Who Knew What?
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KWAME HOLMAN: Leaders of the House and Senate Intelligence Committees– Democratic Senator Bob Graham and Republican Representative Porter Goss, both of Florida– went before reporters this morning. They said their joint investigating committee will hold its first formal session on June 4, after four months of behind-the-scenes examination of the performance of U.S. Intelligence relating to September 11.
REP. PORTER GOSS, Chairman, Intelligence Committee: We are spending our time trying to find those facts. We’ve hired professionals, as Bob has said, and we want to share as much as we can with the public, because part of this exercise that we’re going through of understanding what happened on 9/11 and preparing ourselves better so it can’t happen again is going to involve the citizens of the United States of America– and, frankly, Americans at home, abroad, and our guests and visitors and so forth– because we are a wonderful, free, democratic, open society.
KWAME HOLMAN: The Intelligence Committee leaders spoke on a day the front pages carried more reports that the FBI had early information potentially relevant to the attacks. An agent and general counsel for the FBI’s Minneapolis field office, Coleen Rowley, this week sent a 13-page letter to the Intelligence Committee. In it, she complained Bureau superiors blocked Minneapolis agents’ efforts last August to secure a warrant to examine hijacking suspect Zacarias Moussaoui’s computer.
According to the "New York Times," Rowley said frustrated agents requested help in the Moussaoui investigation from the CIA, and Rowley now is seeking status as a federal whistle blower. FBI Director Robert Mueller has ordered an investigation of Rowley’s charges by the agency’s Inspector General, and Rowley’s letter now has been ruled classified.
Earlier this week, a Phoenix- based FBI agent, Kenneth Williams, told members of Congress he shared with FBI superiors in July his suspicions about Middle Eastern men who were taking flight training. Apparently no action was taken. Senate Democratic Leader Tom Daschle this week endorsed calls from others in Congress for an independent commission to investigate the performance of federal agencies prior to the attacks.
SEN. TOM DASCHLE, Majority Leader: We need to find out what breakdowns happened before September 11, so we can make sure that they never happen again. If that requires questions, we’ll ask them. If it requires hearings, we’ll hold them. And if Republicans will agree on an independent commission, we’ll appoint one.
KWAME HOLMAN: Traveling in Europe yesterday, President Bush reiterated his preference to limit the investigating to the probe by the Joint Intelligence Committee.
PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: Since it deals with such sensitive information, in my judgment it’s best for the ongoing war against terror that the investigation be done in the Intelligence Committee. There are committees set up with both Republicans and Democrats who understand the obligations of upholding our secrets and our sources and methods of collecting intelligence. And therefore, I think it’s the best place for Congress to take a good look at the events leading up to September 11.
KWAME HOLMAN: Intelligence Committee members Graham and Goss reacted to the letter from the Minneapolis FBI lawyer.
REP. PORTER GOSS: I’m not ready to draw a conclusion yet, but I detected in this letter the same problem that I have detected in a lot of conversations with some of our finest, hard-working people around the world, doing some very difficult, dirty, dangerous work for our intelligence agencies in far, remote corners. And that is a frustration in the field that people are not willing to take risk in Washington, and don’t want the boat rocked in any way, shape or form, as the Senator has suggested. And I feel that that is something that we are going to definitely be focusing on.
SEN. BOB GRAHAM, Chairman, Intelligence Committee: We know enough now to say that there was a lack of aggressive follow-through of information that I think not only in the benefit of 20/20 hindsight, but on the day it arrived clearly was relevant to the future vulnerability of the nation, and deserved to have gotten greater attention and treatment.
KWAME HOLMAN: The Intelligence Committee leaders said some of their members favor creating an independent commission to examine the actions of government beyond the committee’s focus on the performance of U.S. Intelligence.
MARGARET WARNER: Now, some insight into these latest developments from two members of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence: Democrat Carl Levin of Michigan, and Republican Fred Thompson of Tennessee. They’re both participating in the joint House-Senate Congressional inquiry. Welcome, gentlemen. Senator Levin, beginning with you. Your committee has been given a copy of this 13-page letter from the agent out in Minneapolis. How serious do you find her allegations?
SEN. CARL LEVIN: I think they’re very serious. They’re part of a real problem that the FBI has. Instead of acting on what they were hearing from the Minneapolis and Minnesota office, which is that this was critically important, additional information about somebody who had been to a flight school, instead of reacting positively, they did nothing with it. And then when they found out that she went to the CIA, they chastised her for doing that. And I find not only her letter, but I find the earlier Phoenix letter to be very, very astounding documents.
I think they ought to be released to the public, redacted if there are any sources there which are sensitive, but they should be released to the public so that they can help produce what is so far been lacking, which is accountability inside the FBI for the failures of the FBI, which are acknowledged by the head of the FBI, Director Mueller acknowledged that there were failures but nobody has been held accountable for those failures except for being transferred from one office to another. And I think that accountability will be encouraged if the public has a chance to read those materials because they are truly astounding.
MARGARET WARNER: Senator Thompson, what do you see as the significance of these documents, and do you agree with Senator Levin they should be released to the public?
SEN. FRED THOMPSON: Well, I don’t know about that. I think if we start releasing documents that are troubling, we are going to have a long drawn out exercise because I think there are going to be other things that come out. Of course if there’s no national security sensitivity or classification sensitivity, then that would be fine. I think the real point here is that we’ve gotten information like this, the Bureau has gotten information like this, Congress, the White House, over the years, has gotten bits and pieces of very sensitive, relevant information. And, in hindsight, it looks even more relevant. There’s a mass of tidbits and conversation and information. And we don’t have the ability to do anything, to do the proper thing with it.
What all of this points out is a problem that’s been growing in this country for several years since the end of the Cold War. And that is, at least parts of the FBI, have become a dysfunctional bureaucracy. I think the same thing is true with regard to the CIA — good people trying to do a good job in many cases, but time has passed them by. We haven’t had proper leadership in many instances. We haven’t kept our eye on the ball. We haven’t kept the right people in the right places, recruited the right people. We clearly don’t have the technology that we need in many instances. And now we’re asking the FBI, for example — part of it’s, I think, all of our faults; Congress, the presidencies over the last several years.
We’re taking them from an investigative body to one now that’s a prevention group more than anything else. Society has changed its opinion. We didn’t want a police state. Certainly we still don’t want one. We became very politically correct. We had agents out there concerned about racial profiling. It came into play in this instance and things of that nature. They were hesitant to try to get warrants against certain people. So all of that is the backdrop that has been going on for a long, long time. It is not going to be easy to turn this thing around on a dime but it’s got to be done. And this is the first step toward that, I think.
MARGARET WARNER: Senator Levin, that raises question of what is going to be the scope of your joint committee inquiry? Is it just to look at the intelligence agencies, or is it going to look more broadly, as Senator Thompson was saying, the failures with our whole intelligence gathering apparatus has extended to other agencies that aren’t intelligence, to presidencies, Congresses, INS, the NSC, FAA, all of them, I mean, how broad is your investigation?
SEN. CARL LEVIN: It’s not going to be broad enough. It will cover some of what you just described but not all of it. It’s not going to be able to look adequately at failures of Congress and the decade leading up to this in terms of how inadequate our own efforts were in fighting the new threats, the war on terrorism. And so in order to have a real comprehensive look, it seems to me it would be wise, in addition to having the Intelligence Committees here take a look at the intelligence failures, to have a group of truly independent, outside distinguished experienced people who would have the confidence of the American to look at this watershed event in our history, an event which has struck fear here in the homeland and which has got to be addressed in a very comprehensive way. And one of the things we can do to make sure that that happens, it seems to me, is for us to be very open about the investigation, to the extent that we can be open.
The only reason not to release those two documents, the Phoenix document and the Minneapolis oral conversations, the phone conversations with proper redactions as far as I’m concerned, is to avoid embarrassment to the FBI. I can’t see any other reasons. Bits and pieces have been released, including by the FBI. The documents should be released so the American people can see for themselves where the failures were and make sure people are held accountable for those failures. I was surprised when Mr. Mueller, the director of the FBI, was unable, for instance, even a few days ago, to tell us what did the units do that were supposed to look at bin Laden, that got the Phoenix document, what did they do with that document as of a couple days ago?
MARGARET WARNER: Are you suggesting– has the administration– you have been collecting documents and testimony for the last four months — are you suggesting the executive branch hasn’t been forthcoming enough or are you just saying-
SEN. CARL LEVIN: No, this is not the executive branch. We are focusing on the FBI. The FBI has not acted properly as far as I’m concerned before 9/11, which is acknowledged by the FBI, they did not adequately reply to the Phoenix document but there has been failure to respond adequately after September 11 to why the FBI failed to act. We don’t have a response from the FBI as of a few days ago, as to what the units that were responsible to react to the Phoenix document did after they got the document. These are bin Laden units in the FBI that did nothing. Why?
MARGARET WARNER: Senator Thompson, what is your view of that? Are you frustrated–
SEN. FRED THOMPSON: Well, after going for years and years doing very, very little and allowing the FBI to do very, very little in some of these counter-terrorism efforts, we now want them to do everything, and want them to do it immediately. That’s understandable. I think we’ll get to the bottom of this. Bob Mueller I think only came aboard a day before September 11. He has taken more positive action in the last few weeks than has been taken over there in a long, long time. He is reprioritizing things, I think he’s trying to get a handle on his personnel situation, his technology situation. So I like to be optimistic about that.
But the problem still is much, much bigger than that. It’s a big ship that’s gone adrift that is not going to be righted and turned in the same direction without cooperation across the board. We put a — Congress, for example, we continue to federalize things that had been state criminal offenses. We increase the burden on the FBI in many, many ways. Now we’re asking them to do things a lot differently. So, I think eventually they will be able to do that. They’re going to have to get up to snuff in a short period of time. But this is a long– this has been a long time coming, and we’ve been warned many, many times. And our committee and other committees, we’ve had the director of the CIA, we’ve had Bill Cohen up here when he was Secretary of Defense, tell us in an open hearing, it’s not a matter of if. It’s just a matter of when.
MARGARET WARNER: So do you agree with Senator Levin that an independent commission is also needed, in addition to your committee’s fact finding work, looking at the intelligence agencies?
SEN. FRED THOMPSON: Well, I’m looking at that. Unfortunately, it’s kind of been partisanized. You know Senator Daschle speaks like there’s nothing going on up here. The highest level of concern in times past has been a joint House-Senate bipartisan investigation of the matter. We have that — ongoing. And that is going to happen.
I do think though that if like Carl Levin said, if we can have a group of experts after the fact, not in competition with this committee, after the fact, to have more time and not be time limited the way this committee is, of experts who can get the proper clearances, and who do not have political motivations and can look not just at 9/11 because 9/11 itself is just the tip of the iceberg — look at the overall deficiencies of the intelligence community and how we got there over the last several years — what our inadequacies were. Point fingers if necessary. But do it behind closed doors in a classified atmosphere for the benefit of the President and the intelligence community and the leaders of Congress and to what extent possible the citizens of America. But those recommendations will have to be followed.
We have commission after commission after commission with good analysis and good recommendations that usually are ignored. So you have to have an Administration willing to take the recommendations. I would hope that they would be a little bit more open minded to the possibility of something that’s not just something their political opponents are trying to do to complicate their lives, but something that could really be beneficial later on in analyzing all these past problems. I don’t want this administration to adopt and take ownership of all of these problems of the past, these inadequacies that have built up. They need to get in there and shake things up.
MARGARET WARNER: I need to end this. Thank you both Senator Thompson and Senator Levin.