Sept.11 commission says the agency failed to detect key
al-Qaida cell

WASHINGTON (AP) — In a world “blinking
red” with terrorist threats against the United States, the
FBI missed a last-minute chance to detect a key al-Qaida cell and
possibly disrupt the Sept. 11 attacks, the commission investigating
the 2001 hijackings said yesterday.

Delays and missteps in linking terrorism suspect Zacarias
Moussaoui to al-Qaida in the weeks before the attacks were
emblematic of chronic problems within the FBI, including limited
intelligence and analysis capabilities, outdated technology, poor
information-sharing and floundering attempts at reorganization, the
commission said.

In a day of finger-pointing, the panel chairman, former New
Jersey Gov. Thomas Kean, said two scathing reports compiled by the
commission’s investigators amounted to “an indictment
of the FBI.”

Louis Freeh, who headed the bureau from 1993 to mid-2001,
bristled at Kean’s words.

“I would ask that you balance what you call an indictment,
and which I don’t agree with at all, with the two primary
findings of your staff,” he said.

“One is that there was a lack of resources. And two, there
were legal impediments” that made it difficult for agents to
pursue terrorism investigations, he added.

Former Attorney General Janet Reno also spoke of a lack of
resources but said the FBI did a poor job keeping track of the
information its agents gathered.

“The FBI didn’t know what it had,” she said.
“The right hand didn’t know what the left hand was
doing.”

Her successor, Attorney General John Ashcroft, said a key reason
for the failures was a legal restriction, known as “the
wall,” that prevented sharing of FBI intelligence information
with criminal investigators. Ashcroft blamed Reno for issuing
“draconian” guidelines in 1995 that made sharing even
more difficult.

“The simple fact of Sept. 11 is this: We did not know an
attack was coming because for nearly a decade our government had
blinded itself to its enemies,” Ashcroft said.

“Our agents were isolated by government-imposed walls,
handcuffed by government-imposed restrictions and starved for basic
information technology. The old national intelligence system in
place on Sept. 11 was destined to fail.”

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