National Commission Recommends Ways to Avoid Future Attacks
National Commission Recommends Ways to Avoid Future Attacks
The 9/11 Commission
Report : Final Report of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the
United States: Key recommendation calls for restructuring intelligence
U.S. Department of State. International Information Programs.
File, July 22, 2004.
The final report of the commission
investigating the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks recommends a major
restructuring of the U.S. intelligence community and includes a critical review
of actions by the White House, the Congress and other elements of the
All 10 commission members endorsed
the 575-page report released July 22 by the National Commission on Terrorist
Attacks Upon the United States, also known as the 9/11 Commission. The
commission, created by Congress in November 2002, was chartered to prepare an
account of the circumstances surrounding the terrorist attacks, including
preparedness for and the immediate response to the attacks. The commission also
was directed to recommend strategies to guard against future attacks.
The commission's report, based on a
20-month investigation, follows two reports by the House and Senate intelligence
committees that identified shortcomings by the intelligence agencies for failing
to detect, thwart and better respond to the deadly aircraft hijackings used in
the attacks in New York City and Arlington, Virginia.
"September 11, 2001, was a day
of unprecedented shock and suffering in the history of the
United States. The nation was
Chairman Thomas Kean said with release of the report. "The 9/11 attacks were
a shock, but should not have come as a surprise. By September 2001, the
executive branch of the
U.S. government, the Congress, the
news media, and the American public had received clear warning that Islamist
terrorists meant to kill Americans in high numbers."
Commission Vice Chairman Lee
Hamilton said that the first phase of the government's post-9/11 response
correctly included military action to topple the Taliban in Afghanistan and
pursue al-Qaeda connections around the globe.
"But long-term success demands
the use of all elements of national power: diplomacy, intelligence, covert
action, law enforcement, economic policy, foreign aid, public diplomacy, and
homeland defense. If we favor one tool while neglecting others, we leave
ourselves vulnerable and weaken our national effort," the former chairman of
the House International Relations Committee said.
President Bush received a copy of
the report at the White House July 22 from Kean and Hamilton just prior to its
public release, and he praised the 10 commissioners for their work.
"They've done a really good job
of learning about our country, learning about what went wrong prior to September
11th, making very solid, sound recommendations about how to move forward. I
assured them that where government needs to act, we will," Bush said.
"They recognize what I recognize
recognizes, that there's still a threat and that we in government have an
obligation to do everything in our power to safeguard the American people."
Bush said the report contains some
constructive recommendations, and that he looked forward to studying them in
The 9/11 Commission report contains
37 recommendations as part of a three-dimensional strategy: attack terrorists
and their organizations, prevent the continued growth of Islamic terrorism, and
protect against and prepare for future terrorist attacks.
Among the major
recommendations contained in the report:
Creation of a
cabinet-level office and National Intelligence Director to oversee the CIA, FBI,
and other elements of the
U.S. intelligence community.
The U.S. intelligence community includes 15 civilian and military intelligence
agencies or departments.
Creating a new and
powerful National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC) with capabilities exceeding
those currently available. This counterterrorism center would replace the
existing Joint Terrorist Threat Integration Center and would replace other
existing terrorism centers across the government. The report calls for the
Center to collect intelligence within and outside the United States.
information sharing across the U.S. government through decentralized networks
and with a network-based, information-sharing system that transcends traditional
strengthening congressional oversight of intelligence and homeland security.
national security workforce within the FBI and clarifying the missions of the
departments of Defense and Homeland Security.
Quickly completing a
biometric entry-exit screening system that also speeds qualified travelers.
(Part of this system should directly target terrorist travel, the report said.)
defending American ideals in the Islamic world, through much stronger
public-diplomacy outreach, especially to students and non-government leaders.
"Our efforts here should be as strong as they were in combating closed societies
during the Cold War," the report said.
comprehensive coalition strategy against Islamic terrorism, using a flexible
contact group of leading coalition governments and fashioning a common approach
on issues like the treatment of captured terrorists.
The full text of thee 9/11 Commission report may be viewed in a PDF format
on the Web:
Following is the text
of the report's executive summary:
The National Commission on
Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States, Washington, D.C., July 22, 2004. The
9/11 Commission Report : Final Report of the National Commission on Terrorist
Attacks Upon the United States, Executive Summary
We present the narrative of this
report and the recommendations that flow from it to the President of the United
States, the United States Congress, and the American people for their
consideration. Ten Commissioners -- five Republicans and five Democrats chosen
by elected leaders from our nation's capital at a time of great partisan
division -- have come together to present this report without dissent.
We have come together with a unity
of purpose because our nation demands it. September 11, 2001, was a day of
unprecedented shock and suffering in the history of the United States. The
nation was unprepared.
A Nation Transformed
At 8:46 on the morning of September
11, 2001, the United States became a nation transformed. An airliner traveling
at hundreds of miles per hour and carrying some 10,000 gallons of jet fuel
plowed into the North Tower of the World Trade Center in Lower Manhattan. At
9:03, a second airliner hit the South Tower. Fire and smoke billowed upward.
Steel, glass, ash, and bodies fell below. The Twin Towers, where up to 50,000
people worked each day, both collapsed less than 90 minutes later.
At 9:37 that same morning, a third
airliner slammed into the western face of the Pentagon. At 10:03, a fourth
airliner crashed in a field in southern Pennsylvania. It had been aimed at the
United States Capitol or the White House, and was forced down by heroic
passengers armed with the knowledge that America was under attack.
More than 2,600 people died at the
World Trade Center; 125 died at the Pentagon; 256 died on the four planes. The
death toll surpassed that at Pearl Harbor in December 1941.
This immeasurable pain was
inflicted by 19 young Arabs acting at the behest of Islamist extremists
headquartered in distant Afghanistan. Some had been in the United States for
more than a year, mixing with the rest of the population. Though four had
training as pilots, most were not well educated. Most spoke English poorly, some
hardly at all. In groups of four or five, carrying with them only small knives,
box cutters, and cans of Mace or pepper spray, they had hijacked the four planes
and turned them into deadly guided missiles.
Why did they do this? How was the
attack planned and conceived? How did the U.S. government fail to anticipate and
prevent it? What can we do in the future to prevent similar acts of terrorism?
A Shock, Not a
The 9/11 attacks were a shock, but
they should not have come as a surprise. Islamist extremists had given plenty of
warning that they meant to kill Americans indiscriminately and in large numbers.
Although Usama Bin Ladin himself would not emerge as a signal threat until the
late 1990s, the threat of Islamist terrorism grew over the decade.
In February 1993, a group led by
Ramzi Yousef tried to bring down the World Trade Center with a truck bomb. They
killed six and wounded a thousand. Plans by Omar Abdel Rahman and others to blow
up the Holland and Lincoln tunnels and other New York City landmarks were
frustrated when the plotters were arrested. In October 1993, Somali tribesmen
shot down U.S. helicopters, killing 18 and wounding 73 in an incident that came
to be known as "Black Hawk down." Years later it would be learned that those
Somali tribesmen had received help from al Qaeda.
In early 1995, police in Manila
uncovered a plot by Ramzi Yousef to blow up a dozen U.S. airliners while they
were flying over the Pacific. In November 1995, a car bomb exploded outside the
office of the U.S. program manager for the Saudi National Guard in Riyadh,
killing five Americans and two others. In June 1996, a truck bomb demolished the
Khobar Towers apartment complex in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, killing 19 U.S.
servicemen and wounding hundreds. The attack was carried out primarily by Saudi
Hezbollah, an organization that had received help from the government of Iran.
Until 1997, the U.S. intelligence
community viewed Bin Ladin as a financier of terrorism, not as a terrorist
leader. In February 1998, Usama Bin Ladin and four others issued a self-styled
fatwa, publicly declaring that it was God's decree that every Muslim should try
his utmost to kill any American, military or civilian, anywhere in the world,
because of American "occupation" of Islam's holy places and aggression against
In August 1998, Bin Ladin's group,
al Qaeda, carried out near-simultaneous truck bomb attacks on the U.S. embassies
in Nairobi, Kenya, and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. The attacks killed 224 people,
including 12 Americans, and wounded thousands more.
In December 1999, Jordanian police
foiled a plot to bomb hotels and other sites frequented by American tourists,
and a U.S. Customs agent arrested Ahmed Ressam at the U.S. Canadian border as he
was smuggling in explosives intended for an attack on Los Angeles International
In October 2000, an al Qaeda team
in Aden, Yemen, used a motorboat filled with explosives to blow a hole in the
side of a destroyer, the USS Cole, almost sinking the vessel and killing 17
The 9/11 attacks on the World Trade
Center and the Pentagon were far more elaborate, precise, and destructive than
any of these earlier assaults. But by September 2001, the executive branch of
the U.S. government, the Congress, the news media, and the American public had
received clear warning that Islamist terrorists meant to kill Americans in high
Who Is the Enemy ?
Who is this enemy that created an
organization capable of inflicting such horrific damage on the United States? We
now know that these attacks were carried out by various groups of Islamist
extremists. The 9/11 attack was driven by Usama Bin Ladin.
In the 1980s, young Muslims from
around the world went to
Afghanistan to join as
volunteers in a jihad (or holy struggle) against the Soviet Union. A wealthy
Saudi, Usama Bin Ladin, was one of them. Following the defeat of the Soviets in
the late 1980s, Bin Ladin and others formed al Qaeda to mobilize jihads
The history, culture, and body of
beliefs from which Bin Ladin shapes and spreads his message are largely unknown
to many Americans. Seizing on symbols of Islam's past greatness, he promises to
restore pride to people who consider themselves the victims of successive
foreign masters. He uses cultural and religious allusions to the holy Qur'an and
some of its interpreters. He appeals to people disoriented by cyclonic change as
they confront modernity and globalization. His rhetoric selectively draws from
multiple sources -- Islam, history, and the region's political and economic
Bin Ladin also stresses grievances
against the United States widely shared in the Muslim world. He inveighed
against the presence of U.S. troops in Saudi Arabia, which is the home of
Islam's holiest sites, and against other U.S. policies in the Middle East.
Upon this political and ideological
foundation, Bin Ladin built over the course of a decade a dynamic and lethal
organization. He built an infrastructure and organization in Afghanistan that
could attract, train, and use recruits against ever more ambitious targets. He
rallied new zealots and new money with each demonstration of al Qaeda's
capability. He had forged a close alliance with the Taliban, a regime providing
sanctuary for al Qaeda.
By September 11, 2001,
al Qaeda possessed:
leaders able to
evaluate, approve, and supervise the planning and direction of a major
a personnel system
that could recruit candidates, indoctrinate them, vet them, and give them the
sufficient to enable planning and direction of operatives and those who would be
effort to gather required information and form assessments of enemy strengths
the ability to move
people great distances; and
the ability to raise
and move the money necessary to finance an attack.
September 11, 2001
The August 1998 bombings of U.S.
embassies in Kenya and Tanzania established al Qaeda as a potent adversary of
the United States.
After launching cruise missile
strikes against al Qaeda targets in Afghanistan and Sudan in retaliation for the
embassy bombings, the Clinton administration applied diplomatic pressure to try
to persuade the Taliban regime in Afghanistan to expel Bin Ladin. The
administration also devised covert operations to use CIA-paid foreign agents to
capture or kill Bin Ladin and his chief lieutenants. These actions did not stop
Bin Ladin or dislodge al Qaeda from its sanctuary.
By late 1998 or early 1999, Bin
Ladin and his advisers had agreed on an idea brought to them by Khalid Sheikh
Mohammed (KSM) called the "planes operation." It would eventually culminate in
the 9/11 attacks. Bin Ladin and his chief of operations, Mohammed Atef, occupied
undisputed leadership positions atop al Qaeda. Within al Qaeda, they relied
heavily on the ideas and enterprise of strong-willed field commanders, such as
KSM, to carry out worldwide terrorist operations.
KSM claims that his original plot
was even grander than those carried out on 9/11 -- 10 planes would attack
targets on both the East and West coasts of the United States. This plan was
modified by Bin Ladin, KSM said, owing to its scale and complexity. Bin Ladin
provided KSM with four initial operatives for suicide plane attacks within the
United States, and in the fall of 1999 training for the attacks began. New
recruits included four from a cell of expatriate Muslim extremists who had
clustered together in Hamburg, Germany. One became the tactical commander of the
operation in the United States: Mohamed Atta.
U.S. intelligence frequently picked
up reports of attacks planned by al Qaeda. Working with foreign security
services, the CIA broke up some al Qaeda cells. The core of Bin Ladin's
organization nevertheless remained intact. In December 1999, news about the
arrests of the terrorist cell in
and the arrest of a terrorist at the U.S.-Canadian border became part of a
"millennium alert." The government was galvanized, and the public was on alert
for any possible attack. In January 2000, the intense intelligence effort
glimpsed and then lost sight of two operatives destined for the "planes
operation." Spotted in Kuala Lumpur, the pair were lost passing through Bangkok.
On January 15, 2000, they arrived in Los Angeles.
Because these two al Qaeda
operatives had spent little time in the West and spoke little, if any, English,
it is plausible that they or KSM would have tried to identify, in advance, a
friendly contact in the United States. We explored suspicions about whether
these two operatives had a support network of accomplices in the United States.
The evidence is thin -- simply not there for some cases, more worrisome in
We do know that soon after arriving
in California, the two al Qaeda operatives sought out and found a group of
ideologically like-minded Muslims with roots in Yemen and Saudi Arabia,
individuals mainly associated with a young Yemeni and others who attended a
mosque in San Diego. After a brief stay in Los Angeles about which we know
little, the al Qaeda operatives lived openly in San Diego under their true
names. They managed to avoid attracting much attention.
By the summer of 2000, three of the
four Hamburg cell members had arrived on the East Coast of the
and had begun pilot training. In early 2001, a fourth future hijacker pilot,
Hani Hanjour, journeyed to Arizona with another operative, Nawaf al Hazmi, and
conducted his refresher pilot training there. A number of al Qaeda operatives
had spent time in Arizona during the 1980s and early 1990s.
During 2000, President Bill Clinton
and his advisers renewed diplomatic efforts to get Bin Ladin expelled from
Afghanistan. They also renewed secret efforts with some of the Taliban's
opponents -- the Northern Alliance -- to get enough intelligence to attack Bin
Ladin directly. Diplomatic efforts centered on the new military government in
Pakistan, and they did not succeed. The efforts with the Northern Alliance
revived an inconclusive and secret debate about whether the United States should
take sides in Afghanistan's civil war and support the Taliban's enemies. The CIA
also produced a plan to improve intelligence collection on al Qaeda, including
the use of a small, unmanned airplane with a video camera, known as the
After the October 2000 attack on
the USS Cole, evidence accumulated that it had been launched by al Qaeda
operatives, but without confirmation that Bin Ladin had given the order. The
Taliban had earlier been warned that it would be held responsible for another
Bin Ladin attack on the United States. The CIA described its findings as a
"preliminary judgment"; President Clinton and his chief advisers told us they
were waiting for a conclusion before deciding whether to take military action.
The military alternatives remained unappealing to them.
The transition to the new Bush
administration in late 2000 and early 2001 took place with the USS Cole issue
still pending. President George W. Bush and his chief advisers accepted that al
Qaeda was responsible for the attack on the Cole, but did not like the options
available for a response.
Bin Ladin's inference may well have
been that attacks, at least at the level of the Cole, were risk free.
The Bush administration began
developing a new strategy with the stated goal of eliminating the al Qaeda
threat within three to five years. During the spring and summer of 2001, U.S.
intelligence agencies received a stream of warnings that al Qaeda planned, as
one report put it, "something very, very, very big." Director of Central
Intelligence George Tenet told us," The system was blinking red."
Although Bin Ladin was determined
to strike in the United States, as President Clinton had been told and President
Bush was reminded in a Presidential Daily Brief article briefed to him in August
2001, the specific threat information pointed overseas. Numerous precautions
were taken overseas. Domestic agencies were not effectively mobilized. The
threat did not receive national media attention comparable to the millennium
While the United States continued
disruption efforts around the world, its emerging strategy to eliminate the al
Qaeda threat was to include an enlarged covert action program in Afghanistan, as
well as diplomatic strategies for Afghanistan and Pakistan. The process
culminated during the summer of 2001 in a draft presidential directive and
arguments about the Predator aircraft, which was soon to be deployed with a
missile of its own, so that it might be used to attempt to kill Bin Ladin or his
chief lieutenants. At a September 4 meeting, President Bush's chief advisers
approved the draft directive of the strategy and endorsed the concept of arming
the Predator. This directive on the al Qaeda strategy was awaiting President
Bush's signature on September 11, 2001.
Though the "planes operation" was
progressing, the plotters had problems of their own in 2001. Several possible
participants dropped out; others could not gain entry into the United States
(including one denial at a port of entry and visa denials not related to
terrorism). One of the eventual pilots may have considered abandoning the planes
operation. Zacarias Moussaoui, who showed up at a flight training school in
Minnesota, may have been a candidate to replace him.
Some of the vulnerabilities of the
plotters become clear in retrospect. Moussaoui aroused suspicion for seeking
fast-track training on how to pilot large jet airliners. He was arrested on
August 16, 2001, for violations of immigration regulations. In late August,
officials in the intelligence community realized that the terrorists spotted in
Southeast Asia in January 2000 had arrived in the United States.
These cases did not prompt urgent
action. No one working on these late leads in the summer of 2001 connected them
to the high level of threat reporting. In the words of one official, no analytic
work foresaw the lightning that could connect the thundercloud to the ground.
As final preparations were under
way during the summer of 2001, dissent emerged among al Qaeda leaders in
Afghanistan over whether to proceed. The Taliban's chief, Mullah Omar, opposed
attacking the United States. Although facing opposition from many of his senior
lieutenants, Bin Ladin effectively overruled their objections, and the attacks
September 11, 2001
The day began with the 19 hijackers
getting through a security checkpoint system that they had evidently analyzed
and knew how to defeat. Their success rate in penetrating the system was 19 for
19. They took over the four flights, taking advantage of air crews and cockpits
that were not prepared for the contingency of a suicide hijacking.
On 9/11, the defense of U.S. air
space depended on close interaction between two federal agencies: the Federal
Aviation Administration (FAA) and North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD).
Existing protocols on 9/11 were unsuited in every respect for an attack in which
hijacked planes were used as weapons.
What ensued was a hurried attempt
to improvise a defense by civilians who had never handled a hijacked aircraft
that attempted to disappear, and by a military unprepared for the transformation
of commercial aircraft into weapons of mass destruction.
A shootdown authorization was not
communicated to the NORAD air defense sector until 28 minutes after United 93
had crashed in Pennsylvania. Planes were scrambled, but ineffectively, as they
did not know where to go or what targets they were to intercept. And once the
shootdown order was given, it was not communicated to the pilots. In short,
while leaders in Washington believed that the fighters circling above them had
been instructed to "take out" hostile aircraft, the only orders actually
conveyed to the pilots were to "ID type and tail."
Like the national
defense, the emergency response on 9/11 was necessarily improvised
In New York City, the Fire
Department of New York, the New York Police Department, the Port Authority of
New York and New Jersey, the building employees, and the occupants of the
buildings did their best to cope with the effects of almost unimaginable events
-- unfolding furiously over 102 minutes. Casualties were nearly 100 percent at
and above the impact zones and were very high among first responders who stayed
in danger as they tried to save lives. Despite weaknesses in preparations for
disaster, failure to achieve unified incident command, and inadequate
communications among responding agencies, all but approximately one hundred of
the thousands of civilians who worked below the impact zone escaped, often with
help from the emergency responders.
At the Pentagon, while there were
also problems of command and control, the emergency response was generally
effective. The Incident Command System, a formalized management structure for
emergency response in place in the National Capital Region, overcame the
inherent complications of a response across local, state, and federal
We write with the benefit and
handicap of hindsight. We are mindful of the danger of being unjust to men and
women who made choices in conditions of uncertainty and in circumstances over
which they often had little control. Nonetheless, there were specific points of
vulnerability in the plot and opportunities to disrupt it. Operational failures
-- opportunities that were not or could not be exploited by the organizations
and systems of that time -- included:
-- not watchlisting future
hijackers Hazmi and Mihdhar, not trailing them after they traveled to Bangkok,
and not informing the FBI about one future hijacker's U.S. visa or his
companion's travel to the United States;
information linking individuals in the Cole attack to Mihdhar;
not taking adequate
steps in time to find Mihdhar or Hazmi in the United States;
not linking the
arrest of Zacarias Moussaoui, described as interested in flight training for the
purpose of using an airplane in a terrorist act, to the heightened indications
not discovering false
statements on visa applications;
passports manipulated in a fraudulent manner;
not expanding no-fly
lists to include names from terrorist watchlists;
not searching airline
passengers identified by the computer-based CAPPS screening system; and
aircraft cockpit doors or taking other measures to prepare for the possibility
of suicide hijackings.
Since the plotters were flexible
and resourceful, we cannot know whether any single step or series of steps would
have defeated them. What we can say with confidence is that none of the measures
adopted by the U.S.
government from 1998 to 2001 disturbed or even delayed the progress of the al
Qaeda plot. Across the government, there were failures of imagination, policy,
capabilities, and management.
The most important failure was one
of imagination. We do not believe leaders understood the gravity of the threat.
The terrorist danger from Bin Ladin and al Qaeda was not a major topic for
policy debate among the public, the media, or in the Congress. Indeed, it barely
came up during the 2000 presidential campaign.
Al Qaeda's new brand of terrorism
presented challenges to U.S.
governmental institutions that they were not well designed to meet. Though top
officials all told us that they understood the danger, we believe there was
uncertainty among them as to whether this was just a new and especially venomous
version of the ordinary terrorist threat the United States had lived with for
decades, or it was indeed radically new, posing a threat beyond any yet
experienced. As late as September 4, 2001, Richard Clarke, the White House
staffer long responsible for counterterrorism policy coordination, asserted that
the government had not yet made up its mind how to answer the question: "Is al
Qaeda a big deal?"
A week later came the answer.
Terrorism was not the overriding
national security concern for the U.S. government under either the Clinton or
the pre-9/11 Bush administration.
The policy challenges were linked
to this failure of imagination. Officials in both the Clinton and Bush
administrations regarded a full
invasion of Afghanistan as practically inconceivable before 9/11.
Before 9/11, the United States
tried to solve the al Qaeda problem with the capabilities it had used in the
last stages of the Cold War and its immediate aftermath. These capabilities were
insufficient. Little was done to expand or reform them.
The CIA had minimal capacity to
conduct paramilitary operations with its own personnel, and it did not seek a
large-scale expansion of these capabilities before 9/11. The CIA also needed to
improve its capability to collect intelligence from human agents.
At no point before 9/11 was the
Department of Defense fully engaged in the mission of countering al Qaeda, even
though this was perhaps the most dangerous foreign enemy threatening the United
America's homeland defenders faced
outward. NORAD itself was barely able to retain any alert bases at all. Its
planning scenarios occasionally considered the danger of hijacked aircraft being
guided to American targets, but only aircraft that were coming from overseas.
The most serious weaknesses in
agency capabilities were in the domestic arena. The FBI did not have the
capability to link the collective knowledge of agents in the field to national
priorities. Other domestic agencies deferred to the FBI.
FAA capabilities were weak. Any
serious examination of the possibility of a suicide hijacking could have
suggested changes to fix glaring vulnerabilities -- expanding no-fly lists,
searching passengers identified by the CAPPS screening system, deploying federal
air marshals domestically, hardening cockpit doors, alerting air crews to a
different kind of hijacking possibility than they had been trained to expect.
Yet the FAA did not adjust either its own training or training with NORAD to
take account of threats other than those experienced in the past.
The missed opportunities to thwart
the 9/11 plot were also symptoms of a broader inability to adapt the way
government manages problems to the new challenges of the twenty-first century.
Action officers should have been able to draw on all available knowledge about
al Qaeda in the government. Management should have ensured that information was
shared and duties were clearly assigned across agencies, and across the
There were also broader management
issues with respect to how top leaders set priorities and allocated resources.
For instance, on December 4, 1998, DCI Tenet issued a directive to several CIA
officials and the DDCI for Community Management, stating:" We are at war. I want
no resources or people spared in this effort, either inside CIA or the
Community." The memorandum had little overall effect on mobilizing the CIA or
the intelligence community. This episode indicates the limitations of the DCI's
authority over the direction of the intelligence community, including agencies
within the Department of Defense.
The U.S. government did not find a
way of pooling intelligence and using it to guide the planning and assignment of
responsibilities for joint operations involving entities as disparate as the
CIA, the FBI, the State Department, the military, and the agencies involved in
Beginning in February 1997, and
through September 11, 2001, the U.S. government tried to use diplomatic pressure
to persuade the Taliban regime in Afghanistan to stop being a sanctuary for al
Qaeda, and to expel Bin Ladin to a country where he could face justice. These
efforts included warnings and sanctions, but they all failed.
The U.S. government also pressed
two successive Pakistani governments to demand that the Taliban cease providing
a sanctuary for Bin Ladin and his organization and, failing that, to cut off
their support for the Taliban. Before 9/11, the United States could not find a
mix of incentives and pressure that would persuade Pakistan to reconsider its
fundamental relationship with the Taliban.
From 1999 through early 2001, the
United States pressed the United Arab Emirates, one of the Taliban's only travel
and financial outlets to the outside world, to break off ties and enforce
sanctions, especially those related to air travel to Afghanistan. These efforts
achieved little before 9/11.
Saudi Arabia has been a problematic
ally in combating Islamic extremism. Before 9/11, the Saudi and U.S. governments
did not fully share intelligence information or develop an adequate joint effort
to track and disrupt the finances of the al Qaeda organization. On the other
hand, government officials of Saudi Arabia at the highest levels worked closely
with top U.S.
officials in major initiatives to solve the Bin Ladin problem with diplomacy.
Lack of Military
In response to the request of
policymakers, the military prepared an array of limited strike options for
attacking Bin Ladin and his organization from May 1998 onward. When they briefed
policymakers, the military presented both the pros and cons of those strike
options and the associated risks. Policymakers expressed frustration with the
range of options presented.
Following the August 20, 1998,
missile strikes on al Qaeda targets in Afghanistan and Sudan, both senior
military officials and policymakers placed great emphasis on actionable
intelligence as the key factor in recommending or deciding to launch military
action against Bin Ladin and his organization. They did not want to risk
significant collateral damage, and they did not want to miss Bin Ladin and thus
make the United States look weak while making Bin Ladin look strong. On three
specific occasions in 1998--1999, intelligence was deemed credible enough to
warrant planning for possible strikes to kill Bin Ladin. But in each case the
strikes did not go forward, because senior policymakers did not regard the
intelligence as sufficiently actionable to offset their assessment of the risks.
The Director of Central
Intelligence, policymakers, and military officials expressed frustration with
the lack of actionable intelligence. Some officials inside the Pentagon,
including those in the Special Forces and the counterterrorism policy office,
also expressed frustration with the lack of military action. The Bush
administration began to develop new policies toward al Qaeda in 2001, but
military plans did not change until after 9/11.
Problems within the
The intelligence community
struggled throughout the 1990s and up to 9/11 to collect intelligence on and
analyze the phenomenon of transnational terrorism. The combination of an
overwhelming number of priorities, flat budgets, an outmoded structure, and
bureaucratic rivalries resulted in an insufficient response to this new
Many dedicated officers worked day
and night for years to piece together the growing body of evidence on al Qaeda
and to understand the threats. Yet, while there were many reports on Bin Laden
and his growing al Qaeda organization, there was no comprehensive review of what
the intelligence community knew and what it did not know, and what that meant.
There was no National Intelligence Estimate on terrorism between 1995 and 9/11.
Before 9/11, no agency did more to
attack al Qaeda than the CIA. But there were limits to what the CIA was able to
achieve by disrupting terrorist activities abroad and by using proxies to try to
capture Bin Ladin and his lieutenants in Afghanistan. CIA officers were aware of
To put it simply, covert action was
not a silver bullet. It was important to engage proxies in Afghanistan and to
build various capabilities so that if an opportunity presented itself, the CIA
could act on it. But for more than three years, through both the late Clinton
and early Bush administrations, the CIA relied on proxy forces, and there was
growing frustration within the CIA's Counterterrorist Center and in the National
Security Council staff with the lack of results. The development of the Predator
and the push to aid the Northern Alliance were products of this frustration.
Problems in the FBI
From the time of the first World
Trade Center attack in 1993, FBI and Department of Justice leadership in
Washington and New York became increasingly concerned about the terrorist threat
from Islamist extremists to U.S. interests, both at home and abroad. Throughout
the 1990s, the FBI's counterterrorism efforts against international terrorist
organizations included both intelligence and criminal investigations. The FBI's
approach to investigations was case specific, decentralized, and geared toward
prosecution. Significant FBI resources were devoted to after-the-fact
investigations of major terrorist attacks, resulting in several prosecutions.
The FBI attempted several reform
efforts aimed at strengthening its ability to prevent such attacks, but these
reform efforts failed to implement organization- wide institutional change. On
September 11, 2001, the FBI was limited in several areas critical to an
effective preventive counterterrorism strategy. Those working counterterrorism
matters did so despite limited intelligence collection and strategic analysis
capabilities, a limited capacity to share information both internally and
externally, insufficient training, perceived legal barriers to sharing
information, and inadequate resources.
Permeable Borders and
There were opportunities for
intelligence and law enforcement to exploit al Qaeda's travel vulnerabilities.
Considered collectively, the 9/11 hijackers:
included known al
Qaeda operatives who could have been watchlisted;
manipulated in a fraudulent manner;
with suspicious indicators of extremism;
made detectable false
statements on visa applications;
made false statements
to border officials to gain entry into the United States; and
laws while in the United States.
Neither the State Department's
consular officers nor the Immigration and Naturalization Service's inspectors
and agents were ever considered full partners in a national counterterrorism
effort. Protecting borders was not a national security issue before 9/11.
Hijackers studied publicly
available materials on the aviation security system and used items that had less
metal content than a handgun and were most likely permissible. Though two of the
hijackers were on the U.S.TIPOFF terrorist watchlist, the FAA did not use TIPOFF
data. The hijackers had to beat only one layer of security -- the security
checkpoint process. Even though several hijackers were selected for extra
screening by the CAPPS system, this led only to greater scrutiny of their
checked baggage. Once on board, the hijackers were faced with aircraft personnel
who were trained to be non-confrontational in the event of a hijacking.
The 9/11 attacks cost somewhere
between $400,000 and $500,000 to execute. The operatives spent more than
$270,000 in the United States. Additional expenses included travel to obtain
passports and visas, travel to the United States, expenses incurred by the plot
leader and facilitators outside the United States, and expenses incurred by the
people selected to be hijackers who ultimately did not participate.
The conspiracy made extensive use
of banks in the United States. The hijackers opened accounts in their own names,
using passports and other identification documents. Their transactions were
unremarkable and essentially invisible amid the billions of dollars flowing
around the world every day. To date, we have not been able to determine the
origin of the money used for the 9/11 attacks. Al Qaeda had many sources of
funding and a pre-9/11 annual budget estimated at $30 million. If a particular
source of funds had dried up, al Qaeda could easily have found enough money
elsewhere to fund the attack.
An Improvised Homeland
The civilian and military defenders
of the nation's airspace -- FAA and NORAD -- were unprepared for the attacks
launched against them. Given that lack of preparedness, they attempted and
failed to improvise an effective homeland defense against an unprecedented
The events of that morning do not
reflect discredit on operational personnel. NORAD's Northeast Air Defense Sector
personnel reached out for information and made the best judgments they could
base on the information they received. Individual FAA controllers, facility
managers, and command center managers were creative and agile in recommending a
nationwide alert, groundstopping local traffic, ordering all aircraft nationwide
to land, and executing that unprecedented order flawlessly.
At more senior levels,
communication was poor. Senior military and FAA leaders had no effective
communication with each other. The chain of command did not function well. The
President could not reach some senior officials. The Secretary of Defense did
not enter the chain of command until the morning's key events were over. Air
National Guard units with different rules of engagement were scrambled without
the knowledge of the President, NORAD, or the National Military Command Center.
The civilians, firefighters, police
officers, emergency medical technicians, and emergency management professionals
exhibited steady determination and resolve under horrifying, overwhelming
conditions on 9/11. Their actions saved lives and inspired a nation.
Effective decision making in New
York was hampered by problems in command and control and in internal
communications. Within the Fire Department of New York, this was true for
several reasons: the magnitude of the incident was unforeseen; commanders had
difficulty communicating with their units; more units were actually dispatched
than were ordered by the chiefs; some units self-dispatched; and once units
arrived at the World Trade Center, they were neither comprehensively accounted
for nor coordinated. The Port Authority's response was hampered by the lack both
of standard operating procedures and of radios capable of enabling multiple
commands to respond to an incident in unified fashion. The New York Police
Department, because of its history of mobilizing thousands of officers for major
events requiring crowd control, had a technical radio capability and protocols
more easily adapted to an incident of the magnitude of 9/11.
The Congress, like the executive
branch, responded slowly to the rise of transnational terrorism as a threat to
national security. The legislative branch adjusted little and did not
restructure itself to address changing threats. Its attention to terrorism was
episodic and splintered across several committees. The Congress gave little
guidance to executive branch agencies on terrorism, did not reform them in any
significant way to meet the threat, and did not systematically perform robust
oversight to identify, address, and attempt to resolve the many problems in
national security and domestic agencies that became apparent in the aftermath of
So long as oversight is undermined
by current congressional rules and resolutions, we believe the American people
will not get the security they want and need. The United States needs a strong,
stable, and capable congressional committee structure to give America's national
intelligence agencies oversight, support, and leadership.
Are We Safer ?
Since 9/11, the United States and
its allies have killed or captured a majority of al Qaeda's leadership; toppled
the Taliban, which gave al Qaeda sanctuary in Afghanistan; and severely damaged
the organization. Yet terrorist attacks continue. Even as we have thwarted
attacks, nearly everyone expects they will come. How can this be?
The problem is that al Qaeda
represents an ideological movement, not a finite group of people. It initiates
and inspires, even if it no longer directs. In this way it has transformed
itself into a decentralized force. Bin Ladin may be limited in his ability to
organize major attacks from his hideouts. Yet killing or capturing him, while
extremely important, would not end terror. His message of inspiration to a new
generation of terrorists would continue. Because of offensive actions against al
Qaeda since 9/11, and defensive actions to improve homeland security, we believe
we are safer today. But we are not safe. We therefore make the following
recommendations that we believe can make America safer and more secure.
Three years after 9/11, the
national debate continues about how to protect our nation in this new era. We
divide our recommendations into two basic parts: What to do, and how to do it.
What to do ? A Global
The enemy is not just "terrorism."
It is the threat posed specifically by Islamist terrorism, by Bin Ladin and
others who draw on a long tradition of extreme intolerance within a minority
strain of Islam that does not distinguish politics from religion, and distorts
The enemy is not Islam, the great
world faith, but a perversion of Islam. The enemy goes beyond al Qaeda to
include the radical ideological movement, inspired in part by al Qaeda, that has
spawned other terrorist groups and violence. Thus our strategy must match our
means to two ends: dismantling the al Qaeda network and, in the long term,
prevailing over the ideology that contributes to Islamist terrorism.
The first phase of our post-9/11
efforts rightly included military action to topple the Taliban and pursue al
Qaeda. This work continues. But long-term success demands the use of all
elements of national power: diplomacy, intelligence, covert action, law
enforcement, economic policy, foreign aid, public diplomacy, and homeland
defense. If we favor one tool while neglecting others, we leave ourselves
vulnerable and weaken our national effort.
What should Americans expect from
their government? The goal seems unlimited: Defeat terrorism anywhere in the
world. But Americans have also been told to expect the worst: An attack is
probably coming; it may be more devastating still.
Vague goals match an amorphous
picture of the enemy. Al Qaeda and other groups are popularly described as being
all over the world, adaptable, resilient, needing little higher-level
organization, and capable of anything. It is an image of an omnipotent hydra of
destruction. That image lowers expectations of government effectiveness.
It lowers them too far. Our report
shows a determined and capable group of plotters. Yet the group was fragile and
occasionally left vulnerable by the marginal, unstable people often attracted to
such causes. The enemy made mistakes. The U.S. government was not able to
capitalize on them.
No president can promise that a
catastrophic attack like that of 9/11 will not happen again. But the American
people are entitled to expect that officials will have realistic objectives,
clear guidance, and effective organization. They are entitled to see standards
for performance so they can judge, with the help of their elected
representatives, whether the objectives are being met.
We propose a strategy with three
dimensions: (1) attack terrorists and their organizations, (2) prevent the
continued growth of Islamist terrorism, and (3) protect against and prepare for
Attack Terrorists and
Root out sanctuaries.
The U.S. government should identify and prioritize actual or potential terrorist
sanctuaries and have realistic country or regional strategies for each,
utilizing every element of national power and reaching out to countries that can
U.S. and international commitments to the future of Pakistan and Afghanistan.
with Saudi Arabia in the open and build a relationship beyond oil, a
relationship that both sides can defend to their citizens and includes a shared
commitment to reform.
Prevent the Continued
Growth of Islamist Terrorism
In October 2003, Secretary of
Defense Donald Rumsfeld asked if enough was being done "to fashion a broad
integrated plan to stop the next generation of terrorists." As part of such a
plan, the U.S. government should:
Define the message
and stand as an example of moral leadership in the world. To Muslim parents,
terrorists like Bin Ladin have nothing to offer their children but visions of
violence and death. America and its friends have the advantage that our vision
can offer a better future.
defend American ideals in the Islamic world, through much stronger public
diplomacy to reach more people, including students and leaders outside of
government. Our efforts here should be as strong as they were in combating
closed societies during the Cold War.
Offer an agenda of
opportunity that includes support for public education and economic openness.
comprehensive coalition strategy against Islamist terrorism, using a flexible
contact group of leading coalition governments and fashioning a common coalition
approach on issues like the treatment of captured terrorists.
Devote a maximum
effort to the parallel task of countering the proliferation of weapons of mass
Expect less from
trying to dry up terrorist money and more from following the money for
intelligence, as a tool to hunt terrorists, under- stand their networks, and
disrupt their operations.
Protect against and
Prepare for Terrorist Attacks
travel, an intelligence and security strategy that the 9/11 story showed could
be at least as powerful as the effort devoted to terrorist finance.
Address problems of
screening people with biometric identifiers across agencies and governments,
including our border and transportation systems, by designing a comprehensive
screening system that addresses common problems and sets common standards. As
standards spread, this necessary and ambitious effort could dramatically
strengthen the world's ability to intercept individuals who could pose
Quickly complete a
biometric entry-exit screening system, one that also speeds qualified travelers.
Set standards for the
issuance of birth certificates and sources of identification, such as driver's
for neglected parts of our transportation security system. Since 9/11, about 90
percent of the nation's $5 billion annual investment in transportation security
has gone to aviation, to fight the last war.
In aviation, prevent
arguments about a new computerized profiling system from delaying vital
improvements in the "no-fly" and "automatic selectee" lists. Also, give priority
to the improvement of checkpoint screening.
leadership from the President, guidelines for gathering and sharing information
in the new security systems that are needed, guidelines that integrate
safeguards for privacy and other essential liberties.
Underscore that as
government power necessarily expands in certain ways, the burden of retaining
such powers remains on the executive to demonstrate the value of such powers and
ensure adequate supervision of how they are used, including a new board to
oversee the implementation of the guidelines needed for gathering and sharing
information in these new security systems.
Base federal funding
for emergency preparedness solely on risks and vulnerabilities, putting New York
City and Washington, D.C., at the top of the current list. Such assistance
should not remain a program for general revenue sharing or pork-barrel spending.
security funding contingent on the adoption of an incident command system to
strengthen teamwork in a crisis, including a regional approach. Allocate more
radio spectrum and improve connectivity for public safety communications, and
encourage widespread adoption of newly developed standards for private-sector
emergency preparedness -- since the private sector controls 85 percent of the
nation's critical infrastructure.
How to do it ? A
Different Way of Organizing Government
The strategy we have recommended is
elaborate, even as presented here very briefly. To implement it will require a
government better organized than the one that exists today, with its national
security institutions designed half a century ago to win the Cold War. Americans
should not settle for incremental, ad hoc adjustments to a system created a
generation ago for a world that no longer exists.
Our detailed recommendations are
designed to fit together. Their purpose is clear: to build unity of effort
across the U.S. government. As one official now serving on the front lines
overseas put it to us: "One fight, one team."
We call for unity of effort in five
areas, beginning with unity of effort on the challenge of counterterrorism
intelligence and operational planning against Islamist terrorists across the
foreign-domestic divide with a National Counterterrorism Center;
intelligence community with a new National Intelligence Director;
unifying the many
participants in the counterterrorism effort and their knowledge in a
network-based information sharing system that transcends traditional
strengthening congressional oversight to improve quality and accountability; and
strengthening the FBI
and homeland defenders.
Unity of Effort: A
National Counterterrorism Center
The 9/11 story teaches the value of
integrating strategic intelligence from all sources into joint operational
planning -- with both dimensions spanning the foreign-domestic divide.
In some ways, since
9/11, joint work has gotten better. The effort of fighting terrorism has flooded
over many of the usual agency boundaries because of its sheer quantity and
energy. Attitudes have changed. But the problems of coordination have
multiplied. The Defense Department alone has three unified commands (SOCOM
[Special Operations Command], CENTCOM [Central Command], and NORTHCOM [Northern
Command]) that deal with terrorism as one of their principal concerns.
Much of the public
commentary about the 9/11 attacks has focused on "lost opportunities." Though
characterized as problems of "watchlisting," "information sharing," or
"connecting the dots," each of these labels is too narrow. They describe the
symptoms, not the disease.
Breaking the older
mold of organization stove-piped purely in executive agencies, we propose a
National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC) that would borrow the joint, unified
command concept adopted in the 1980s by the American military in a civilian
agency, combining the joint intelligence function alongside the operations work.
The NCTC would build
on the existing Terrorist Threat Integration Center and would replace it and
other terrorism "fusion centers" within the government. The NCTC would become
the authoritative knowledge bank, bringing information to bear on common plans.
It should task collection requirements both inside and outside the United
The NCTC should
perform joint operational planning, assigning lead responsibilities to existing
agencies and letting them direct the actual
execution of the
Placed in the
Executive Office of the President, headed by a Senate confirmed official (with
rank equal to the deputy head of a cabinet department) who reports to the
National Intelligence Director, the NCTC would track implementation of plans. It
would be able to influence the leadership and the budgets of the
counterterrorism operating arms of the CIA, the FBI, and the departments of
Defense and Homeland Security.
The NCTC should not
be a policymaking body. Its operations and planning should follow the policy
direction of the president and the National Security Council.
Unity of Effort: A
National Intelligence Director
Since long before 9/11 -- and
continuing to this day -- the intelligence community is not organized well for
joint intelligence work. It does not employ common standards and practices in
reporting intelligence or in training experts overseas and at home. The
expensive national capabilities for collecting intelligence have divided
management. The structures are too complex and too secret.
The community's head
is the Director of Central Intelligence -- has at least three jobs: running the
CIA, coordinating a 15-agency confederation, and being the intelligence
analyst-in-chief to the president. No one person can do all these things.
A new National
Intelligence Director should be established with two main jobs: (1) to oversee
national intelligence centers that combine experts from all the collection
disciplines against common targets -- like counterterrorism or nuclear
proliferation; and (2) to oversee the agencies that contribute to the national
intelligence program, a task that includes setting common standards for
personnel and information technology.
intelligence centers would be the unified commands of the intelligence world --
a long-overdue reform for intelligence comparable to the 1986 Goldwater-Nichols
law that reformed the organization of national defense. The home services --
such as the CIA, DIA, NSA, and FBI -- would organize, train, and equip the best
intelligence professionals in the world, and would handle the execution of
intelligence operations in the field.
Intelligence Director (NID) should be located in the Executive Office of the
President and report directly to the president, yet be confirmed by the Senate.
In addition to overseeing the National Counterterrorism Center described above
(which will include both the national intelligence center for terrorism and the
joint operations planning effort), the NID should have three deputies:
intelligence (a deputy who also would be the head of the CIA)
intelligence (also the under secretary of defense for intelligence)
intelligence (also the executive assistant director for intelligence at the FBI
or the under secretary of homeland security for information analysis and
The NID should
receive a public appropriation for national intelligence, should have authority
to hire and fire his or her intelligence deputies, and should be able to set
common personnel and information technology policies across the intelligence
The CIA should
concentrate on strengthening the collection capabilities of its clandestine
service and the talents of its analysts, building pride in its core expertise.
oversight, accountability, and information sharing. Unfortunately, all the
current organizational incentives encourage over classification. This balance
should change; and as a start, open information should be provided about the
overall size of agency intelligence budgets.
Unity of Effort:
The U.S. government has access to a
vast amount of information. But it has a weak system for processing and using
what it has. The system of "need to know" should be replaced by a system of
"need to share."
The President should
lead a government-wide effort to bring the major national security institutions
into the information revolution, turning a mainframe system into a decentralized
network. The obstacles are not technological. Official after official has urged
us to call attention to problems with the unglamorous "back office" side of
But no agency can
solve the problems on its own -- to build the network requires an effort that
transcends old divides, solving common legal and policy issues in ways that can
help officials know what they can and cannot do. Again, in tackling information
issues, America needs unity of effort.
Unity of Effort:
Congress took too little action to
adjust itself or to restructure the executive branch to address the emerging
terrorist threat. Congressional oversight for intelligence -- and
counterterrorism -- is dysfunctional. Both Congress and the executive need to do
more to minimize national security risks during transitions between
oversight, we propose two options: either a joint committee on the old model of
the Joint Committee on Atomic Energy or a single committee in each house
combining authorizing and appropriating committees. Our central message is the
same: the intelligence committees cannot carry out their oversight function
unless they are made stronger, and thereby have both clear responsibility and
accountability for that oversight.
create a single, principal point of oversight and review for homeland security.
There should be one permanent standing committee for homeland security in each
We propose reforms to
speed up the nomination, financial reporting, security clearance, and
confirmation process for national security officials at the start of an
administration, and suggest steps to make sure that incoming administrations
have the information they need.
Unity of Effort:
Organizing America's Defenses in the United States
We have considered several
proposals relating to the future of the domestic intelligence and
counterterrorism mission. Adding a new domestic intelligence agency will not
solve America's problems in collecting and analyzing intelligence within the
United States. We do not recommend creating one.
We propose the
establishment of a specialized and integrated national security workforce at the
FBI, consisting of agents, analysts, linguists, and surveillance specialists who
are recruited, trained, rewarded, and retained to ensure the development of an
institutional culture imbued with a deep expertise in intelligence and national
At several points we asked: Who has
the responsibility for defending us at home? Responsibility for America's
national defense is shared by the Department of Defense, with its new Northern
Command, and by the Department of Homeland Security. They must have a clear
delineation of roles, missions, and authority.
The Department of
Defense and its oversight committees should regularly assess the adequacy of
Northern Command's strategies and planning to defend against military threats to
The Department of
Homeland Security and its oversight committees should regularly assess the types
of threats the country faces, in order to determine the adequacy of the
government's plans and the readiness of the government to respond to those
We call on the American people to
remember how we all felt on 9/11, to remember not only the unspeakable horror,
but how we came together as a nation -- one nation. Unity of purpose and unity
of effort are the way we will defeat this enemy and make America safer for our
children and grandchildren. We look forward to a national debate on the merits
of what we have recommended, and we will participate vigorously in that debate.