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9/11 Commission Critical of  US Law Enforcement Agencies - 2004-04-13

The independent commission investigating the 2001 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington has issued a report highly critical of the performance of U.S. law enforcement agencies in the period leading up to the September 11th attacks.

The 9/11 commission issued an interim report taking the Justice Department and the Federal Bureau of Investigation to task for not making terrorism more of a priority in the months leading up to the 2001 attacks.

The day before the September 11th attacks, Attorney General John Ashcroft turned down an FBI request for more money for counter-terrorism efforts. And the 9/11 commission says the FBI was limited in its efforts to collect and analyze intelligence information about domestic terrorist threats.

Commission Chairman Thomas Kean says the critical report on the FBI amounts to what he called an indictment. Former FBI Director Louis Freeh took issue with that assessment, and said the main problem was a lack of resources devoted to identifying terror threats and dealing with them.

Commission member Bob Kerrey, a former Democratic senator from Nebraska, pressed former FBI Director Freeh as to why law enforcement agencies were not better prepared at a time of increasing threat warnings.

"We were at ease," he said. "We stacked arms (did not have arms at the ready). I mean, we were not prepared at all, and it is baffling to me why some alert was not given to the airlines to alter their preparedness, and to go to a much higher state of alert."

Mr. Freeh defended the FBI's counter-terrorism efforts before the September 11th attacks, calling them very effective, given the limited resources available to the agency. He added, "It was never our notion in the FBI that criminal prosecution of terrorists and investigations of their organizations was a substitute for military action, for foreign policy action, for the United States doing what it did on September 11th, declaring war on an enemy that had declared war on us many years ago."

The commission report says the FBI had a culture in which agents were often promoted for investigations that led to arrests and prosecutions, but that probes involving intelligence and counter-terrorism efforts were considered low priority within the agency.

The 9/11 commission was established by Congress and the White House in 2002 for the purpose of finding out what went wrong before the 2001 attacks and what can be done to prevent future attacks. A final commission report is due by the end of July.