The Intelligence Investigation
This week, members of the House and Senate Intelligence Committees announced the formation of an unprecedented joint investigation into the September 11 terrorist attacks and America’s intelligence-gathering efforts going all the way back into the Reagan administration.
As the second-most senior Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee, I will be part of this inquiry -- and I welcome it. Congress has a responsibility to report to the American people on what we could have done better to avoid the September 11 attacks -- the most massive intelligence failure since Pearl Harbor.
At the same time, I had some reservations about forming this special committee. One concern I share with several of my colleagues is that some of the people chosen to lead the inquiry are too closely tied to the CIA itself. For example, Britt Snider, named to head the staff investigation, worked under CIA Director George Tenet for eight years and even served as Inspector General of the agency. Though I have no reason to doubt Mr. Snider’s capabilities, it doesn’t seem to make much sense to put people in charge of this investigation who have clear conflicts of interest. The credibility of our report and recommendations will, to a large degree, be dependent on the public’s view of its objectivity.
Additionally, I have questioned the impact of launching an investigation of this magnitude while America remains extremely vulnerable. September 11 was the beginning, not the end, of attacks against the United States. I did not want our examination of what happened in the past to take law-enforcement and intelligence officials away from protecting the American people from dangers that exist at present.
Despite those concerns, I am hopeful that this inquiry will help us learn from past mistakes.
Our battle against terrorism will continue for a long time, and if done the right way, our investigation of what we did in the past can strengthen us. For example, we have known for some time that Osama bin Laden was capable of causing Americans great harm – a fact undisputable after al-Qaeda’s first bombing of the World Trade Center in 1993 and the attack on the USS Cole in 2000. What did we attempt to do then, if anything, to track down al-Qaeda and prevent future attacks against us? How did we miss intelligence alerts? And how is our intelligence community reacting differently today? What is the status of other terrorist groups who hate the United States? What are we doing to track them down and neutralize them? These are some of the questions that will uppermost in my mind as this investigation gets underway.
I believe we can do a lot more to make America safer, yet we must also recognize that terrorists have greater margins for error than we do. After British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher narrowly escaped an attempt on her life in 1984, a note written by IRA terrorists offered the cold but accurate words: “We only have to be lucky once.”
Our activities in Congress should focus with precision on turning the odds against them.
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