(Host) Commentator Barrie Dunsmore reflects on what we have learned about conditions leading up to 9/11 and what we need to do to be better prepared in the future.
(Dunsmore) The 9/11 Commission s final report finds it was “deep institutional failings” that allowed the plot to go undetected. But it stops short of blaming either Presidents Bush or Clinton for failing to prevent the attacks. “The most important failure was one of imagination,” the report says. “We do not believe leaders understood the gravity of the threat.” For a commission made up of an equal number of Republicans and Democrats -few of whom are shrinking violets when it comes to political partisanship – the nearly 600-page report is remarkable for being unanimous – and for the sweeping nature of its findings and recommendations. At the same time, because it is unanimous and bi-partisan, the report sometimes avoids taking a position and just lays out the facts.
So, while not specifically blaming either the Clinton or Bush administrations, it details at least ten occasions when the attacks might have been thwarted. And as Chairman Thomas Kean said in presenting the report, “The U.S. Government failed to protect the American people.” On the highly disputed issue of Iraq’s ties with Al Qaeda, the commission stands by the staff’s earlier conclusion that contacts between the two do not appear to have resulted in a collaborative relationship. The report lays out the specifics of such contacts between the two, but as the chairman put it “there was a relationship between Iraq and Al Qaeda” but, “there is no relationship whatsoever between Iraq and 9/11.” As these ties are still cited by the President and the Vice-President as among the reasons for going to war, partisans of both sides will find fodder here to continue the argument.
Otherwise, the report pulls few punches. In addition to the White House – the CIA, the FBI, numerous agencies, the government and the Congress itself, are strongly faulted for their performances either before, during or after the attack.
Among its main recommendations the commission calls for an office, within the White House with an estimated 200 employees, to coordinate the work of 15 intelligence agencies. And it recommends the creation of a national intelligence director to coordinate the intelligence community, to operate in the executive office of the president and to have cabinet level authority, but not to be in the cabinet itself.
There are a number of other significant recommendations including proposals to re-organize how Congress deals with intelligence and domestic security oversight. In each case the recommendations will be met with strong opposition because historically, some of Washington’s greatest battles are not over policy or ideology but over turf. And these proposals will involve the loss of turf by lots of powerful people.
However the stakes here are very high. In concluding his remarks yesterday, Chairman Kean said it was the belief of virtually all of the 1200 American experts and senior officials interviewed by the commission, that “an attack of even greater magnitude (than 9/11) is possible – even probable.”
This is Barrie Dunsmore.
Barrie Dunsmore is a veteran diplomatic and foreign correspondent for ABC News, now living in Charlotte.