WASHINGTON - Declaring that the United States is "safer but not safe'' from terrorism since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, a bipartisan national commission yesterday unanimously recommended a massive overhaul of the nation's intelligence system, including the way Congress deals with national security issues.
The 10-member National Commission on Terrorist Attacks on the United States, led by former Republican Gov. Thomas Kean of New Jersey and former Democratic Rep. Lee Hamilton of Indiana, said in its 567-page report that it's not clear that the attacks could have been prevented.
But the commission pointed to a number of "missed opportunities'' where U.S. intelligence agencies could have disrupted, and possibly averted, the plans of 19 terrorists who hijacked four planes and transformed them into deadly missiles.
The government for years failed to grasp the extreme gravity of the threat posed by al-Qaeda before the attacks and left the country's counterterrorism efforts to a disparate collection of uncoordinated, underfinanced, and dysfunctional government agencies, the report concluded.
"Across the government, there were failures of imagination, policy, capabilities, and management," the commission said, further stating that senior government officials were repeatedly warned about Osama bin Laden's intentions but failed to respond with an aggressive sense of national purpose.
"Terrorism was not the overriding national security concern for the U.S. government under either the Clinton or the pre-9/11 Bush administration," the report concluded.
All told, more than 2,900 people died in the attacks at the World Trade Center towers in New York, the Pentagon in Washington, and in a field in western Pennsylvania, where one of the
planes, United Flight 93 crashed before it could reach the U.S. Capitol or the White House.
At a news conference, commission members were blunt in their assessment that the United States must ready itself for more terrorist attacks. To counter the urgent, inevitable threat, the commission's recommendations must be enacted speedily, they added.
"The goal is to prevent future attacks,'' Mr. Kean said. "Every expert with whom we spoke told us an attack of even greater magnitude [than Sept. 11] is now possible and even probable.