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9/11 Commission Panelist Addresses US Security Flaws - 2004-07-24

The long awaited report from the 9/11 Commission was released recently. Following a 20 month investigation into the deadliest terror attack in U.S. history, the 10 member bipartisan panel cited multiple government failures and recommended that all US intelligence efforts be centralized.

Mr. Richard Ben-Veniste, a member of the 9/11 Commission, recently appeared on VOA's Talk to America program. Commissioner Ben-Veniste said that although a significant and substantial amount of information was gathered by the various U.S. intelligence agencies prior to 9/11, it wasn't used in any kind of efficient or effective manner due to poor communication between government agencies charged with protecting the US from such attacks.

"The one thing that we failed the most to do is to talk to each other, to share information," he noted. "There was a 'stove-piping' and a sclerosis within our system that inhibited not only the sharing of information from one agency to another but in some cases, particularly the FBI, within the FBI itself. So, the information that we had did not get into the hands of the individuals who might have made the difference by using those pieces of information, putting them together and helping us particularly with respect to airport security, NORAD, air defense and so forth."

Among the 9/11 Commission's recommendations is one that calls for a new Cabinet-level counterterrorism agency. Commissioner Ben-Veniste also points to the need for specially trained and focused federal agents who can work efficiently on any terror threats.

"We talk about the need for human intelligence and the need to focus in the training of resources; language training, analytical training, both in our foreign and domestic agencies, the latter the most glaring deficit," he added. "Where we make recommendations about how the FBI needs to structure itself in an institutionalized way to set up essentially a service within a service of analysts and collectors and surveillance agents in a way that's much more efficient and effective than presently on the drawing board."

Commissioner Ben-Veniste says that although the 9/11 Commission will officially finish its work on August 30, 2004, he and his fellow commissioners have committed themselves to work toward seeing that their recommendations are implemented.

"I think we can do better," he said. "I think we've made some advances, there's no question about that, but we feel and we have thought about this long and hard that we need to go out and now work in favor of the recommendations we made. And we will continue to work for the recommendations, which we feel, will make our country safe."