New Terrorist Assault 'Almost a Certainty,' 9/11 Probe Finds

By Jeff Johnson | July 7, 2008 | 8:29 PM EDT

Capitol Hill ( - Results from the congressional inquiry into alleged intelligence failures leading up to the 9/11 terrorist attacks released Wednesday indicate a number of systemic problems with U.S. intelligence gathering, analysis, sharing, and response. The report was introduced with a somber warning from the co-chairman of the Joint House-Senate Intelligence Committee probe.

"It is almost a certainty that, in the coming months, Americans will face another attempted terrorist assault; an assault that could quite possibly be on the same scale as that of September the 11th, 2001," Sen. Bob Graham (D-Fla.).

"It is a certainty that such an attack will be attempted," Graham continued. "The question is whether we'll do a better job of intercepting it before it kills more people than we did prior to September the 11th."

Graham made those remarks prior to releasing the declassified version of the Joint Committee's findings and recommendations.

"The intelligence community, for a variety of reasons, did not bring together and fully appreciate a range of information that could have greatly enhanced its chances of uncovering and preventing Osama bin Laden's plan to attack these United States on September 11th, 2001," the committee's report states.

However, the committee clarified that it was not saying that anyone or any agency had "failed" to prevent the attacks.

"While the intelligence community had amassed a great deal of valuable intelligence regarding Osama Bin Laden and his terrorist activities," the report noted, "none of it identified the time, place, and specific nature of the attacks that were planned for September 11, 2001."

The report concludes that various intelligence agencies were not properly equipped and organized to fight foreign terrorists on U.S. soil; and that law enforcement agencies, which were in a position to combat the threat, were not given the information they needed to do so.

Among the specific problems listed were lack of information sharing, poor quality of intelligence analysis, underutilization of technology, and a prevailing assumption throughout the government that a terrorist attack like 9/11 "could not happen here."

"We have some serious systems problems that need to be fixed, we have some capability matters, which need to be addressed," said Rep. Porter Goss (R-Fla.) co-chairman of the Joint Committee. "Those things we, I think, take a good step forward on in terms of suggestion and creative thought for the executive branch ... to consider."

The task of determining who, if anyone, should be disciplined for acts or omissions prior to 9/11 will be left up to the Inspectors General of the various intelligence and law enforcement agencies involved.

But Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), the ranking member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, broke from the committee's decision not to assign blame for any of the alleged failures. He offered his own suggestions apart from the committee's report, and believes those who have struggled to maintain the status quo in their agencies should be named and disciplined.

"The leaders should be held accountable," Shelby said, mentioning CIA Director George Tenet by name. "There have been more massive failures of intelligence on [Tenet's] watch as director of the CIA than any director in the history of the agency."

Shelby did not stop with Tenet, however, also naming former CIA Director John Deutch; Barbara McNamara, former deputy director of the National Security Agency; and former FBI Director Louis Freeh.

"Louis Freeh presided over the FBI during a catastrophic era when the FBI, I think for a lot of reasons lost its way and needed leadership at a crucial time," Shelby charged. "Even today, a lot of people are not sure they have it."

If enacted, the chief recommendation of the committee would prevent intelligence agency directors from shouldering that responsibility alone in the future.

The panel suggested that Congress create a cabinet-level position of Director of National Intelligence, "who shall be the President's principal advisor on intelligence and shall have the full range of management, budgetary and personnel responsibilities needed to make the entire U.S. intelligence community operate as a coherent whole."

The committee specifically asserted that the new "DNI" should not concurrently serve as the head of any of the subordinate intelligence agencies.

"In my belief, we need a CEO [for the intelligence community]," Shelby said. "General Electric has many divisions and they have presidents of those various divisions. But you have a CEO that's in charge of the whole operation."

The panel also recommended an expedited process for the National Security Agency to revamp current intelligence priorities, the creation of a "government-wide strategy for combating terrorism, both at home and abroad," and long-term budgeting for counter-terrorism initiatives.

Graham hopes that a better understanding of the events that led up to 9/11 combined with the committee's recommendation will result in a greater degree of security for the American people.

"This is sort of like the doctor who has written out the prescription," he explained. "Now the question is, whether you'll go to the pharmacist and get it filled."

Goss said he believes the report will open the door to a fully-informed debate on the proper balance between protecting the rights of citizens and defending the country from terrorists.

The leaders agree that the government owes it to the 3,025 people murdered by terrorists on 9/11 to follow-through on the committee's findings.

"We have indeed traveled sacred ground," Goss concluded, "and I hope you will agree with us that we have honored it."

E-mail a news tip to Jeff Johnson.

Send a Letter to the Editor about this article.