22 July 2004
National Commission Recommends Ways to Avoid Future Attacks
Key recommendation calls for restructuring intelligence
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 U.S. government.
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 unprepared," Commission
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
"They recognize what I recognize and America 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 detail.
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.
-- Encouraging information sharing across the U.S. government
through decentralized networks and with a network-based, information-sharing
system that transcends traditional governmental boundaries.
-- Centralizing and strengthening congressional oversight of intelligence
and homeland security.
-- Strengthening the national security workforce within the FBI
and clarifying the missions of the departments of Defense and Homeland
-- 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.)
-- Communicating and 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.
-- Developing a 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 at: HYPERLINK "http://www.9-11commission.gov/report/911Report.pdf"
Following is the text of the report's executive summary:
The National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States
July 22, 2004
The 9/11 Commission Report
Final Report of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon
the United States
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
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
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 Surprise
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
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 Muslims.
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 American
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 numbers.
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 elsewhere.
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 malaise.
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 operation;
-- a personnel system that could recruit candidates, indoctrinate
them, vet them, and give them the necessary training;
-- communications sufficient to enable planning and direction
of operatives and those who would be helping them;
-- an intelligence effort to gather required information and form
assessments of enemy strengths and weaknesses;
-- the ability to move people great distances; and
-- the ability to raise and move the money necessary to finance
1998 to 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
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
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 Jordan 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 others.
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 United States 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 Predator.
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
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
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 alert.
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
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 went forward.
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
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;
-- not sharing information linking individuals in the Cole attack
-- 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 of attack;
-- not discovering false statements on visa applications;
-- not recognizing passports manipulated in a fraudulent manner;
-- not expanding no-fly lists to include names from terrorist
-- not searching airline passengers identified by the computer-based
CAPPS screening system; and
-- not hardening 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
The policy challenges were linked to this failure of imagination.
Officials in both the Clinton and Bush administrations regarded
a full U.S. invasion of Afghanistan as practically inconceivable
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 States.
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 foreign-domestic divide.
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 homeland security.
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
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 Options
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 Intelligence Community
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 challenge.
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 those limitations.
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 Immigration Controls
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;
-- presented passports manipulated in a fraudulent manner;
-- presented passports 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
-- violated immigration 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.
Permeable Aviation Security
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
An Improvised Homeland Defense
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
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
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 STRATEGY
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
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 terrorist attacks.
Attack Terrorists and Their Organizations
-- 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 help us.
-- Strengthen long-term U.S. and international commitments to
the future of Pakistan and Afghanistan.
-- Confront problems 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—our vision can offer
a better future.
-- Where Muslim governments, even those who are friends, do not
offer opportunity, respect the rule of law, or tolerate differences,
then the United States needs to stand for a better future.
-- Communicate and 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.
-- Develop a 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 destruction.
-- 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
-- Target terrorist 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 catastrophic
-- 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 licenses.
-- Develop strategies 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
-- Determine, with 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.
-- Make homeland 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 itself:
-- unifying strategic intelligence and operational planning against
Islamist terrorists across the foreign-domestic divide with a National
-- unifying the intelligence community with a new National Intelligence
-- unifying the many participants in the counterterrorism effort
and their knowledge in a network-based information sharing system
that transcends traditional governmental boundaries;
-- unifying and 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
-- 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 States.
-- The NCTC should perform joint operational planning, assigning
lead responsibilities to existing agencies and letting them direct
the actual execution of the plans.
-- 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—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.
-- The national 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.
-- This National 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
-- For foreign intelligence (a deputy who also would be the head
of the CIA)
-- For defense intelligence (also the under secretary of defense
-- For homeland intelligence (also the executive assistant director
for intelligence at the FBI or the under secretary of homeland
security for information analysis and infrastructure protection)
-- 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 community.
-- 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.
-- Secrecy stifles 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: Sharing Information
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
-- 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 government operations.
-- 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
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
-- For intelligence 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.
-- Congress should create a single, principal point of oversight
and review for homeland security. There should be one permanent
standing committee for homeland security in each chamber.
-- 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
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 homeland.
-- 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 threats.
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.