Joint Inquiry Staff Statement

Eleanor Hill, Staff Director

October 17, 2002


Chairman Goss, Chairman Graham, members of this Joint Inquiry, good morning. Over the course of the last few months, these Committees have considered a great deal of information, obtained both through witness testimony and documentary review. This morning's testimony by the senior leadership of the Intelligence Community will bring to a close this series of open hearings. What has been perhaps unprecedented, at least in terms of the Intelligence Committees, is the extent to which a good portion of this review has been accomplished through open, public hearings. That effort was driven by both the magnitude of September 11th and your recognition of the American public's need to better understand the performance of their government, and particularly the Intelligence Community, with respect to the events of that day.

Beyond the events of September 11th, however, we believe these open hearings have also served to educate the public on the ongoing policy debate about the future path of the Intelligence Community. The considerable factual record that is now before these Committees touches on a wide range of issues that are critical to that debate. Ultimately, many of those issues will be considered and addressed in even greater depth as these Committees deliberate on what will become the final report of this Joint Inquiry. At this point, however, the Staff has been asked to briefly review the most important elements of the factual record as well as key questions that we believe have been raised through the course of these public hearings.

Review of Key Facts

Beginning with the initial public hearing, the record describes, in considerable detail, the situation confronting the U. S. Intelligence Community with respect to the terrorist threat posed by Usama Bin Ladin prior to September 11, 2001. Key facts include:

While the specifics of the September 11th attacks were not known in advance, relevant information was available in the summer of 2001. The collective significance of that information was not, however, recognized. Perhaps as a result, the information was not fully shared, in a timely and effective manner, both within the Intelligence Community and with other federal agencies. Examples include:

No one will ever know whether more extensive analytic efforts, fuller and more timely information sharing, or a greater focus on the connection between these events would have led to the unraveling of the September 11 plot. But, it is at least a possibility that increased analysis, sharing and focus would have drawn greater attention to the growing potential for a major terrorist attack in the United States involving the aviation industry. This could have generated a heightened state of alert regarding such attacks and prompted more aggressive investigation, intelligence gathering and general awareness based on the information our Government did possess prior to September 11, 2001.

Aside from a considerable factual record relating to the September 11th attacks, the hearings before these Committees have also identified systemic problems that have impacted and will, if unresolved, continue to impact the performance of the Intelligence Community. Witnesses have, for example, complained about the lack, prior to September 11th, of sufficient resources to handle far too many broad requirements for intelligence, of which counterterrorism was only one. While requirements grew, priorities were often not updated. As we reported last week, to much of the Intelligence Community, everything was a priority -- the U.S. wanted to know everything about everything all the time.

A lack of counterterrorism resources has been a repeated theme through the course of these hearings, particularly in the testimony of witnesses from the Intelligence Community. There has also been some debate about the exact number of analysts at the FBI and the CIA that were dedicated to Bin Ladin and al Q'aida after the DCI's declaration of war on Bin Ladin in December 1998. The CIA has disagreed with the numbers previously reported by the Staff for fulltime UBL analysts within the DCI's Counterterrorism Center (CTC). The Staff was originally given those numbers in interviews with representatives of the CTC. Recently, we have received additional figures on this point from the CIA indicating that, as of August 2001, there were a total of 48.8 FTEs, or the equivalent of about 49 analysts, focused on UBL throughout the entire CIA.

Regarding their resource issues, the FBI has emphasized that FBI headquarters had a number of operations analysts in addition to the one strategic analyst which we had been told of originally by FBI officials and which was noted in our previous staff statement. Our statement, which also noted that some of the FBI's strategic analytic capability on al-Q'aida had been transfered to "operational units", does not dispute that point. Our focus had been on the FBI's ability to perform strategic, as opposed to operational, analysis of al-Q'aida.

Beyond those specific points, however, I believe that the Staff, the CIA and the FBI are all in agreement that the resources devoted full time to al-Q'aida analysis prior to September 11th paled by comparison to the levels dedicated to that effort after the attacks. As a CIA officer testified during the September 20th Joint Inquiry hearing, both CIA and FBI personnel working on Bin Ladin were "simply overwhelmed" by the workload, prior to September 11th.

Resource issues were not, however, the only systemic problems facing the Intelligence Community. Even aside from the case of al-Mihdhar and al-Hazmi, a number of witnesses described their own experiences with various legal, institutional, and cultural barriers that apparently impeded the Intelligence Community's ability to enhance the value of intelligence through effective and timely information sharing. This is critically important at several levels: within the Intelligence Community itself, between intelligence agencies and other components of the federal government; and between all those agencies and appropriate state and local authorities. Finally, the loss in potential intelligence from a lack of information sharing cuts both ways: we heard from representatives of state and local authorities that, when confronting the threat of terrorist activity within the United States, intelligence obtained at the local level can be critically important.

In the course of these hearings, we also learned of issues that transcend the Intelligence Community and involve questions of policy. In the aftermath of the Cold War, U.S. counterterrorist efforts confronted the emergence of a new breed of terrorists practicing a new form of terrorism, different from the state-sponsored, limited casualty terrorism of the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s. U.S. counterterrorist efforts faced a host of new challenges, including the rise of Bin Ladin and al-Qa'ida and the existence of a sanctuary in Afghanistan that enabled al-Qa'ida to organize, train, proselytize, recruit, raise funds and grow into a worldwide menace. As Bin Ladin and his "army" flourished within this sanctuary, the United States continued to rely on what was primarily a law enforcement approach to terrorism. As a result, while prosecutions succeeded in taking individual terrorists off the streets, the masterminds of past and future attacks often remained beyond the reach of justice.

Finally, the record suggests that, prior to September 11th, the U.S. intelligence and law enforcement communities were fighting a war against terrorism largely without the benefit of what some would call their most potent weapon in that effort: an alert and committed American public. One need look no further for proof of the latter point than the heroics of the passengers on Flight 93 or the quick action of the flight attendant who identified shoe bomber Richard Reid. While senior levels of the Intelligence Community as well as senior policymakers were made aware of the danger posed by Bin Ladin, there is little indication of any sustained national effort to mobilize public awareness of the gravity and immediacy of the threat prior to September 11th. In the absence of such an effort, there was apparently insufficient public focus on the information that was available on Bin Ladin, his fatwah against the United States, and the attacks that he had already generated against U.S. interests overseas. As Kristen Breitweiser suggested in her testimony during the first public hearing, could "the devastation of September 11th [have] been diminished in any degree" had the public been more aware, and thus more alert, regarding the threats we were facing during the summer of 2001?

Key Questions for the Committees to Consider

In sum, the record now before these Conunittees raises significant questions for consideration by policymakers in both Congress and the Executive branch, as they chart the future path of the Intelligence Community in the war against terrorism. For purposes of this public hearing, these include:


Those are, in our view, legitimate and relevant questions, based on the factual record of this Inquiry. The extent to which effective responses are developed and ultimately implemented could significantly impact the future course of counterterrorist efforts, both within and beyond the boundaries of the Intelligence Community. With that in mind and with a view towards the future, we have asked the witnesses today to address the following:

Mr. Chairmen, that concludes my statement for today.

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