WASHINGTON – Governmental Affairs Committee Ranking Member Joe Lieberman, D-Conn., Thursday said the American people deserve to know the full truth of how and why September 11th was able to occur and, until that happens, all efforts to make the country safer will be incomplete. In testimony before the second public hearing of the independent National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States, Lieberman said that top government officials must be held personally accountable for their failure to keep Americans safe and he singled out the intelligence community for remaining “trapped behind many of the same bureaucratic barriers that spelled disaster in the months leading up to 9/11.”
“The essential mission of this commission deserves and demands better than begrudging cooperation from the Administration,” Lieberman said. “You don’t have much time. If you’re constantly forced to fight for information, you’ll never get to the heart of the problems that plagued, and in many cases still plague, our government’s fight against terrorism… “These are difficult times,” he continued. “They demand that we look honestly at our failures, and correct those failures without hesitation. They demand that officials and employees of our government who are charged with critical national security responsibilities be held personally accountable if they have failed or faltered in their duties.” Below is Lieberman’s testimony:
Senator Joe Lieberman Testimony before National Commission on the Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States
May 22, 2003
Chairman Kean, Vice-Chair Hamilton, Commission members… It is an honor to be before you this morning as the Commission gathers input and insight from elected officials and others on what went wrong before September 11th, and how those lessons can help us prevent future terrorist attacks. It was in December 2001 that Senator McCain and I first proposed legislation creating this commission. Our purpose was clear and we believed non-controversial: the American people were entitled to a full and unflinching account of how September 11th happened, so we could determine what went wrong and prevent it from happening again. The American people deserve to know the full and objective truth, as best as it can be told. We still haven’t received that. And until we get it, all the attempts to make America safer in this age of terrorism are bound to be incomplete.
Today, May 22, 2003, the mission of this commission is more vital than ever. Within recent days, 75 people have been killed and hundreds were wounded in two terrorist attacks in Saudi Arabia and Morocco that appear to have been executed by Al Qaeda. The remaining members of a 19-man Al Qaeda cell based in Saudi Arabia, we are told, have fanned out to commit more atrocities. And this morning, we are greeted by the deadly taped voice of another Al Qaeda leader, a voice that perversely invokes the name of God to destroy God’s creations. The Department of Homeland Security has imposed a heightened Code Orange alert amid rumors of possible attacks on major U.S. cities. And once again, surface-to-air missiles have been deployed in and around our nation’s capital.
The war on terrorism continues. Our military victories in Afghanistan and Iraq have struck blows against global terrorism. We have won some battles but we have a long way to go. Neither Osama Bin Laden nor Saddam Hussein has been brought to justice, and Al Qaeda is still killing civilians and still seeking weapons of mass destruction. That is why our military action abroad must be complemented by an unrelenting, and unprecedented commitment to strengthen our defenses here at home.
That begins with the search for truth you are conducting, but it urgently requires much more. The successful completion of your critical mission cannot occur without the full cooperation of the executive branch of our government. In an initial unwillingness to provide the funds you need to do your job and its failure to facilitate the release of the Joint Intelligence Inquiry report to the public, the Bush Administration has not acted cooperatively. The essential mission of this commission deserves and demands better than begrudging cooperation from the Administration. You don’t have much time. If you’re constantly forced to fight for information, you’ll never get to the heart of the problems that plagued, and in many cases still plague, our government’s fight against terrorism. I urge you to use every power that you have to obtain information you need. I’m pleased to have played a role in the creation of a Department of Homeland Security. If properly led, it will help us make great strides in protecting our borders, our ports and airports, our public health network, our infrastructure, our transportation systems, and ultimately our people. The resources aren’t there yet, but the potential for change is. The firefighters, police officers, and emergency medical professionals in communities across the country – who are the first to respond to a disaster and the last to leave – still desperately need training and the proper communications equipment to protect us. And they need personnel reinforcements. Instead, many first responders are being laid off today by fiscally-strapped cities and towns across America. That makes about as much sense as reducing America’s troop strength in the middle of a war. Yet, the Administration has not adequately funded first responders or the Department of Homeland Security. So, there’s much to be done. We have made some strides in securing our air travel. But other forms of transportation – like mass transit, highway and rail security – remain inadequately protected. Our nation’s seaports are an Achilles’ heel in our domestic defense. Too little cargo is being inspected and too few containers are being tracked from their port of origin to their final destination. At the current rate of funding, it will take the Coast Guard 20 years to build the modern fleet it needs to fight terrorism now. The President’s budget under-supports basic, physical security at ports – features like perimeter fencing, guards, and monitors. And our borders remain porous and cry out for the Border Patrol to be beefed up. But the most glaring gap is the one most people can’t see and that is the gap in our intelligence community because of the Administration’s apparent reluctance to challenge the status quo. The best way to stop terrorism is to interrupt a plot before it is executed. But today, we are still basically unintelligent when it comes to understanding the scope and depth of the intelligence failures that led up to September 11th. And too many of the failures we have already identified are unchanged to this day, a full 20 months after the attacks. I want to say bluntly that it starts at the top. And today, at the top, our intelligence community remains divided and trapped behind many of the same bureaucratic barriers that spelled disaster in the months leading up to 9/11. All of the federal intelligence agencies continue to keep state and local first responders at arm’s length, when it’s those frontline forces who have vital knowledge to share and most desperately need useful federal intelligence shared with them. The bill creating a new Department of Homeland Security established an all-source intelligence center where all the dots of counterterrorism information would for the first time be connected. And that center was to be placed inside the new Department—reporting directly to the new Secretary—and therefore outside the counter-productive and destructive bureaucratic barriers and rivalries of the rest of the intelligence community. But the Administration has applied its own interpretation to that clear mandate of the law. It’s created a weak intelligence analysis unit inside the Department and a brand new threat integration center under the command of the Director of Central Intelligence. That may make the guardians of the status quo happy. But I fear it won’t do what is necessary to prevent against terrorism. Let me give you one final example. A terrorist watch list system is one of the most basic tools for keeping terrorists out of the United States in the first place, and for finding them once they are inside our borders. We know today that two of the hijackers should have been placed on the watch list as long as 20 months before the September 11th attacks. The CIA has acknowledged this failure. Yet this glaring problem has not been fixed. CIA Director Tenet testified to Congress twice, in June and October of last year, that a national watch list center was being created that would correct the failures and lapses of the past. As we speak, it hasn’t been done. That’s unacceptable. And of course, these watch lists, which should be made into a single, unified watch list, cannot be hoarded by federal officials if they are going to be valuable. Today, state and local officials remain largely in the dark and out of the loop. That must change. These are difficult times. They demand that we look honestly at our failures, and correct those failures without hesitation. They demand that officials and employees of our government who are charged with critical national security responsibilities be held personally accountable if they have failed or faltered in their duties. All that has become the historic mission of this commission. It is through the work of this commission that we can best provide the American people with the security that is their basic right and their government’s basic responsibility. Memorials will be built, but I believe that the best memorial to those we lost on September 11th can and must come from the work you do in searching for the truth so that those who died will not have died in vain. To quote scripture, “The truth will make us free” – in this case free from fear.