Wednesday, October 19, 2005

9/11 Panel Says Congress and White House Are Failing to Act

The New York Times
October 19, 2005
9/11 Panel Says Congress and White House Are Failing to Act

WASHINGTON, Oct. 18 - The members of the Sept. 11 commission will sharply criticize the Bush administration and Congress this week in a new, privately financed report expected to single out the F.B.I. as having failed to act on many of the panel's recommendations to protect the nation from terrorist attack, members of the bipartisan panel and its staff said.

They said the report, scheduled for release on Thursday by a private educational group created by the 10 former commissioners, will also criticize the White House as not doing enough to defend civil liberties and privacy rights as it expanded the government's surveillance powers after the Sept. 11 terror attacks. A civil liberties oversight board created by the White House earlier this year is toothless and underfinanced, some of the commissioners said.

A Democratic member of the commission, Timothy J. Roemer, a former House member from Indiana, said the new "report card" would show that the administration and Congress had taken no action on many of the panel's central recommendations, "and we're not going to get many more chances to get things right before the terrorists come at us again."

Mr. Roemer said in an interview that the F.B.I. would be criticized because it "has talked about well-intentioned reform but has not delivered it."

"We still need to see a big change in that culture," he said.

Congress would be criticized, Mr. Roemer said, for having failed to follow through on the panel's major recommendations for an overhaul of Congressional oversight of intelligence and terrorism issues. In its final report last year, the commission described Congressional oversight as "dysfunctional."

The report is being prepared by the 9/11 Public Discourse Project, a privately financed lobbying group that reflects an unusual effort by members of a federal blue-ribbon commission to press for their recommendations.

Asked about the report, a White House spokeswoman, Erin Healy, said that "while we haven't seen the report, the president knows that protecting the American people from terrorist threats requires a comprehensive approach." The administration had a "clear strategy of strengthening our defenses at home and taking the fight to the enemy abroad," Ms. Healy said.

The F.B.I. had no comment on the new report. A spokesman referred to testimony last month for Congress by the bureau director, Robert S. Mueller III, who insisted it had made important progress in pursuing terrorist threats.

In its final, book-length report last year, the commission offered some of its strongest criticism for the F.B.I. and documented how the bureau had repeatedly mishandled intelligence about terrorist threats before the Sept. 11 attacks, including detailed warnings that terrorists might try to use commercial planes in an attack. The report said the bureau should retain its responsibility for domestic terrorism investigations "only if it makes an all-out effort to institutionalize change."

In recent months, the bureau has acknowledged that many of the failings identified by the Sept. 11 commission continue to plague it, including antiquated computer and communications equipment that make it almost impossible for agents to coordinate information on terrorism investigations easily.

In March, the F.B.I. shut a $170 million program to update computer software, admitting it would take more than three years to develop a workable system. The Justice Department inspector general reported this year that the bureau had a backlog of thousands of hours of tapes to be translated from Arabic and other languages for terrorism inquiries. Commission members said they expected that the new report would include some praise for the administration and Congress, especially on enacting a central recommendation, creating the post of director of national intelligence to force the intelligence and law-enforcement agencies to work together.