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Sunday, July 28, 2002



[ OUR OPINION ]

We deserve to know why
U.S. intelligence failed


THE ISSUE

The House of Representatives has voted to set up a commission to determine why U.S. intelligence failed to warn the nation of the impending terrorist assault last Sept. 11.


Americans have a right to know why the nation's intelligence agencies did not see the disaster of Sept. 11 coming so that law enforcement officers and the armed forces might have prevented the assaults on the World Trade Center and Pentagon that took nearly 3,000 lives. Even more important is that Americans need to know what happened so flaws can be corrected and future mistakes prevented.

Sept. 11, 2001, ranks with Dec. 7, 1941, as the darkest days in American history since the Civil War. After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, an inquiry led by Supreme Court Justice Owen Roberts was organized 11 days later. Several more investigations followed, ending with an inquiry begun just after the Japanese surrender in August 1945.

That is ample precedent for the current proposal to set up an independent commission to determine why U.S. intelligence agencies failed to warn the nation of the Sept. 11 attacks. The measure has some, although not complete, bipartisan support in the House of Representatives. The vote was 219-188, with Representatives Neil Abercrombie and Patsy Mink of Hawaii voting with the majority. When the measure gets to the Senate, Senators Inouye and Akaka should do the same.

The measure's sponsor, Representative Tim Roemer, Democrat from Indiana, said: "On Sept. 11, the snakes slithered through the cracks in our intelligence, immigration, border control, aviation security and law enforcement agencies and succeeded in their deadly mission. To seal those cracks, we need a comprehensive investigation into all aspects of our government responsible for protecting Americans."

Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, a California Republican, agreed: "The intelligence community has become an arrogant and somewhat incompetent bureaucracy. The worse thing we can do is let them get away with not being held accountable for their failures by clothing themselves in a veil of secrecy."

Some individuals surely will be tempted to seek scapegoats, but those urges should be stoutly resisted. There's probably plenty of blame to go around, but what the voters and taxpayers really need to know is what went wrong and what can be done to fix it.

The Joint Intelligence Committee and President Bush oppose the independent commission, asserting that the intelligence committee can do the job. That sounds like one of those interminable turf fights that delay so much in Washington. Suggestion: Let proponents and opponents of an independent commission go into a room, lock the door and stay there until they find a compromise.

A question for whatever commission or committee does the investigation: Scholar Zachary Abuza, of Simmons College in Massachusetts, has produced a thoroughly researched study of the terrorist apparatus that pervades much of Southeast Asia. (Please see The Rising East column on page D5.) If a lone scholar supported by modest academic grants could turn out this striking assessment, how come the intelligence community, with an annual budget of $30 billion, couldn't do better?



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