Thursday, May 23, 2002
|Rep. Curt Weldon blames intelligence
failures, not the Bush or Clinton administrations for
not stopping the Sept. 11 attacks.
WASHINGTON An experimental
computer program designed to analyze intelligence gave U.S.
Special Forces a mission recommendation in 2000 that some say
could have prevented the Sept. 11 attacks.
The U.S. Military Special Forces Command at
McDill Airforce Base came up with a chart of Al Qaeda's entire
international network in the period prior to the November 2000
election, but the recommendation, which reached the desk of
Clinton Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Hugh Shelton was never
implemented, according to eight-term Rep. Curt Weldon, R-Pa.,
a member of the House Armed Services Committee.
"One year before 9/11 ... the capability
that Special Forces built actually identified to us the
network of Al Qaeda, and they went beyond that and gave us
recommendations where we could take out five cells to
eliminate their capability," Weldon said on the floor of the
U.S. House of Representatives Tuesday night.
Weldon said that he went public with the
information to silence Democratic criticism of the Bush
administration, but not to blame former President Bill
The debate over intelligence failures
heated up in the last week after it was revealed that
an FBI agent had sent a memo in July 2001 warning that
Middle Eastern men with ties to Usama bin Laden's Al Qaeda
network were training at flight schools.
The memo, it was revealed, was ignored
by higher-ups in the bureau, who claimed that they were too
overwhelmed with the U.S.S. Cole bombing and other
investigations to conduct a search of all U.S. flight
The debate, however, took a political turn
last week, with some members calling for the creation of an
independent commission to investigate whether the Bush
administration failed to act on warnings. Already, a
joint House-Senate intelligence panel is investigating
intelligence failures within the law enforcement agencies.
Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D.,
and Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., have said that an
independent commission, composed of experts who have an
understanding of intelligence matters, would be able to take a
more objective look at the U.S. intelligence community, and
perhaps feel free to propose more radical changes.
Opponents of the commission say that
adding a new bureaucracy will only tie up intelligence
officials who must run the war on terrorism while already
answering to the congressional investigation.
Weldon said that instead of trying to
put blame on the administration, more needs to be done to
investigate the failings by the CIA and FBI to share
information and see obvious clues.
The agencies have tried to respond to the
criticism. Since the Sept. 11 attacks, the Justice
Department has issued new guidelines on handling
investigations, and both the CIA and FBI have redirected their
sources to concentrate on international terrorism.
On Wednesday, the CIA named Winston P.
Wiley, the deputy director of intelligence, as the new
associate director for central intelligence for Homeland
Security. He will take up that role, which is
designed to communicate intelligence on terrorist threats to
the Office of Homeland Security, on May 28.
Intelligence experts also shot back
Wednesday that Congress is in part to blame for the
intelligence failings because of its hard-hitting insistence
that the FBI investigate the "flavor of the week."
"Ducking child welfare (payments), parental
kidnappings, pornography on the Internet, whatever the flavor
of the week was," the FBI was ordered to investigate, said
former agent Clint Van Zandt. "And in the background, always
brewing over the mountain you could see smoke, no pictures
was international terrorism."
"It goes back to the very heart of the
political leadership, goes back over the previous
administration as well," said John Martin, a former FBI
counterterrorist specialist and retired chief of internal
security at the Justice Department, who added that even after
the World Trade Center terrorist bombing in 1993, some top
officials wanted the FBI to focus on abortion-clinic violence,
street crime and the like.
"We were not preparing for this kind of
attack," he said.
Weldon said that even if the
intelligence community was absorbed with other issues, it
missed at least one public and maddeningly obvious clue that
until now had gone unnoticed.
"In August of 2000, an Al Qaeda member had
been interviewed by an Italian newspaper, and (it was)
reported that Al Qaeda was training kamikaze pilots. The
intelligence community and enforcement agencies don't read
open-source information," he said.
In truth, though, the CIA does study
foreign press, but before Sept. 11 made little use of
computers to collect and analyze classified and unclassified
information together, which is what Special Forces began doing
in 1997, enabling them to get a read-out on the terror cells.
Congress has passed legislation since the
mid-1990s to compel the CIA to improve its computer gathering
and analysis of intelligence, but little has been done, which
adds to Weldon's criticism of the intelligence services.
"We knew what should have been done, we
knew what we could have done, and we didn't do it," Weldon
Fox News' Carl Cameron and The
Associated Press contributed to this report.