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September 13th, 2001, 11:10 PM #1
Who has blood on his hands?
Not Clinton, who commissioned this BIPARTISAN study.
Commission warned Bush
But White House passed on recommendations by a
bipartisan, Defense department-ordered commission on
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By Jake Tapper
Sept. 12, 2001 | WASHINGTON -- They went to great pains
not to sound as though they were telling the president
"We told you so."
But on Wednesday, two former senators, the bipartisan
co-chairs of a Defense Department-chartered commission on
national security, spoke with something between
frustration and regret about how White House officials
failed to embrace any of the recommendations to prevent
acts of domestic terrorism delivered earlier this year.
Bush administration officials told former Sens. Gary
Hart, D-Colo., and Warren Rudman, R-N.H., that they
preferred instead to put aside the recommendations issued
in the January report by the U.S. Commission on National
Security/21st Century. Instead, the White House announced
in May that it would have Vice President Dick Cheney
study the potential problem of domestic terrorism --
which the bipartisan group had already spent two and a
half years studying -- while assigning responsibility for
dealing with the issue to the Federal Emergency
Management Agency, headed by former Bush campaign manager
The Hart-Rudman Commission had specifically recommended
that the issue of terrorism was such a threat it needed
far more than FEMA's attention.
Before the White House decided to go in its own
direction, Congress seemed to be taking the commission's
suggestions seriously, according to Hart and Rudman.
"Frankly, the White House shut it down," Hart
says. "The president said 'Please wait, we're going
to turn this over to the vice president. We believe FEMA
is competent to coordinate this effort.' And so Congress
moved on to other things, like tax cuts and the issue of
"We predicted it," Hart says of Tuesday's
horrific events. "We said Americans will likely die
on American soil, possibly in large numbers -- that's a
quote (from the commission's Phase One Report) from the
fall of 1999."
On Tuesday, Hart says, as he sat watching TV coverage of
the attacks, he experienced not just feelings of shock
and horror, but also frustration. "I sat tearing my
hair out," says the former two-term senator. "And
Rudman generally agrees with Hart's assessment, but adds:
"That's not to say that the administration was
"They wanted to try something else, they wanted to
put more responsibility with FEMA," Rudman says.
"But they didn't get a chance to do very much"
before terrorists struck on Tuesday.
The White House referred an inquiry to the National
Security Council, which did not return a call for
The bipartisan 14-member panel was put together in 1998
by then-President Bill Clinton and then-House Speaker
Newt Gingrich, R-Ga., to make sweeping strategic
recommendations on how the United States could ensure its
security in the 21st century.
In its Jan. 31 report, seven Democrats and seven
Republicans unanimously approved 50 recommendations. Many
of them addressed the point that, in the words of the
commission's executive summary, "the combination of
unconventional weapons proliferation with the persistence
of international terrorism will end the relative
invulnerability of the U.S. homeland to catastrophic
"A direct attack against American citizens on
American soil is likely over the next quarter
century," according to the report.
The commission recommended the formation of a
Cabinet-level position to combat terrorism. The proposed
National Homeland Security Agency director would have
"responsibility for planning, coordinating, and
integrating various U.S. government activities involved
in homeland security," according to the commission's
Other commission recommendations include having the
proposed National Homeland Security Agency assume
responsibilities now held by other agencies -- border
patrol from the Justice Department, Coast Guard from the
Transportation Department, customs from the Treasury
Department, the National Domestic Preparedness Office
from the FBI, cyber-security from the FBI and the
Commerce Department. Additionally, the NHSA would take
over FEMA, and let the "National Security Advisor and
NSC staff return to their traditional role of
coordinating national security activities and resist the
temptation to become policymakers or operators."
The commission was supposed to disband after issuing the
report Jan. 31, but Hart and the other commission members
got a six-month extension to lobby for their
recommendations. Hart says he spent 90 minutes with
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, and an hour with
Secretary of State Colin Powell lobbying for the White
House to devote more attention to the imminent dangers of
terrorism and their specific, detailed recommendations
for a major change in the way the federal government
approaches terrorism. He and Rudman briefed National
Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice on the commission's
For a time, the commission seemed to be on a roll.
On April 3, before the Senate Judiciary Committee's
Subcommittee on Terrorism and Technology, Hart sounded a
call of alarm, saying that an "urgent" need
existed for a new national security strategy, with an
emphasis on intelligence gathering.
"Good intelligence is the key to preventing attacks
on the homeland," Hart said, arguing that the
commission "urges that homeland security become one
of the intelligence community's most important
missions." The nation needed to embrace "homeland
security as a primary national security mission." The
Defense Department, for instance, "has placed its
highest priority on preparing for major theater war"
where it "should pay far more attention to the
homeland security mission." Homeland security would
be the main purpose of beefed-up National Guard units
throughout the country.
A new strategy, new organizations like the National
Homeland Security Agency -- which would pointedly
"not be heavily centered in the Washington, D.C.
area" -- would be formed to fulfill this mission, as
well with the fallout should that mission fail. As the
U.S. is now, the Phase III report stated, "its
structures and strategies are fragmented and
inadequate." Diplomacy was to be refocused on
intelligence sharing about terrorist groups. Allies were
to have their military, intelligence and law enforcement
agencies work more closely with ours. Border security was
to be beefed up.
More resources needed to be devoted to the new mission.
"The Customs Service, the Border Patrol, and the
Coast Guard are all on the verge of being overwhelmed by
the mismatch between their growing duties and their
mostly static resources," the report stated.
Intelligence needed to focus not only on electronic
surveillance but a renewed emphasis on human surveillance
-- informants and spies -- "especially on terrorist
groups covertly supported by states." As the threat
was imminent, Congress and the president were urged to
"start right away on implementing the recommendations
put forth here."
Congress seemed interested in enacting many of the
commission's recommendations. "We had a very good
response from the Hill," Rudman says.
In March, Rep. Mac Thornberry, R-Texas, introduced the
National Homeland Security Agency Act. Other members of
Congress -- Rep. Wayne Gilchrest, R-Md., John Kyl,
R-Ariz., Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif. -- talked about the
issue, and these three and others began drafting
legislation to enact some of the recommendations into
But in May, Bush announced his plan almost as if the
Hart-Rudman Commission never existed, as if it hadn't
spent millions of dollars, "consulting with experts,
visiting 25 countries worldwide, really deliberating long
and hard," as Hart describes it. Bush said in a
statement that "numerous federal departments and
agencies have programs to deal with the consequences of a
potential use of a chemical, biological, radiological or
nuclear weapon in the United States. But to maximize
their effectiveness, these efforts need to be seamlessly
integrated, harmonious and comprehensive." That,
according to the president, should be done through FEMA,
headed by Allbaugh, formerly Bush's gubernatorial chief
Bush also directed Cheney -- a man with a full plate,
including supervision of the administration's energy
plans and its dealings with Congress -- to supervise the
development of a national counter-terrorism plan. Bush
announced that Cheney and Allbaugh would review the
issues and have recommendations for him by Oct. 1. The
commission's report was seemingly put on the shelf.
Just last Thursday, Hart spoke with Rice again. "I
told her that I and the others on the commission would do
whatever we could to work with the vice president to move
on this," Hart said. "She said she would pass on
On Tuesday, Hart says he spent much of his time on the
phone with the commission's executive director, Gen.
Charles G. Boyd. "We agreed the thing we should not
do is say, 'We told you so,'" Hart says. "And
that's not what I'm trying to do here. Our focus needs to
be: What do we do now?"
Of course, as a former senator, Hart well knows what
happens to the recommendations of blue-chip panels. But
he says he thought that the gravity of the issue -- and
the comprehensiveness of the commission's task -- would
prevent its reports from being ignored. After all, when
then-Secretary of Defense William Cohen signed the
charter for the 21st Century National Security Strategy
Study, he charged its members to engage in "the most
comprehensive security analysis" since the
groundbreaking National Security Act of 1947, which
created the National Security Council, the Central
Intelligence Agency and the Office of Secretary of
Defense, among other organizations.
Neither Hart nor Rudman claim that their recommendations,
if enacted, would have necessarily prevented Tuesday's
tragedy. "Had they adopted every recommendation we
had put forward at that time I don't think it would have
changed what happened," Rudman says. "There
wasn't enough time to enact everything. But certainly I
would hope they pay more attention now."
"Could this have been prevented?" Hart asks.
"The answer is, 'We'll never know.' Possibly
not." It was a struggle to convince President Clinton
of the need for such a commission, Hart says. He urged
Clinton to address this problem in '94 and '95, but
Clinton didn't act until 1998, prompted by politics.
"He saw Gingrich was about to do it, so he moved to
collaborate," Hart says. "Seven years had gone by
since the end of the Cold War. It could have been much
Rudman said that he "would not be critical of them
[the Bush administration] this early because the bottom
line is, a lot has to be done." The commission handed
down its recommendations just eight and a half months
ago, he said, and they'll take years to fully enact.
"On the other hand," Rudman said, "if two
years go by and the same thing happens again, shame on
"I'm not pointing fingers," Rudman said. "I
just want to see some results." He may get his wish.
On Wednesday, Thornberry renewed his call for a National
Homeland Security Agency. Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., the
assistant majority leader, called for the formation of a
federal counter-terrorism czar.
Three days ago, if asked to predict what the first major
foreign terrorist attack on America soil would involve,
Hart says he would have guessed small nuclear warheads
simultaneously unleashed on three American cities. But,
he says, "there wasn't doubt in anyone's mind on that
commission" that something horrific would happen
"probably sooner rather than later. We just didn't
In addition to the Bush administration, Hart has another
group that he wishes had paid the commission's
suggestions more heed. "The national media didn't pay
attention," Hart says. One senior reporter from a
well-known publication told one of Hart's fellow
commissioners, "This isn't important, none of this is
ever going to happen," Hart says. "That's a
Hart points out that while the New York Times mentioned
the commission in a Wednesday story with the sub-headline
"Years of Unheeded Alarms," that story was the
first serious mention the Times itself had ever given the
commission. The Times did not cover the commission's
report in January, nor did it cover Hart's testimony in
April, he points out. "We're in an age where we don't
want to deal with serious issues, we want to deal with
little boys pitching baseballs who might be 14 instead of
Hart says he just shook his head when he saw a former
Clinton administration Cabinet official on TV Tuesday
calling for the formation of a commission to study the
best way to combat terrorism. "If a former Cabinet
officer didn't know, how could the average man on the
street? I do hope the American people understand that
somebody was paying attention."
In his April 3 testimony, Hart noted that "the
prospect of mass casualty terrorism on American soil is
growing sharply. That is because the will to terrorism
and the ways to perpetrate it are proliferating and
merging. We believe that, over the next quarter century,
this danger will be one of the most difficult national
security challenges facing the United States -- and the
one we are least prepared to address." He urgently
described the need for better human intelligence and not
just electronic intelligence, "especially on
terrorist groups covertly supported by states."
He's far from happy to have been proven correct. Both
Hart and Rudman say with grim confidence that Tuesday's
attacks are just the beginning. Maybe now, Rudman says,
Congress, the White House, the media and the American
people will realize how serious they were about their
"Human nature is prevalent in government as
well," Rudman says. "We tend not to do what we
ought to do until we get hit between the eyes."
March 8th, 2008, 12:32 PM #2
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Originally Posted by HS2008
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