Terrorist Commission Members Meet for Follow-Up

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The members of the 9/11 Commission hold the first of several meetings to follow up on the implementation of their report on U.S. mistakes before, and vulnerabilities after, the 2001 terrorist attacks.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

A member of the 9-11 Commission, supported by the other commissioners, held a public forum today. It was the start of a series of discussions they're holding to find out what progress has been made on their recommendations. Today's session focused on the CIA and the FBI. As NPR's Pam Fessler reports, participants said there's still confusion in both agencies over what they should be doing and how they should work together.

PAM FESSLER reporting:

Former Attorney General Richard Thornburgh recently chaired a panel that looked into efforts by the FBI to focus more on counterterrorism and intelligence. He said one thing that popped up during the review was emblematic of a bigger problem.

Mr. RICHARD THORNBURGH (Former Attorney General): We would hold periodic meetings with FBI leadership, and almost inevitably the person that we spoke to in `meeting number one,' who was in charge of `area A,' would not show up for the second meeting because he'd been replaced by somebody else.

FESSLER: Thornburgh said his investigation, conducted for the National Academy of Public Administration, found that on average top FBI officials stayed on the job for little more than a year. He said the high turnover was due, in part, to burnout and the change in the agency's mission away from law enforcement.

Mr. THORNBURGH: To make the kind of shift that's involved in their change in character and assignment is very taxing.

FESSLER: He and other experts on today's panel said the federal government is in a state of flux; that's in large part because so many bureaucratic changes have been made since 9/11. The latest was creation of a new National Counterterrorism Center and a director to coordinate all US intelligence efforts. Both of those things were recommendations of the 9-11 Commission. John Gannon, a former CIA official, said it's still not clear who's responsible for what and that agency barriers have yet to come down.

Mr. JOHN GANNON (Former CIA Official): You don't go to work every day in the intelligence community with the idea of, `What can I share?' It's, `What can I protect?' So if you want information to be shared, you--it has to be very clear to people, you know, what authorities they do have to share it.

FESSLER: He said there's uncertainty, for example, over the role of the CIA now that responsibility for the president's daily intelligence briefing has shifted to the new director of national intelligence. Gannon also said within the FBI there's still a culture that looks down on intelligence analysts.

Mr. GANNON: If you are not an agent, you are furniture.

FESSLER: And this at a time when the agency wants to build up its domestic intelligence staff. Federal authorities say many of these changes will take time, and they're trying to address any problems. The former 9-11 commissioners hope to keep the pressure on. They plan to hold at least eight panel discussions, and in September they'll issue a report card on what's been done to address the intelligence and other failures they found in their investigation of the 9/11 attacks. Former Commissioner Jamie Gorelick moderated today's forum. She said it's clear that last year's enactment of an intelligence overhaul bill is just the beginning.

Ms. JAMIE GORELICK (Former Commissioner): One of the things that I'm hearing in this panel is the desperate need for clarity among these various institutions that have either pre-existed the statute or have been stood up since.

FESSLER: She said the former commissioners plan to ask the Bush administration to supply information for their review. Spokesman Scott McClellan said the White House appreciates the commission's work, but he wouldn't comment on the request for help because the administration has yet to receive the request. Pam Fessler, NPR News, Washington.

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