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Inside Politics

9/11 families plead for intelligence reform

'No one is in charge,' a mother says

From Paul Courson
CNN Washington Bureau

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Kristen Breitweiser, left, Stephen Push and Mary Fetchet testified before the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee Tuesday.
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The families of some of the people killed in the September 11, 2001, terror attacks in the United States are trying to persuade lawmakers to quickly implement reform within the intelligence community.

"Our enemies are preparing to strike us now, and the longer we wait to move decisively, the greater the advantages and opportunities they have to harm us," said Mary Fetchet, whose son Brad was killed at the World Trade Center complex as terrorists flew jetliners into the twin skyscrapers.

Pressing their support for the findings of the independent 9/11 commission, Fetchet and two others who lost loved ones in the attacks testified Tuesday before the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee.

The panel is one of several holding hearings on a sweeping reorganization proposal that came from the commission, including recommendations that have prompted some concern among present and former intelligence and military officials. (Rumsfeld cautious about intelligence czarexternal link)

The same panel Monday heard warnings against making changes that could harm the military's ability to provide battlefield intelligence, or changes that allow too much access to classified information.

But the families testified that some of the reluctance boils down to internal arguments over turf and a widow provided an example.

Kristen Breitweiser cited arguments between the Pentagon and the CIA over the use of the Predator unmanned surveillance aircraft in the time leading up to the 9/11 attacks.

"As their heated debate continued over money and responsibilities," she testified, "al Qaeda was already here in the U.S., lying in wait, fully embedded and prepared to kill 3,000 innocent people."

Her voice rising, Breitweiser said, "If that does not illustrate how off-the-mark our military and intelligence community was in the months leading up to 9/11, I don't know what does."

Sitting in on the hearing was Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-New York, who took those concerns to another Senate panel later Tuesday, where Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld was testifying on the reform proposals.

Citing the commission's report of a "missed opportunity" to use armed Predators to attack Osama bin Laden, Clinton asked Rumsfeld to respond to the families.

Rumsfeld did not address the point by the time the hearing ended.

Stephen Push, whose wife was on one of the hijacked airliners, expressed alarm over intelligence shortcomings he linked to the Pentagon's spending priorities.

"The status quo has failed us," Push testified. "The current allocation of intelligence budgets failed to prevent the murder of nearly 3,000 people in one day on American soil."

Fetchet, who nearly broke down recalling how she was unable to protect her son from death at the hands of terrorists, cited a list of problems that remain unresolved, including poor communications systems, a lack of preparedness, limited sharing of intelligence, and a lack of congressional supervision over the nation's response to the attacks.

"No one is in charge," she concluded. "Some in Washington have warned that it may take three to five years to enact all the measures needed."


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