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Inside Politics

9/11 panel member: Intelligence system 'dysfunctional'

Lehman: Fundamental change needed, 'not just tweaking'

September 11 attacks
John Lehman
Richard Ben-Veniste

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The 9/11 commission's final report, due to be released this summer, will contain unanimous recommendations "based on shocking findings of gross dysfunction in the intelligence community," panel member John Lehman said Sunday.

"The intelligence community doesn't work. It is dysfunctional. It needs fundamental change, not just tweaking and moving the deck chairs or the organization boxes around," Lehman said on NBC's "Meet the Press."

U.S. intelligence agencies received information pointing to an attack long before September 11, 2001, he said.

But the information "was never understood or absorbed, as to what was really priority in threats and what was not," said Lehman, a Republican who was secretary of the Navy during most of the Reagan administration.

"They couldn't distinguish between a bicycle crash and a train wreck."

The independent bipartisan panel -- known formally as the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States -- is scheduled to send its report to the White House for vetting July 26.

The report will be released after officials determine that it does not contain classified information.

A report by the panel's staff read at a hearing last week said the United States was unprepared for the attacks "in every respect." (Full story)

Speaking to reporters after the NBC program, Lehman said the U.S. intelligence establishment is still "dysfunctional" and "has not been fixed since 9/11."

Lehman and fellow commissioner Richard Ben-Veniste, who appeared on the same program, said improvements have been made, noting that the United States would be prepared today to shoot down aircraft more quickly than it was in 2001.

But Ben-Veniste pointed to an incident June 9 in which a plane carrying Kentucky Gov. Ernie Fletcher was misidentified over Washington.

That led to an evacuation of the Capitol building -- including thousands waiting in line to see the casket of former President Ronald Reagan.

The incident "raises questions as to whether the lessons learned have been applied in a useful way to prevent any such further attack," said Ben-Veniste, a Democrat who was a federal prosecutor on the Watergate case in the 1970s.

Lehman was asked whether the United States is prepared to prevent a hijacked plane from being flown into the Capitol or the White House.

"Well, we're certainly better off than we were, and I think there would be a much better reaction. But there's no question, in my mind, that we are not where we need to be," Lehman said.

He said greater streamlined information-sharing and command-and-control structure on the domestic front are needed.

Ben-Veniste added, "Three years would warrant the expectation from the American people that we would have come along further by this time."

The commissioners expressed optimism that the panel's recommendations in its final report will be given serious consideration.

The report will include calls for institutional changes to increase information-sharing and greater congressional oversight of the intelligence community, Ben-Veniste said.

"We're going to come up with real changes that are going to be able to fix this problem, if they're acted on," Lehman said. "And I think they will be."

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