WASHINGTON – A shortage of funding and a lack of authority to investigate hampered the FBI's ability to prevent terror, even though it was a top priority for the bureau during his tenure, former FBI Director Louis Freeh said Tuesday.
Freeh told the Joint Intelligence Committee investigating pre-Sept. 11 intelligence failures that the intelligence community was paying attention, but neither his agency nor the CIA had any "informational or tactical intelligence" that he knew of that could have prevented the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
"The coordination between the FBI and CIA in counterterrorism in my eight years of experience has been exemplary," Freeh said. "I'm aware of nothing that to me demonstrates that the FBI and intelligence community had the type of informational or tactical intelligence which could have prevented the horror of 9/11."
Freeh is often viewed with icy contempt since the joint House and Senate panel began investigating the intelligence failures. Staff and previous witnesses have accused the FBI of failing to recognize the threat by international terrorists on domestic targets and have said inability to share information and connect the dots prevented the agencies from seeing terrorists in their midst.
Freeh resigned from the FBI less than three months before the Sept. 11 attacks after serving eight years as director. During his tenure, he was often considered untouchable, an administration favorite with social graces that wore well in Washington.
During his testimony, Freeh took accusations of FBI failures personally, saying the FBI could not have acted alone on the little evidence it had and that it was doing all it could.
"I take exception to the finding that we were not sufficiently paying attention to terrorism at home," Freeh told lawmakers, adding that the international elements were too many for U.S. intelligence alone to survey.
"Al Qaeda-type organizations, state sponsors of terrorism like Iran and the threats they pose to America are beyond the competence of the FBI and the CIA to address," Freeh said.
In his defense, Freeh said that he tried to get more resources to fight terrorism, seeking 864 additional counterterrorist experts in 2000 and an increase of $380.4 million in the budget. He said he received five people and $7.4 million.
He added that he also sought appropriations to replace old computer systems, which slowed down FBI investigations.
Lawmakers have said that they take some of the blame for not putting enough resources into the intelligence services.
Former Sen. Warren Rudman, a New Hampshire Republican who led commissions that studied intelligence, agreed the FBI didn't get as much money as it needed, but said he knows that Congress is often unable to provide all that is needed.
"For reasons that we all understand, the Congress can't always do what agencies think are vital," he told the committees.
Freeh called complaints that the FBI refuses to share information with local law enforcement and others an "absolute misperception."
But Rep. Ray LaHood, R-Ill., said everything the committees have heard points to a problem.
"When it comes to terrorism and fighting terrorism, with all due respect, I think there is a disconnect, and there was a disconnect," he said.
Speaking before Freeh, inquiry staff director Eleanor Hill said intelligence agencies have not learned the lessons of past attacks, dating from the 1993 World Trade center bombing, but they have made "several impressive advances" toward fighting terrorism since the Cold War.
Those advances have not been enough for Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Bob Graham, D-Fla., who said, "an alarming lack of information" continues to hamper investigations of foreign terrorists now in the United States.
Graham said he has asked the FBI and CIA to provide information about one organization's number of "sleeper cells," or terrorist cadres in place to act at an unspecified later time, and was given widely different estimates.
"There was a chasm between them. An unacceptable chasm in my opinion," he said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.