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Inside Politics

9/11 commission faults U.S. intelligence

Tenet, Mueller testify before panel


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Stay with CNN all evening for updates on how tax-filing day looks on the campaign trail, plus news and analysis in the aftermath of this week's 9/11 commission hearings.
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The 9/11 commission cited fragmented intelligence-gathering prior to the September 11, 2001, attacks.

Robert Mueller argues against creating a domestic intelligence agency.

George Tenet says the intelligence community lacked structure at the time of the 9/11 attacks.

CNN's Jeanne Meserve reports efforts are being made to improve the tenuous relationship between the CIA and FBI.
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- U.S. intelligence gathering was fragmented and poorly coordinated before the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the 9/11 commission reported Wednesday, adding that it remains unclear how such crucial information is managed.

"A question remains: Who is in charge of intelligence?" reads the final line of a critical report by the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States, as the bipartisan 9/11 panel is formally known.

The report, examining the performance of the intelligence community, described a "loose collection" of intelligence agencies that often operated independently of one another with little communication or cooperation. And it faulted CIA Director George Tenet for not having a management strategy to battle terrorism before the 9/11 attacks.

"The vision of central coordination has not been realized," the report said.

Tenet, who testified before the commission on Wednesday, called the report "flat wrong."

"By no stretch of the imagination am I going to tell you that I've solved all the problems of the community in terms of integrating and in lashing it up," said Tenet, who has led the CIA since 1997. "But we've made an enormous amount of progress."

Tenet said the agency's "plumbing" -- the infrastructure needed to train and field spies -- had been long neglected and was under repair at the time of the attacks.

But Tenet also told the 9/11 commission that it will take the U.S. intelligence community "another five years to have the kind of clandestine service our country needs."

That estimate clearly worried the panel.

"It scares me a bit that we dismantled the CIA to the point that it now takes five years to rebuild it," 9/11 commission chairman Thomas Kean told reporters after the hearing.

Vice chairman Lee Hamilton agreed. "I was personally kind of discouraged with that statement," he said. "This is not a new problem."

With its critical assessment of U.S. intelligence before 9/11, Wednesday's public hearing followed one Tuesday when the FBI was taken to task by the commission for missing "connections" with terrorist activity and not working collaboratively with other agencies.

The CIA and FBI, in particular, were blasted in the wake of the 9/11 attacks by many lawmakers and experts for not sharing tips and information.

FBI 'in transition'

But the FBI found something of a respite at Wednesday's session when commission members greeted FBI Director Robert Mueller warmly with praise for his cooperation with the panel. And a separate staff report on reforming law enforcement was largely laudatory of Mueller's efforts.

It called the FBI "an institution in transition" and acknowledged progress at the agency.

"Important structural challenges remain to be addressed in order to improve the flow of information and to enhance the FBI's counterterrorism effectiveness," the report said.

Mueller testified Wednesday that the agency has broken down walls within itself -- between intelligence and law enforcement operations in particular -- and with others to better fight terrorism.

"The bureau is moving steadily in the right direction," Mueller told the 9/11 commission.

Turning to an idea being mulled by the commission and some lawmakers, Mueller said that creating a separate agency to collect intelligence information in the United States "would be a grave mistake."

Splitting the law enforcement and intelligence functions would leave both "fighting the war on terrorism with one hand tied behind their backs," he said.

President Bush earlier this week signaled an interest in possible changes to U.S. intelligence, saying he was looking forward to recommendations from the 9/11 commission.

"Now may be a time to revamp and reform our intelligence services," Bush said Monday, but he did not outline any ideas.

story.mueller.testifies.jpg
FBI Director Robert Mueller testifies before the 9/11 commission.

Some lawmakers have proposed a domestic intelligence agency modeled after what Great Britain has in place, and that model has been cited by some commission members as well.

"Our sense is that the commission supports reform of the intelligence community, but we have come to no judgment about the nature of reform that we will recommend," Hamilton told reporters.

Kean said he is concerned that U.S. intelligence, as structured, isn't providing the president with the kind of information he needs.

"I think there's a real question in my mind and I think of several other commissioners as to whether the president's getting decent information, as to whether the president's getting the kind of thing the president needs to make the kind of decisions that the president every day has to make," Kean said after the public hearing.

start quoteNo matter how hard we worked or how desperately we tried, it was not enough. The victims and the families of 9/11 deserve better. end quote
-- CIA Director George Tenet

During his testimony, Tenet said that the agency's failure to stop the September 11, 2001, terror plot "haunts all of us to this day."

But he defended his efforts to battle the al Qaeda terror network before the attacks.

"Three thousand people died," Tenet told the 9/11 commission. "No matter how hard we worked or how desperately we tried, it was not enough. The victims and the families of 9/11 deserve better."

On another matter, Kean and Hamilton dismissed a suggestion by a Republican lawmaker that one commissioner, Jamie Gorelick, resign.

Rep. James Sensenbrenner, R-Tennessee, said Gorelick should step down because she has a "conflict of interest." It came out at Tuesday's hearing that Gorelick was the author of a memo when she was at the Justice Department that Attorney General John Ashcroft says hobbled the FBI on intelligence matters.

Kean called Sensenbrenner's suggestion a "silly statement" and said Gorelick had followed all rules about recusing herself from matters where she had either been involved or had an interest.

"People ought to stay out of our business," Kean said.


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