was no fusion center to act, to put together information or intelligence and then act upon it. As we look back on the events leading up to September 11, of course we’ll never know if we could have prevented September 11, but if we look at the Phoenix memo and we look at the Zacarias Moussaoui case that came out of the Minnesota and other information, if you had put it together, could you have had a different outcome, possibly.

GWEN IFILL: And by fusion center, you mean literally a physical place where all this information was being swapped?

SEN. RICHARD SHELBY: Absolutely and what Senator Graham and I have laid the predicate for in the legislation creating the Homeland Security Department, it was our authoring of the part that deals with putting an analytical component, that is a center there to deal with all source intelligence — domestic and wherever they can get it — in the Department of Homeland Security.

That could be the nucleus of something that could grow bigger in the future.

GWEN IFILL: Senator Graham I don’t want to put too fine a point on it, how concerns should Americans be now that the gaps in intelligence, that the gaps in information-swapping that you all discovered in the course of your investigation still exist?

SEN. BOB GRAHAM: I think they do still largely exist. Our recommendation tried to focus on the problems with he saw that occurred before September 11, some developments since that time and then recommend how to close those gaps. But they are still there.

I hope that we will not require more Americans being killed before we are able to overcome the inertia of the status quo to leave things the way they have been in the past — because the way they have been in past makes Americans too vulnerable to the type of event that occurred on September 11.

RAY SUAREZ: There’s been a lot of attention paid to one of the big gaps having to do with immigration policy. So many of the hijackers were in this country and shouldn’t have been or at least someone was supposed to have been keeping an eye on them who wasn’t. But your committee didn’t really deal with that.

SEN. BOB GRAHAM: Well, yes, because our focus was on the intelligence community. We did touch on other issues including the role of Immigration Service but only as it related to intelligence.

As an example we have a recommendation this we should re-look at our extradition treaties because today visa fraud or violation of our visa laws is not an extraditable offense and we’ve got some people who we would like to get back into the United States so that we can interrogate them further about what they knew about 9/11 who are under a charge of visa fraud but we can’t get them back in the country because that’s not an offense that is the basis for a mandatory return to the United States.

GWEN IFILL: Senator Shelby you wanted to add on that point?

SEN. RICHARD SHELBY: Sure. Basically we didn’t have in the scope of our charter or investigation concerning the two committees to get into the detail that is necessary on immigration, FAA, and a lot of other things.

The Commission that we have created will have that scope. It will be broader in nature. I believe they can pick up on what we’ve done, which I believe is a substantive credible investigation and go farther with it.

We must get into the immigration area; we must get into FAA. We’ve got to put it all together because America basically is not much safer, and some people say not safer at all, than it was before September 11. We’re trying but we’re challenged.

GWEN IFILL: Before we get to talking about that Kissinger commission let’s talk for another moment, Senator Shelby, about one of the recommendations in the report that there be an intelligence czar, a cabinet level secretary of intelligence. This has been tried before, hasn’t it?

SEN. RICHARD SHELBY: It has. It’s been recommended before by a lot of commissions but I don’t think it’s been the critical juncture that we face today in the intelligence field.

But I believe we have to have someone like the CEO of a large company that can be in charge, can have something to do and say about the budgets and the priorities to run a community that is so broad and made up of so many agencies. We don’t have it today. I think we’ve got to have it otherwise we’re not ever going to reform the intelligence community.

GWEN IFILL: Senator Graham, what makes now different than the past in trying to create a cabinet level intelligence office?

SEN. BOB GRAHAM: Gwen, when it’s the number 3,025 the people who were killed on September 11, there’s been a consistent recommendation that there needs to be greater central control of our central intelligence community in order to avoid these gaps of communications, failures to be able to set and enforce priorities, failures to be able to have a consistent policy of research and development.

All those recommendations in the past have gone unacted upon but now with 3,025 mainly Americans killed by a terrorist attack I think the atmosphere, the sense of urgency in the country, in the Congress, will be different.

GWEN IFILL: Senator Graham, are there elements in this report, which are classified that Americans should know about but can’t?

SEN. BOB GRAHAM: Yes, going back to your question about what was the greatest surprise. I agree with what Senator Shelby said the degree to which agencies were not communicating was certainly a surprise but also I was surprised at the evidence that there were foreign governments involved in facilitating the activities of at least some of the terrorists in the United States.

I am stunned that we have not done a better job of pursuing that to determine if other terrorists received similar support and, even more important, if the infrastructure of a foreign government assisting terrorists still exists for the current generation of terrorists who are here planning the next plots.

To me that is an extremely significant issue and most of that information is classified, I think overly-classified. I believe the American people should know the extent of the challenge that we face in terms of foreign government involvement. That would motivate the government to take action.

GWEN IFILL: Are you suggesting that you are convinced that there was a state sponsor behind 9/11?

SEN. BOB GRAHAM: I think there is very compelling evidence that at least some of the terrorists were assisted not just in financing — although that was part of it — by a sovereign foreign government and that we have been derelict in our duty to track that down, make the further case, or find the evidence that would indicate that that is not true and we can look for other reasons why the terrorists were able to function so effectively in the United States.

GWEN IFILL: Do you think that will ever become public, which countries you’re talking about?

SEN. BOB GRAHAM: It will become public at some point when it’s turned over to the archives, but that’s 20 or 30 years from now. And, we need to have this information now because it’s relevant to the threat that the people of the United States are facing today.

GWEN IFILL: Senator Shelby let’s talk about accountability. You have been quoted on more than one occasion and again today talking about the CIA, George Tenet, the director of Central Intelligence – saying that more massive failures occurred on his watch than any CIA director in history.

Do you think he should resign?

SEN. RICHARD SHELBY: Well, I have spoken on that before. I would like him to resign. Whether he stays there is up to President Bush. He works with the president; he was not appointed by this president. I personally like George Tenet. I think he has a lot of good attributes and in some areas he’s done a good job, but he has not even tried to manage the community.

But there are a lot of other people that ought to be held accountable. Look at the former director of the CIA — John Deutch — on his watch a lot things did happen that shouldn’t have happened. Former FBI Director Louis Freeh; he has got some accountability there. We can go on and on and I believe people should be accountable for their actions or inactions.

GWEN IFILL: You call Louis Freeh’s tenure at the FBI catastrophic I think is the word you used.

SEN. RICHARD SHELBY: If you look back and you examine it, despite all of us liking Louis Freeh, it was not the best — finest hour of FBI

GWEN IFILL: The White House spokesman was asked today about your comments and his response was basically that you are a one-man minority opinion and appeared to brush off your one-man minority opinion.

SEN. RICHARD SHELBY: Well, I think whoever said that didn’t know what they are talking about. And secondly, if you see the report and if we release and I hope we will declassify all of the information, you’re going to see that it’s a majority opinion.

GWEN IFILL: That was Ari Fleischer, the president’s spokesman, who said that.

SEN. RICHARD SHELBY: Sure.

GWEN IFILL: Senator Graham, whose job is it to assign responsibility in this case — if indeed there are people’s whose heads should roll, people who should be held responsible for failures that led up to 9/11? Should it be your job as the head of committee or the president’s job, should it be a new commission? Who should be doing this?

SEN. BOB GRAHAM: Well, it is essentially an executive responsibility. The president should review the performance of those persons who he appointed within the agencies. There should be a process to evaluate how well middle management personnel function.

We have placed the responsibility to make that inquiry on the inspector generals within each office. It happened that Eleanor Hill, who is our staff director, served for several years as the inspector general for the Department of Defense. And she is well aware of their capabilities and their responsibilities to make those kinds of judgments.

We then call for the inspector general’s report to not only be submitted to the head of agency but to the president of the United States and to the Congress so that we can all be assured that a full review was conducted and the appropriate sanctions or recognition and reward for exemplary performance was dispensed. GWEN IFILL: Senator Graham, in pulling altogether the disparate pieces of this report, do you feel that you got the cooperation you needed either from the CIA, the FBI, the White House or the Department of Defense that you just alluded to?

SEN. BOB GRAHAM: I do not believe we got the full cooperation that we needed. As an example, as of today there are 13 requests outstanding with the FBI alone for additional information which would help us follow the trail — including the trail of foreign government involvement.

That agency and others have been reticent to come forward. Frequently we didn’t know what witnesses were going to be available until a matter of a few hours before the hearing, which restricted our ability to be as fully engaged in interrogating the witnesses as we would have liked to have been.

There’s going to be a follow up commission under Dr. Kissinger appointed by the President and we’re going to give him everything we developed including the trails that we will recommend they pursue and follow.

GWEN IFILL: Senator Shelby, picking up where you leave off here as Senator Graham just alluded, the Kissinger Commission — Senator George Mitchell just announced today he’s stepping down from that commission and former Congressman Lee Hamilton is stepping into the job.

Do you think that they’ll face more significant hurdles than you did in trying to get this information on the record, declassified in the public eye or do you think you’ve made their job easier?

SEN. RICHARD SHELBY: We hope we’ve made their job somewhat easier but they’ll face many challenges. When you’re investigating a community such as the intelligence community, and immigration and everything that goes with it. There are going to be a lot of people that resist this investigation. There’s not going to be cooperation like you would think.

But they’ve got their work cut out for them. We wish them well. They have got some able people there. And I think Lee Hamilton coming on to the commission in place of George Mitchell that’s going to be a plus. George Mitchell is very able but he had some conflicts, acknowledged them, decided to resign from the commission.

GWEN IFILL: Do you think this commission, it will be conflict free now with Henry Kissinger as its chairman?

SEN. RICHARD SHELBY: Well, I think Dr. Kissinger brings a lot of prestige, a lot of experience to the commission but I believe at the end of day the commission is going to be balanced and they’re going to put what is in the interest of this nation first. They have to do it. Otherwise it will be a sham commission.

GWEN IFILL: Senator Richard Shelby and Senator Bob Graham, thank you for joining us.

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