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Lawmakers report intelligence gaps before 9/11

Panel urges study on setting up domestic intelligence agency

Sen. Bob Graham, right, and Sen. Richard Shelby
Sen. Bob Graham, right, and Sen. Richard Shelby

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The Joint Intelligence Committee leadership cited significant gaps in U.S. intelligence and failures of the CIA before the attacks of September 11 (December 11)
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Citing "significant gaps" in U.S. intelligence before the attacks of September 11, 2001, a joint congressional panel investigating the suicide hijackings released recommendations Wednesday for improving intelligence operations, including the establishment of a Cabinet-level director of national intelligence.

The House and Senate intelligence committees -- which worked together on the 10-month investigation -- also recommended a congressional study on establishing a domestic intelligence agency styled after Britain's MI-5.

"It is almost a certainty that in the coming months, Americans will face another attempted terrorist assault, an assault that quite possibly could be of the same scale as that of September the 11th," outgoing Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Bob Graham, a Florida Democrat, said at a news conference.

Implementing the recommendations, Graham and other lawmakers said, would improve the chances that such an attack could be thwarted. The report included three dozen "findings of fact" about the conduct of the intelligence agencies before the attacks and 19 recommendations.

"It is our belief that if these recommendations are implemented, our government's ability to detect and deter the next assault will be significantly improved," Graham said.

Graham and three other committee leaders released on Wednesday unclassified portions of the joint committee report, which was approved Tuesday by the 37-member joint House-Senate intelligence panel.

"I think we have found that we have some serious systems problems that need to be fixed," said Republican Rep. Porter Goss of Florida, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee. "We have some capability matters that need to be addressed."

CIA singled out

Graham said the intelligence community was hindered by a lack of resources, poor prioritization, improper use of technology and a lack of proper preparations to fight global terrorism. He said a Cabinet-level director is "a key recommendation" to correct those problems.

"Our hearing revealed that the current director of central intelligence, Mr. George Tenet, declared a war on al Qaeda in 1998," Graham said. "The problem is that most of his troops didn't hear that a war had been declared or didn't respond to the trumpet call."

Sen. Richard Shelby of Alabama, the ranking Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee, was more critical of Tenet. "There have been more massive failures of intelligence on his watch as director of CIA than any director in the history of the agency," Shelby said.

The issue of a Cabinet-level spy chief was a contentious one for the committee, but the idea of creating a domestic spy agency -- to replace the current move to resculpt the FBI for that role -- was even more so.

California Rep. Nancy Pelosi, the committee's ranking House Democrat, said it was an issue that required a "very, very open debate."

"We did not recommend an MI-5," said Pelosi, the incoming House minority leader. "The committee recommended that that consideration come in the full light of day, about how we balance liberty and security."

Shelby noted that though the FBI has "been very good" at its role as federal police force, the bureau has "a lot of doubters" about its ability to step up to a new role fighting global terrorism.

A statement from the Department of Justice "welcomed" the report, calling it "an endorsement of our FBI reforms over the past 15 months since the attacks, as we transform the FBI to meet the unprecedented terrorist threat."

Shelby, who said he supported the report, diverged from the committee's recommendation that the inspectors general of the various intelligence agencies should be charged with determining culpability in the September 11 failures.

Concerned that mid-level managers could be scapegoats while "the people at the top walk away," Shelby said he was prepared to name names and that he had hoped the report would go further in holding people accountable.

Shelby named Tenet, former FBI Director Louis Freeh, National Security Agency Director Lt. Gen. Michael Hayden and others.

The congressional leaders noted that their report was limited by the scope of the House and Senate intelligence committees -- they could not address such issues as transportation and immigration. But, Graham said, the report would be handed over to the newly appointed independent commission, headed by former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and former Sen. George Mitchell, which is to look into the same issues.

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