Lieberman Calls for Accountability in Implementation of 9/11 Commission Recommendations

Washington–Following is the text of Senator Lieberman’s opening statement for the August 3 hearing of the Senate Committee on Governmental Affairs on the 9/11 Commission Recommendations:

Madam Chairman, thank you for calling this second hearing on the 9/11 Commission’s recommendations so quickly. The new, specific terror threats we have learned about in the last few days – the very fact that this Capitol has checkpoints for vehicular movement that weren’t there yesterday – remind us that we do not live in normal times and, therefore, our normal ways of doing business are no longer acceptable. Our country is under threat of attack, so we must move – and move rapidly – to repair what the 9/11 Commission has documented as our intelligence vulnerabilities. I thank you, Madam Chairman, for taking quick and decisive action in scheduling these hearings. The President announced his intention yesterday to establish two of the 9/11 Commission recommendations – a National Intelligence Director and a National Counterterrorism Center. I’m pleased he has embraced both concepts but I am troubled because the recommendation he is making for the National Intelligence Director appears to lack the powers the commission wants it to have – particularly over the intelligence budget. And the challenge here is to avoid creation of a new office without the power to overcome the stove-piping and lack of authority that we need to overcome. After studying what went wrong before 9/11 and how the federal government has responded since, the Commission concluded that we are still not maximizing our efforts to perform our most important task – protecting the American people. There are still stove pipes in information sharing and still no one person is in charge. In its report, the Commission concluded that a number of intelligence problems – for example, uncoordinated watch lists, the failure to share information, the failure to connect the dots – made it more difficult for the U.S. to foresee and stop the terrorist attacks of September 11th. As the Commission said: “Responsibility and accountability were diffuse.” Today, there is still no common playbook for 15 different intelligence agencies to read from., no “unity of effort” to use the Commission’s words – against terrorism that would replace the time-worn, Cold War-era stove-piped approach. All the information available to our government about terrorist threats to our homeland – whether from the CIA, the FBI, state and local officials, or open sources – would be shared and analyzed in one place. The National Counterterrorism Center would be not only a fusion center but also a command center for domestic and foreign intelligence planning. This is a very significant and, in some ways a revolutionary change. After integrating all sources of information, the center would analyze it and shape strategies to stop terrorists before they are able to do damage to us here in America. The NCTC would also conduct joint operational planning. It wouldn’t execute these operations but it would help map the plan, call the plays, and assign operational responsibilities to the appropriate agency. For the first time, one entity would be able to look across agency boundaries and the foreign-domestic divide to make sure intelligence is being shared, that joint plans are in place, and that the plans are being implemented. Someone will finally be accountable. The NCTC should be seen as a unified combat command and the director would the unified commander in our war against Islamist terrorism. As I said, this is a fundamental change from the way our government now operates. The Commission acknowledges this. But no one can seriously argue that the current approach has been adequate to meet the threats of the 21st Century. And no one can argue that the threat we face is not grave and demands this kind of imagination and bold action. Madam Chairman, I look forward to hearing the views of our witnesses today on the Commission’s recommendation. I know there are questions about the proposal – I’ve got some questions myself. I know the status quo failed us on September 11th and it will fail us again if we don’t change it because when everyone is in charge, no one is. When everyone is calling their own plays, there is no team. And the protection of the American people suffers. Thank you Madam Chairman.