WASHINGTON – Creation of a Cabinet-level national intelligence director's position — someone who would be the equivalent of "an admiral of the fleet" — is the top recommendation by lawmakers in charge of probing the intelligence failures surrounding the Sept. 11 attacks.
House and Senate intelligence committees released approximately 20 recommendations Wednesday, announcing the completion of their report following a 10-month investigation. Most of the rest of the report remains classified.
"What our intelligence community needs is the equivalent of an admiral of the fleet. Each agency or ship has a captain, but someone needs to command the entire fleet. Naval historians tell us that ship-to-ship engagements don't win wars. It takes a broader strategy, and one person can't be both the admiral and the captain of individual ships," said Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Bob Graham, D-Fla.
CIA Director George Tenet oversees the overall intelligence apparatus as director of central intelligence, but he doesn't control military intelligence, whose budget is controlled by the Pentagon.
The Pentagon and its supporters in Congress would probably oppose the creation of an intelligence director's position, since that would mean someone would have to relinquish control.
Graham said during Wednesday's press conference that the recommendations made by the group will close "some of the most significant gaps in our intelligence network."
He said the investigation showed that intelligence officials had "considerable" information about Al Qaeda before Sept. 11, but nothing that provided detailed warnings of an impending attack. He said the intelligence community did indeed have information regarding the possibility terrorists may use planes as weapons of mass destruction, but much of that information was either buried or not enough attention was paid to it.
"The intelligence community was not properly postured to combat global terror," Graham said.
The Senate's ranking member on intelligence, Richard Shelby, R-Ala., harshly criticized the chiefs of the CIA and FBI for failing to communicate effectively with those under their command and for not taking terrorism seriously enough.
"I believe the leaders should be held accountable," Shelby said of the intelligence community.
Speaking of Tenet, Shelby said, "there have been more massive failures of intelligence during his watch than any other director of the CIA in history."
He also said former FBI Director Louis Freeh — who presided over the agency during the Clinton administration — led a catastrophic term there, and suggested the American people should be able to look at an unclassified version of the report so they can measure the gravity of the mistakes made.
Incoming House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said efforts are already underway to protect Americans from future attacks and lack of time and resources can no longer be an excuse for intelligence lapses.
"A great deal is at stake for the American people," she said. "I believe a thorough assessment of any agencies that had any responsibility for protecting the American people from a terrorist attack must receive full scrutiny."
But some lawmakers had few expectations that the recommendations alone would lead to major change at U.S. intelligence agencies.
"I think it is going to add to the national debate about how to improve the safety and security of America," said Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill. "But nothing is going to happen until these agencies decide to modernize and cooperate with each other."
Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., said intelligence staff identified problems, but didn't probe deeply into their causes. "They were not able to get into the depth of questioning that they should have," he said.
Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., said, "There's a lot of work to do to flesh out a number of these ideas."
The joint inquiry's work will be followed up by an independent commission headed by Henry Kissinger, the former secretary of state. It will go beyond a review of intelligence failures to examine other issues related to the attacks, such as immigration and aviation security.
Former Sen. George Mitchell, D-Maine, was named to serve as the panel's co-chair, but stepped down on Wednesday citing a conflict of interest with his law firm. Former Indiana Democratic Rep. Lee Hamilton was to be named his replacement. On Tuesday, former Sen. Slade Gorton, R-Wash., was named to the panel.
The recommendations followed months of hearings in which congressional staff faulted intelligence agencies for failing to share information that might have uncovered the Sept. 11 plot.
For example, the CIA had identified two of the future hijackers as having attended an Al Qaeda meeting in Malaysia in January 2000. But the two were not placed on a State Department watch list until weeks before the attacks and some agencies were never told to be on the lookout for them.
Also, memos in the summer of 2001 from FBI agents in Phoenix and Minnesota suggesting possible terrorist plots using airplanes weren't shared with other agencies.
Durbin said the full classified report includes criticism of other failures that are not yet public knowledge.
"A lot of these are very tough and I don't think they will be declassified," he said.
In its recommendations, lawmakers called for an examination of whether the FBI is serving adequately as the nation's domestic intelligence agency, and whether a new domestic intelligence agency is needed.
Critics have said the FBI is too focused on solving crimes at the expense of gathering intelligence on possible terrorist attacks. The FBI insists its attitudes changed after Sept. 11 and that terrorism is its top priority. Some lawmakers are also concerned a domestic intelligence agency could threaten Americans' privacy.
Justice Department spokeswoman Barbara Comstock said Wednesday that "the department believes the FBI is well suited to serve as the domestic intelligence and terrorism prevention agency in the United States."
The Justice Dept. welcomed the recommendations, saying that it and the FBI already had implemented several of them and others since the Sept. 11 attacks.
These include: reorganizing the FBI to better prevent future attacks, doubling the number of intelligence analysts, establishing the National Joint Terrorism Task Force at the FBI and in 56 regions, establishing the Foreign Terrorist Tracking Task Force, creating the Office of Intelligence, boosting resources aimed at combating terrorism, increasing information sharing with federal, state and local agencies, and better coordination between law enforcement and intelligence agents and prosecutors.
The Justice Dept. said it was these changes that led to successes in the war on terrorism, such as the disruption of alleged terror cells in Buffalo, N.Y., Detroit and Portland, Ore., and the arrest of Zacarias Moussaoui, who is awaiting trial for his role in the Sept. 11 attacks.
Lawmakers also suggested that agencies' inspectors general should investigate disciplinary actions needed when intelligence officials fail to perform. Shelby said he will file a separate report calling for greater accountability.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.