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Background: Improving Intelligence

December 11, 2002 at 12:00 AM EDT


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. 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: 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: 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: 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.