Published July 25, 2003
WASHINGTON – When listening to the four key players detail the Sept. 11 report released Thursday, it is important to remember that each one comes to the microphone with a distinct agenda.
California Rep. Nancy Pelosi was the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee (search) when work on the report began last year. But now, she is the House minority leader with a vested interest in making a Republican administration look bad.
To that end, Pelosi attacked the Bush administration Thursday for its "obsession with secrecy," claiming that it didn't do enough to make available documents used in the congressional inquiry into the intelligence failures that preceded the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks.
"I also have serious concerns about the administration's failure to cooperate fully with the joint inquiry and to exhaust every remedy to discover information that might assist us in better protecting the American people," Pelosi said.
"As good as the joint inquiry and its reports are -- and I am proud of the work of the joint inquiry and the staff -- as good as their work has been, the work is not as complete as it could have been," she said. "We have repeatedly encountered obstacles in getting necessary information from the Bush administration."
Last year, Sen. Bob Graham, D-Fla., served as chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (search), which launched the investigation and filed Thursday's report on intelligence failures before Sept. 11.
Now Graham is one of nine Democrats running for president. By associating with a critical report, he positions himself in a very public way as a candidate who can fix the ills of government.
"The attacks of Sept. 11 could have been prevented if the right combination of skill, cooperation, creativity and some good luck had been brought to task," Graham told a news conference.
He added that the recommendations, ones that he helped craft, could make a difference with how the intelligence community works.
"If the recommendations are heeded ... we should be able to make significant strides," he said.
Graham also spoke to the issue of secrecy and the proper role of the administration, saying that some of the reasons for keeping one section of the 800-plus page report classified "border on the absurd."
And he stretched his diplomatic muscle, answering how he would handle relationships with countries that are believed to have been complicit in the Sept. 11 attacks.
"I cannot comment about a specific country but any country with a record of complicity does not deserve" a special relationship with the United States, Graham said, "and does deserve to be listed at a terrorist state."
Saudi Arabia has been cited as a nation that may have helped fund the terrorists, but that portion of the report has been blacked out, with officials citing claims of sensitive information.
Sen. Richard Shelby of Alabama is a Republican who recently completed his term as ranking member of the Intelligence Committee. He is also a politician who has repeatedly called for the resignation of CIA Director George Tenet.
"If there's going to be security in this country it's going to start with the intelligence community and they know this," he told Fox News.
In the report that Shelby had a hand in authoring, the CIA is roundly criticized for its failure to relay information about communications by two of the hijackers while they were living in the U.S. and meetings that suspected Sept. 11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed (search) had with recruits.
Tenet too was personally faulted in the report for declaring war on Usama bin Laden in 1998 but not telling the FBI or Defense Department.
On the flip side, Rep. Porter Goss, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, is also a former CIA operative. He defended the need for some of the information to remain classified.
"The last thing we want to do in any way is create an opportunity for a terrorist to take advantage of us because of something we put in, in our good intentions to have our public know what exactly happened, but nevertheless aiding and abetting a plan that would allow somebody to end-run our capabilities and do damage to Americans at home or abroad," he said.
The White House too has its perspective on the report. White House spokesman Scott McClellan told reporters that the report "confirms the importance of the strong, aggressive stance we have already taken to better protect the American people at home and abroad."
He also listed the administration's achievements since Sept. 11, 2001, including the creation of a Homeland Security Department (search), improved information sharing between government agencies and efforts to freeze terrorist assets.
Through it all, it may have just been coincidence that as the report was being delivered to Capitol Hill, the Bush administration released the death pictures of Uday and Qusay Hussein, a story that monopolized much of the media's attention Thursday.
But even those not involved in the intelligence report may have political hay to make of it. Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., also a presidential contender, has been on the attack against President Bush for weeks. Thursday's statement was no exception.
"The truth is that this nation has a dangerous preparedness gap. The president can't walk away from the truth, he must be straight with the American people about the work needed to make America safe," Kerry said. "The Bush Administration needs to report immediately to the American people what has been done and what remains to be done to fill the intelligence gaps identified in the report."
Rep. Mark Foley, R-Fla., issued a statement Thursday attacking Graham for "politicizing" the report.
"This is a cynical attempt to breathe life into a floundering presidential campaign. Sen. Graham should not campaign on the back of a national tragedy," Foley said. "Before he decided to run for the presidency, Sen. Graham took blame for his committee not conducting enough oversight. Now he flip-flops for political expediency. America doesn't need a president who puts his political ambitions over national security."
Foley, of course, isn't just defending the president. He plans to run for the seat that Graham now holds, whether Graham is his opponent or not.
Agencies that report to the White House made the final decisions about what would remain classified. They promised today that much of the classified information will eventually be released to the public, but well after interest in this report has faded.
Fox News' Brian Wilson contributed to this report.