WASHINGTON – While a new report criticizes intelligence agencies for not detecting the Sept. 11 terrorist plot, Congress also should take some of the blame, the incoming chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee says.
Sen. Pat Roberts, the Kansas Republican who will head the panel next year, said the role of Congress is "the big thing that was left out'' of the classified report.
The House and Senate intelligence committees released a nine-page summary of its findings Wednesday after a six-month investigation into failures by the FBI, CIA and others to piece together information in advance of the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
"There are a lot of fingers of blame at mid-level mistakes. But still, Congress has not addressed itself,'' Roberts said in an interview with The Associated Press.
The FBI, for example, has been criticized for not focusing more on counterterrorism. But Roberts said the agency's mission is law enforcement and it was Congress' responsibility to "take a look at that and change the mission.''
The congressional inquiry recommended that an independent commission headed by former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger look into Congress' oversight of intelligence as it continues the Sept. 11 investigation.
The Senate committee's top Republican, Sen. Richard Shelby of Alabama, agreed that Congress should be looked at in follow-up inquiries, but he said the intelligence community still needs to be a major part of the probe.
"Don't be looking the other way when it comes to the intelligence community and think they're perfect,'' Shelby said. "They've got a lot of problems. If there are not massive changes in the intelligence community we're going to be in for it in the near future.''
Roberts also criticized Congress for not spending enough money on intelligence-gathering over the past decade and said he wants to create an independent budget for those agencies.
Sen. Mike DeWine, R-Ohio, another committee member, agreed.
"Do we have the guts to spend the money on intelligence?'' DeWine said. "If anybody thinks this is going to be cheap, they're crazy.''
Roberts said he didn't want to criticize specifics of the classified report, which he described as a 408-page document that identifies systemic weaknesses and makes recommendations, among them creating a cabinet-level director of national intelligence and changing the structure of the intelligence community.
But he did object to the way the investigation was conducted: "The best I can say is that I'm not comfortable, and I'm very concerned about the process, but it's done.''
Sen. Bob Graham, D-Fla., chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee during the investigation, would not respond directly to Roberts' criticism, but he defended the committee's work.
"I believe our effort was as thorough, comprehensive and exhaustive as we could be in the time we had available,'' Graham said Thursday.
Roberts, who takes over as chairman of the intelligence committee when Congress convenes next year, said he doesn't want to be an apologist for the intelligence community but thinks the committee should champion good work by intelligence agencies.
"One of the problems with the intelligence community is, you can't tell anybody anything about what went on right,'' he said. "You can bat .250 as a baseball player and make it in the major leagues. You can bat .900 in the intelligence community, and the only thing the public understands'' is a failure.