September 11, 2001 : Attack on America
James Schlesinger - Statement For The Record Committee On Government Affairs United States Senate Hearings On S1867; February 7, 2002

Statement For The Record Committee On Government Affairs United States Senate Hearings On S1867 February 7, 2002 James Schlesinger

Mr. Chairman, Members of the Committee:

I regret that I am unable to appear on the panel to discuss S1867, legislation to establish a National Commission on the causes and implications of the September 11 terrorist attacks. I am on record (The National Interest, "A Test by Terrorism", Thanksgiving 2001, p.5, at 6) suggesting that the President establish a National Commission, and have urged senior members of the administration to do so. In addition to the precedents of Pearl Harbor and the Kennedy assassination for which National Commissions were created, there is the additional precedent of the Challenger disaster, which helped to clarify the background to that regrettable event, and by identifying the O-rings as the culprit led to corrective action.

The country needs an authoritative review regarding how our own attitudes, habits, laws, and organization may have contributed to the stunning effectiveness of the terrorist attacks. Through such a careful examination, we could take those measures that would make us better prepared and better organized to anticipate or to frustrate other such future attempts.

Prior to the attack of September 11th, as a nation we have been unduly complacent. For some two decades, we have observed terrorist episodes, some of them state-sponsored, some of them non-state-sponsored, directed at allied nations, at Americans overseas, and additionally carefully prepared terrorist actions here in the United States, such as the prior attack in 1993 on the World Trade Center itself. Nonetheless, we continued to act as if we were immune to major terrorist strikes at the United States -- at the very same time that the motivation to strike the United States in asymmetric ways was increasing. Moreover, as a result of that complacency, we have been lax, not to say careless, in a variety of ways that have eased the problem for terrorists.

Let me briefly examine a few such areas.

Intelligence. I start with intelligence. At the outset we should understand that gathering intelligence is quite hard. Terrorist cells, composed of dedicated and fanatical individuals, are difficult to penetrate -- even as we increase our emphasis on human intelligence. The Intelligence Community gave frequent, repeated, though generalized warnings about the terrorist threat. The Director of Central Intelligence has specifically focused on the threat represented by Osama Bin Laden and al Qaeda. Nonetheless, I fear that the Intelligence Community did not sufficiently study the technique that was employed by the terrorists on September 11 -- despite a number of prior episodes pointing in that direction. And, of course, the Intelligence Community-was not able to pinpoint the timing of the September 11 attacks, which, as I indicated earlier, is extremely difficult to do.

Among the questions that the Commission might address would include the following: Were sufficient resources prior to September 11 -- including the resource of talented analysts -- devoted to counter-terrorism? Was the signals intelligence effort appropriately sized and properly coordinated with other counter-terrorism work? Are we properly organized for counter-terrorism now that terrorism has become a priority threat -- or do we still remain unduly fragmented? Does the historic separation of domestic and foreign intelligence continue to make sense in this altered environment -- or has it become obsolete? Finally, were we sufficiently alert to the widespread indoctrination and massive funding of anti-US and anti-West propaganda?

Airport Security. We need no reminder after 11 September regarding the devastating effectiveness of large aircraft employed by terrorists as missiles. We have over the years been alert to the possibility of aircraft being blown up. Unhappy as the latter may be, it is not nearly as devastating as the former. But airport security, such as it was, did not really attend to the former threat. We need to deal with that threat by effectively isolating the cabin from passengers (that is already well underway), by giving appropriate instructions to aircraft crews, and by some screening of foreign pilots who would fly over the United States.

We also need effectively to tighten airport security. That will not be accomplished by having National Guardsmen standing around. We need to keep unauthorized persons away from aircraft and from luggage -- and to monitor those with appropriate access. We also need to have far better ways of screening passengers. Businessmen, retired citizens, who fly regularly, can be more quickly screened. Others, notably selected foreigners, should be subjected to far more stringent examination. Much of this can be accomplished through the effective use of information technology.

The Open (and Vulnerable) Society. Since the mid-sixties, the mood in this country has been to maximize openness and accessibility. We have, no doubt, gone too far, and one of the objects of the Commission would be to recommend a better balance. The precepts that guide our agencies of government need to be improved. We have been too casual about issuing visas. Student and tourist visas are issued almost automatically. There has been no systematic checking of those on visas, and little enforcement of when visas have expired. The Immigration and Naturalization Service has concentrated its efforts on illegal Mexican or Central American workers who want to work in this country, and has not historically focused on those who one might suspect would seek to do this nation harm. The FBI has treated terrorism less systematically than it has organized crime. Though it is a very difficult task, protection of our borders against illegals can be improved. Our general stance needs to change. We should make it far, far harder for terrorists to enter the country and to inflict damage on us.

Mr. Chairman, to this point many questions have been addressed piecemeal -- or not at all. The purpose of a National Commission would be systematically and comprehensively to address such questions -- and to give a complete public accounting of the events leading up to 9-11. In my judgment, such a Commission would serve a high, indeed indispensable, national purpose.

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