U.S. intelligence agencies still haven’t completed their transformation into an effective counterterrorism operation almost 10 years after the Sept. 11 strikes, the co-chairmen of a commission that investigated the attacks said.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation is struggling to balance its intelligence and crime-fighting responsibilities, said Thomas Kean and Lee Hamilton, the former co-chairmen, in a joint statement to a Senate panel.
The director of national intelligence doesn’t wield enough power to oversee operations, according to Kean, a former Republican governor of New Jersey, and former U.S. Representative Hamilton, an Indiana Democrat.
The U.S. needs “a clear-eyed appraisal of how the office of the DNI is functioning, as well as the state of reform in the FBI,” they told the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee in Washington today. “We have concerns about each, and our goal should be to strengthen both.”
Still, the FBI, Central Intelligence Agency and other government organizations have made progress and are communicating better with each other since the 2001 attacks that killed almost 3,000 people, Kean and Hamilton said. The U.S. is safer as a result, forcing al-Qaeda to mount smaller, less deadly strikes, they said.
Without further changes, the U.S. won’t be able to counter the latest threats from terrorists, such as the “alarming” conversion of some U.S. residents into militants through blogs and other Internet content, Kean and Hamilton said.
The DNI’s ability to unify intelligence operations could be bolstered by legislation clarifying the agency’s oversight of budget and employees, they said.
While the FBI has been successful at bolstering its intelligence capabilities, it isn’t clear “that analysts within the FBI are the drivers of intelligence that they ought to be,” they said.
The FBI’s increased focus on terrorism also “may have diminished the bureau’s ability to vigorously enforce the criminal law and to investigate complex crimes,” Kean and Hamilton said.
Ten years after muddled radio communications between New York firefighters and police officers added to the confusion before the World Trade Center towers fell, first responders don’t have the necessary radio spectrum, they said.
“To date, this recommendation” of the commission “languishes,” according to the statement. “We find this unacceptable because quite literally lives are at stake.”
Kean and Hamilton backed President Barack Obama’s call for allocating a swath of the spectrum, known as the D Block, to public safety. AT&T Inc. (T) and Verizon Communications Inc. (VZ) also support Obama’s plan.
House Republicans, T-Mobile USA Inc., a Deutsche Telekom AG (DTE) unit and Sprint Nextel Corp. (S) have said the airwaves should be sold to foster competition by successful bidders who would use the frequencies to offer services to first responders and consumers. AT&T has agreed to acquire T-Mobile.
The Transportation Security Administration also hasn’t installed body-scanning machines that can detect explosives “hidden within the body,” Kean and Hamilton said.
“Despite 10 years of working on the problem, the system still falls short in critical ways,” they said.
Immigration officials have failed to head off terrorist suspects before attempted attacks, including Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, who had a valid U.S. visa before he boarded a Northwest flight on Christmas Day 2009 allegedly to blow it up, they said.
“While our government has made improvements, worrisome vulnerabilities remain,” their statement said.
The U.S. also has failed to activate a government-wide panel on privacy and civil liberties, they said.
“If we were issuing grades, the implementation of this recommendation would receive a failing mark,” Kean and Hamilton said.