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Testimony Ends in 9/11 Hearings Until May

Aired April 14, 2004 - 15:54   ET


JUDY WOODRUFF, CNN ANCHOR: And thus wraps up another day of testimony before the 9/11 Commission. The commission investigating intelligence failures and other failures to prepare before the terror attacks on September 11, 2001. You heard former New Jersey Governor Tom Kean there at the end saying this wraps up our work for today. They're coming back next month and the month of May with more public testimony.
Today's testimony for the most part, the stars were the FBI Director Robert Mueller on the left hand side of the screen. He's leaving the hearing room at the Capitol. Before him earlier today, CIA Director George Tenet. They were really the two headliners today.

The questioning today, you have to say, much more subtle, much less confrontational than what we've seen on other days. The big news out of this commission that has come in the last few days, very critical of the intelligence gathering community in the United States. Describing failures to communicate, failures to coordinate.

So today, more of a mopping up routine, if you will. You see Jamie Gorelick, the commissioner, talking to Bob Mueller, the FBI director who's just wrapped up his testimony. We're going to talk about what was said today before the commission, what ground they covered right after a very short break. We'll be right back.


WOODRUFF: Today's testimony before the 9/11 Commission, the commission investigating what went wrong, in essence, before the September 11 terrorist attacks. The commission has wrapped up its testimony for today. It won't be back until next month, May.

We just heard the conclusion of testimony from the FBI Director Robert Mueller. He was, as I said a moment ago, the star witness this afternoon. This morning, featured George Tenet, the head of the Central Intelligence Agency, the CIA.

I want to bring in Bob Franken who's been following all of these hearings, listening closely all day long. I mean, Bob, my impression is a lot of the beating up of these intelligence agencies took place yesterday and before. That today was almost a mopping up operation where they talked about solutions, but it's as if they got a lot of the criticism out of their system and now they're looking at solutions.

BOB FRANKEN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Right, they were of course, yesterday, involved in what amounts to recrimination over the catastrophe of September 11, how it was a look to the future and talking to the heads of the two key agencies, frankly, which are the Central Intelligence Agency and the FBI.

Talking about whether there can be repairs made, whether things can be done and how far along they are. As a matter of fact, the director of the CIA told the commission members something they probably didn't want to hear, that nobody really wants to hear, that the kind of protections against an attack are going to take a long time.


GEORGE J. TENET, DIRECTOR, CIA: First thing I would say to the commission is that the care and nurturing of these capabilities is absolutely essential. It will take us another five years to have the kind of clandestine service our country needs. There is a creative, innovative strategy to get us there that requires sustained commitment, leadership, and funding.


FRANKEN: The director of the FBI, Bob Mueller, told the panel this afternoon, and he was very warmly received, that the FBI is well on its way to coming up with reforms.

He is adamantly against suggestions that a new agency be created to handle domestic intelligence, much on the order of the British model, saying it would be counter prove and run into civil liberties problems but he said his agency is dedicated to making things right.


ROBERT MUELLER, FBI DIRECTOR: Let me take a moment before addressing the specifics of the FBI's reformed efforts to reflect on the losses suffered on September 11, 2001.

I also want to acknowledge the pain and the anguish of the friends and families that were lost on that day. And I want to assure them that we in the FBI are committed to do everything in our power to ensure that America never again suffers such a loss.


FRANKEN: And the main theme of Mueller was better coordination, better coordination in the FBI, better coordination outside the FBI, better coordination outside the United States.

As a matter of fact, Judy, it seems to be the theme that comes up again and again. The coordination, the communication between government agencies is the key to coming up with a better defense -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: Bob, when you boil all this down so far and add up what's been said at all of these hearings so far, is it pretty much that the White House, the people at the very top passing off the blame, the responsibility to the intelligence gathering community?

FRANKEN: There's a lot of blame, a lot of people blaming each other, a lot of blame that goes back and forth between different administrations. The intelligence people saying oftentimes they were hamstrung by regulation.

We've all now gotten very familiar with the wall, which was a wall between intelligence sharing with law enforcement people, that type of thing. And the operatives saying that was a big problem.

Of course, part of the finger pointing there was to one of the commission members, Jamie Gorelick. As a matter of fact, there is an effort today by the head of the House Judiciary Committee, James Sensenbrenner, to get Gorelick to resign from this commission because she was the creator of that wall, something that committee members, by the way, all say is a ridiculous suggestion.

Gorelick says she's not going to resign or recuse herself anymore even though she was the one who signed that policy.

But yes, there's a lot of finger pointing going on. But the main function of this commission is not only to assess blame which is scaring the day lights out of just about everybody but to make suggestions how to avoid a similar disaster.

WOODRUFF: In a way, Bob, it's as if the FBI, CIA in effect come before this commission pleading for understanding saying you know, look we're trying to make changes here. You heard Bob Mueller there at the end saying to John Lehman, former secretary of the Navy, certainly to a degree, sympathetic with what the FBI has been doing.

Lehman giving his interpretation and Mueller turning around and saying no, the FBI has really changed. We are changing. We've already made some of these modifications you want us to make.

FRANKEN: They are horrified, both the FBI and CIA, at the idea of a new agency that would take away some of the responsibilities of their existing agencies. You can ascribe some of that of course to turf protection, that usual kind of suggestion.

But also they make the argument to do so would be unnecessarily disruptive, that the better way is to work in the established procedures. They are now cooperating in a way, coming up with unified headquarters in many ways. The laws are being changed. They say that is the least disruptive, most efficient way to try and battle terrorism.

WOODRUFF: Bob, why -- do you think we've just heard the end of the recrimination here? Yesterday it seemed to me that just about everything we heard whether it was from the Attorney General John Ashcroft or others was an effort to point the finger of responsibility in another direction. Do you think that's behind us?

FRANKEN: Judy, this is Washington.

(LAUGHTER) FRANKEN: No, it is not behind us. And quite frankly, when the commission report comes out, there is going to be what many people will be describing as recrimination. They are going to assess blame, the members of the commission, when they come out of their report.

So no, there's going to be a lot of that. It's going to continue. There's going to be a continuation of all the behind the scenes material that's going on.

But one of the things we noticed in this set of hearings as opposed to the Condoleezza Rice hearings there was much less antagonistic questioning this time. One of the explanations was that that was a reaction to all the medial coverage that called that partisan. The commissioners were somewhat sensitive of that.

WOODRUFF: I thought the questioning was much more polite that I heard throughout the day, differential if you will than on earlier days, reflecting some more of the partisan divisions among those commission members. Bob Franken following all the goings on at the commission.

We're going to take a short break. We are expecting to hear in just a moment from the chair of the commission, former New Jersey Governor Tom Kean and from the co-chair, Lee Hamilton. We are told they're going to be meeting with the press. We're looking for that any minute now. We're going to take a short break.


WOODRUFF: Back now with our coverage of the 9/11 Commission hearings. Those commissions having wrapped up their testimony just a few moments ago here in Washington. They will be back in may next month with more public hearings.

In the meantime, we're waiting right now -- it's about ten minutes after 4:00 Eastern time -- for what we're told is a news conference. The chairman and the co-chairman of the commission are planning to meet with reporters.

In the meantime, I want to bring in CNN's political analyst Bill Schneider to step back, Bill, and look at everything we've heard this week and even in previous weeks from the commission.

What is it adding up to? I was just talking to Bob Franken about how much finger pointing has been going on, to a degree, you know, we are seeing partisanship on this commission that the chairs had told us is not going to be there but what is it adding up to in effect.

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: What it adds up to is making it very difficult for President Bush to run for reelection on the 9/11 issue because it's now become a partisan issue.

That was the meaning of what looked like a very personal confrontation between Condoleezza Rice and Richard Clarke. Clarke essentially saying the administration was so preoccupied with Iraq, it did not pay enough attention to what was very real intelligence about the al Qaeda threat.

Condoleezza Rice of course, defending the administration and what we're seeing now in the polling is that Republicans believe Rice, Democrats believe Clarke and suddenly the whole war on terrorism has become partisan.

WOODRUFF: It seems to me we've seen that on the commission, as well. In the early stage of their work the assurances were that this commission was working in a very bipartisan way to come up with a conscience us.

But when you've had witnesses come before this commission who had information that tilted one way or another, it's almost as if you saw a line drawn right down the middle of the commission, Democrats asking questions tough of Republicans and vice versa.

SCHNEIDER: That's exactly what's happened. The war on terrorism as an issues has become more partisan. The commission is seen in a very partisan light.

The confrontation between Rice and Clarke was a fundamental confrontation between two people whose testimony was seen as highly partisan. Rice defending President Bush, Clarke attacking President Bush. Many people said, some of his critics for partisan motives.

The whole thing has become partisan in a way that 9/11 and the war on terrorism had not been before the commission.

WOODRUFF: Why do you think, Bill, we saw a little less of that today? I mean today we're down to George Tenet, the head of the CIA. He was at the CIA under Bill Clinton and right now under George Bush. Very much a part of the Bush administration.

And then this afternoon, Bob Mueller who didn't come into the job of running the FBI until one week before 911.

SCHNEIDER: That's right. Well, because the testimony had to do with the intelligence services, and with the FBI. Domestic and international intelligence, which hasn't been the core of the partisan issue. As you pointed out a minute ago, to a certain extent a lot of the criticism has been fended off from the administration to intelligence.

So the issue has been why didn't the intelligence services do a better job. This goes back many years. The commission report indicated that while al Qaeda was formed in 1988...

WOODRUFF: I'm going to interrupt you because I'm told that Tom Kean, the chairman of the commission, talking to reporters now. Let's listen.



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