The report noted that the “most important failure” ultimately leading to the Sept. 11 attacks “was one of imagination. We do not believe leaders understood the gravity of the threat.”
At a press conference Thursday, commission Chairman Thomas Kean, the former Republican governor of New Jersey, said the U.S. government “failed to protect the American people” from attack.
He said the failures occurred over many years and administrations — “no single individual” is held responsible, though senior officials in the government “bear some element of responsibility.”
“[The terrorists] penetrated the defenses of the most powerful nation in the world,” Kean said. “They inflicted unbearable trauma on our people, and at the same time they turned international order upside down.”
Kean and commission Vice Chairman Lee Hamilton presented President Bush with the report Thursday morning. The president commended the panel for “very solid, sound recommendations about how to move forward.”
The report identified nine “specific points of vulnerability” in the Sept. 11 plot where the government may have been able to disrupt the plans for the attacks. But the panel added that “we cannot know whether any single step or series of steps would have defeated” the hijackers.
The commission recommended the creation of a new intelligence center and a high-level Senate-confirmed intelligence director who would report directly to the president with status just below full Cabinet rank. That person would control intelligence budgets, hire and fire deputies, which include the CIA director and top intelligence officials at the FBI, Homeland Security Department and Defense Department.
The 567-page report also drew new links between Iraq and al-Qaida, finding that Osama bin Laden had considered an alliance with Iraq in the early 1990s.
The report said that while al-Qaida and Iraq had “friendly contacts,” none of them “ever developed into a collaborative relationship.” Iraq, according to the report, had nothing to do with the Sept. 11 attacks.
In addition to its call for government reorganization, the report also urged the United States and its allies to begin a global campaign to dissolve al-Qaida, which would mean fighting a militant Islamic ideology.
“To Muslim parents, terrorists like bin Laden have nothing to offer their children but visions of violence and death. America and its friends have the advantage — our vision can offer a better future,” the report said.
Criticism of the report came from Richard Clarke, former counterterrorism expert in the Clinton and Bush administrations. Clarke, who is now a consultant for ABC, said on Good Morning America that the commission shied away from controversy in order to release a unanimous report.
“To get unanimity they didn’t talk about a number of things, like what effect is the war in Iraq having on our battle against terrorism. Did the president pay any attention to terrorism during the first nine months of his administration? The controversial things, the controversial criticisms of the Clinton administration as well as the Bush administration just aren’t there,” Clarke said.