Friday, July 23, 2004

9/11 panel calls Bush's actions feeble - commission warned "we are not safe"

9/11 panel calls leaders' actions feeble: "9/11 panel calls leaders' actions feeble

SEATTLE POST-INTELLIGENCER NEWS SERVICES

WASHINGTON -- America's leaders failed to grasp the gravity of terrorist threats before the devastating attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, taking actions so feeble they never even slowed the al-Qaida plotters, a national commission said in a blistering report Thursday.

In the report that reflected remarkable bipartisan unity, the five Democrats and five Republicans on the commission warned "we are not safe" -- and called for major intelligence changes. The report was released in the midst of a presidential campaign that already has been shaped by the events of Sept. 11, as well as by the controversy over President Bush's decision to go to war in Iraq.

In an exhaustive investigation of the deadliest attack in U.S. history, the commission noted numerous government missteps but did not cast blame on any official and stopped short of saying the hijackings could have been prevented.

While the panel did not fault President Bush or former President Clinton, it did say both failed to make anti-terrorism a top priority.

"We do not believe they fully understood just how many people al-Qaida might kill and how soon it might do it," the panel said in its unanimous findings.

"We also believe that they did not take it as seriously as it should be taken. It was not their top priority," Thomas Kean, the Republican chairman, said at a news conference with members of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States.

"We do believe both presidents could have done more in this area."

The final 567-page report largely mirrored the preliminary reports released during the commission's 20 months of investigation.

The report comes on the heels of House and Senate reports that documented U.S. intelligence failures and undermined the major claims cited by Bush to justify the war against Iraq. The commission report repeated its earlier preliminary findings that Saddam Hussein did not have a close relationship with al-Qaida and had nothing to do with the Sept. 11 attacks.



Still, in the days after the hijackings, some in the Bush administration were seeking to make that link, the commission found.

Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, in a Sept. 17, 2001, memo to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, wrote that if there was "even a 10 percent chance" that Saddam had a role in the attacks, "maximum priority should be placed on eliminating that threat."

Despite Wolfowitz's arguments, Rumsfeld issued a memo to Pentagon commanders Sept. 19 that addressed only al-Qaida, the Taliban and Afghanistan.

Bush initially opposed the creation of the commission, resisted the release of some documents and fought against letting National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice testify publicly under oath. Still, Kean thanked Bush for allowing "unprecedented access to documents and cooperation from your administration."

Republican leaders in the House and Senate have vowed to study the report closely but say there is little time to act on legislation before the general election in November. House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., expressed doubt that lawmakers would have time to consider sweeping reforms this year.

After reading the report, several family members of Sept. 11 victims said they felt vindicated by the commission's scathing criticism of the government's intelligence and law-enforcement agencies, and they vowed to pressure Congress and the White House to adopt the commission's recommendations, much as they lobbied for creation of the panel two years ago.

"The families know that this is an election year. We're going to hold these people's feet to the fire," said Debra Burlingame, whose brother Charles was the pilot of the hijacked plane that struck the Pentagon. Nearly 3,000 people were killed when 19 Arab hijackers flew airliners into New York's Twin Towers, the Pentagon and the Pennsylvania countryside.

The report portrayed the Sept. 11 terrorists as sure-footed and determined while the nation they were preparing to strike was unprepared, sluggish and uncomprehending of the imminent danger.

"Across the government, there were failures of imagination, policy, capabilities and management," the commission concluded in its indictment, which documented a series of missed opportunities by the CIA and FBI to uncover the Sept. 11 plot.

Three years later, Americans are safer because of improvements in homeland security and the war against terrorists, the report said. "But we are not safe."

"Every expert with whom we spoke told us an attack of even greater magnitude is now possible and even probable," Kean said. "We do not have the luxury of time."

The report said that as the Sept. 11 plot advanced, the government was bogged down in an outdated Cold War mentality, lacking imagination to deal with new threats or recognize the looming danger.

"What we can say with confidence is that none of the measures adopted by the U.S. government from 1998 to 2001 disturbed or even delayed the progress of the al-Qaida plot," the report said.

Commission co-Chairman Lee Hamilton, a former Democratic congressman from Indiana, said a key finding was that no one in government was in charge of ensuring that intelligence agencies pool resources, avoid duplication and plan jointly to keep America safe. To unify efforts, the commission recommended creating a national counterterrorism center.

It also recommended a Cabinet-level national intelligence director to centralize efforts now spread over 15 agencies in six Cabinet departments, including the CIA.

The intelligence director's office would take substantial power away from the CIA, the FBI and the Pentagon, and it would essentially strip the National Security Council of its role in coordinating the actions of intelligence agencies.

Under the commission's proposals, the CIA would cede authority to the Defense Department for control over paramilitary operations, another effort by the panel to end fragmentation among agencies in the government's war on terrorism. The panel also urged lifting the shroud of secrecy about how much money is spent for national intelligence operations.

"A critical theme that emerged throughout our inquiry was the difficulty of answering the question: Who is in charge?" said Hamilton.

In assessing the performance of Congress, the commission said that lawmakers "responded slowly to the rise of transnational terrorism as a threat to national security" in the years before Sept. 11 and that oversight of intelligence and counterterrorism issues was "dysfunctional" and divided among too committees.

The panel recommended that Congress either create a joint House-Senate committee on intelligence, with budget authority over all of the nation's intelligence agencies, or provide that authority to a single committee in each house.

The commission identified nine "specific points of vulnerability" in the Sept. 11 plot that might have led to its disruption had the government been more watchful. Despite these opportunities, "we cannot know whether any single step or series of steps would have defeated" the hijackers, the report concluded.

Some members have speculated the attacks could have been stopped. "We do not know," Kean said. "We think it's possible. But we have not drawn that absolute conclusion because we don't believe that absolute conclusion is justified by the facts."

The panel also said it did not find evidence that Iran, Iraq's neighbor, had advance knowledge of al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden's plans or that Saudi Arabia's government had a role in the terror conspiracy, which involved 15 Saudi hijackers.

The report did not dwell on questions of how civil liberties might be affected by tightened anti-terrorism efforts, although it called for the government to be sensitive to the issue and to the need for humane treatment of foreign citizens detained in counterterrorism operations abroad.

Former Washington Sen. Slade Gorton, the only commission member from the West, described the report as a combination of definitive, objective history and far-reaching recommendations for changes designed to better shield the nation from further terrorist attacks.

Gorton said he's confident that the commission has the credibility and the tenacity to help lobby the changes through Congress and the White House.

"We based all of our recommendations on the facts and realized that to engage in the blame game would have split us up and reduced the overall effectiveness," Gorton said."

JBOC: Friday Sermon: Rafsanjani accuses US of nurturing Al Qaeda and Taliban

JBOC: Friday Sermon: Rafsanjani accuses US of nurturing Al Qaeda and Taliban

"Friday Sermon: Rafsanjani accuses US of nurturing Al Qaeda and Taliban
Daily Times - Site Edition: "Rafsanjani accuses US of nurturing Al Qaeda and Taliban

TEHRAN: One of Iran’s most powerful clerics made a stinging rebuttal on Friday of allegations from the United States that the Islamic republic may have been linked to the September 11, 2001 attacks.

In his weekly Friday sermon, former president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani also accused the United States of ignoring Iranian warnings of a growing Al Qaeda and Taliban threat before the strikes on New York and Washington.

The comments from the charismatic cleric, still one of Iran’s most influential figures, came after a national commission in Washington probing hijackings spotlighted alleged ties between Al Qaeda and Iran. The panel said Tehran operatives maintained contacts with Al Qaeda for years and may have provided transit for at least eight of the 19 hijackers."

: "Iran next on US hit list?
Chong Zi
2004-07-24 06:23


US President George W. Bush has found a new target for his second term if he is re-elected in November.
It is Iraq's neighbour, Iran.
Tensions between the United States and Iran are building.
On Thursday the bipartisan panel probing the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington cleared Iraq of links to the 'operational' masterminds, which was previously used as an excuse to justify war against Baghdad. But the panel's report spotlighted Iran's links to the al-Qaida organization.
The commissioners ruled out any direct involvement by Iraq or its former President Saddam Hussein in the attacks, instead reserving their most accusatory tone for Iran another member of Bush's so-called 'axis of evil.'
The panel said Iranian operatives maintained contacts with al-Qaida for years and may have provided transit for at least eight of the 19 men who crashed hijacked airliners into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
The commission said that 'intelligence indicates the persistence of contacts between Iranian security officials and senior al-Qaida figures' after Osama bin Laden returned to Afghanistan from Sudan in 1996.
Before the report was released, Iran's alleged links were widely covered by the US media.
Time and Newsweek, in similar reports quoting congressional, commission and government sources, reported that Iran relaxed border controls and provided 'clean' passports for the so-called 'muscle hijackers' to travel to and from bin Laden's camps between October 2000 and February 2001.
Newsweek said the Iranian finding in the commission's report is based largely on a December 2001 memo discovered buried in the files of the US National Security Agency.
The memo, according to Newsweek"

Rafsanjani: Iran Rejects Accusations Over Sept. 11 Attacks

Top News Article | Reuters.com: "Iran Rejects Accusations Over Sept. 11 Attacks
Fri Jul 23, 2004 12:20 PM ET


By Parinoosh Arami
TEHRAN, Iran (Reuters) - Iran Friday dismissed U.S. accusations that it may have been linked to the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and called the charges part of a cover-up to divert attention from Washington's failures in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The Sept. 11 commission report Thursday blamed Iran for its role in facilitating the transit of some of the al Qaeda members out of the country before the attacks. It also said there was strong evidence that Iran "facilitated the transit of al Qaeda members into and out of Afghanistan before 9/11, and that some of these were future 9/11 hijackers."

Former Iranian President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani told worshipers: "America has no choice but to blame another country for its failure in fighting terrorism and its failures in Afghanistan and Iraq."

The 567-page final report, issued unanimously by the 10-member commission, said there was no evidence that the Iranians were aware of the planning for the attack. "At the time they traveled through Iran, even the hijackers themselves were probably not aware of the full details of the plan," it said. Rafsanjani, a top adviser to Iran's most powerful figure Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, acknowledged some al Qaeda members may have crossed Iran's borders with neighboring Afghanistan unnoticed. "Suppose it is true that eight of them passed through Iran, but is it a case against Iran? How many other countries have they passed on their way to America?" he asked in a Friday prayers sermon in Tehran broadcast live.

NUCLEAR FEARS

Shi'ite Muslim Iran says it was always ideologically opposed to the Sunni al Qaeda network and denies providing safe haven to al Qaeda fugitives. Rafsanjani, who heads Iran's top arbitration body, the Expediency Council, chided Washington for backing the Islamic militants to counter Iran's revolution. "America cannot evade its responsibility and blame others for its crimes. America created the al Qaeda and Taliban to undermine us," he said.

The commission's report pointed to "deep institutional failings" and missed opportunities to thwart the hijackings by al Qaeda, which killed almost 3,000 people in 2001. As well as its concerns that Iran is a supporter of terrorism, there is a growing fear in the United States that Tehran is determined to become a nuclear power.

Washington accuses Iran of trying to develop nuclear arms -- which Iran denies -- and failing to fully disclose its atomic programs to the International Atomic Energy Agency. The Vienna-base agency could refer the issue to the U.N. Security Council which in turn could impose sanctions on Iran."

CIA points to continuing Iran tie to al Qaeda - The Washington Times: Nation/Politics - July 23, 2004

CIA points to continuing Iran tie to al Qaeda - The Washington Times: Nation/Politics - July 23, 2004: "CIA points to continuing Iran tie to al Qaeda

By Bill Gertz
THE WASHINGTON TIMES

A senior CIA official has revealed that al Qaeda operatives in Iran probably had advance knowledge of recent terrorist attacks, a sign that the cooperation between Tehran and al Qaeda is continuing since September 11.
"There have been al Qaeda people who have stayed for some time in Iran ... and because they have been in touch with colleagues outside of Iran at times when operations have occurred, it's hard to imagine that they were unwitting of those operations," the senior official said.

"And it's not hard to make the leap that they may have had at least some operational knowledge. It's harder to make the leap that they were directing operations like that."
The senior official spoke to reporters on the findings of the September 11 commission. The commission's report provides new details of Iranian government support for al Qaeda, including travel assistance to several of the hijackers involved in the 2001 airline attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon.
U.S. intelligence officials have said that a senior al Qaeda operations official, Sayf al-Adl, has been in Iran since 2002. He has been linked to the terrorist attacks in Saudi Arabia in May, and to the 1998 bombings of U.S. embassies in Africa.
The commission inquiry revealed that captured al Qaeda leaders Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and Ramzi Binalshibh disclosed to interrogators that at least eight of the September 11 hijackers "transited Iran" on the way to Afghanistan, "taking advantage of the Iranian practice of not stamping Saudi passports," the nearly 600-page report stated.
Both terrorists said that ease of travel was the only reason the hijackers went to Iran and they denied any ties between al Qaeda and Hezbollah, an Iranian-backed terrorist group.
"In sum, there is strong evidence that Iran facilitated the transit of al Qaeda members into and out of Afghanistan before 9/11, and that some of these were future 9/11 hijackers," the report said.
The report of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States also said senior Hezbollah terrorists knew about the al Qaeda members' travels to Iran.
The report said no evidence was found that Iran or Hezbollah were aware of the planning of the September 11 attacks.
"At the time of their travel through Iran, the al Qaeda operatives themselves were probably not aware of the specific details of their future operation," the report said. "After 9/11, Iran and Hezbollah wished to conceal any past evidence of cooperation with Sunni terrorists associated with al Qaeda."
The commission concluded that "we believe this topic requires further investigation by the U.S. government."
The senior CIA official confirmed that the al Qaeda hijackers had traveled through Iran but said details of Tehran's backing for the travel are not clear.
"I don't think we know that this was a deliberate Iranian policy, that is, a sanctioned policy at the highest levels of the Iranian government," the senior official said.
U.S. intelligence officials have said Iran's Ministry of Intelligence and Security, and the Qods Division of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, a unit of hard-line Islamist shock troops, are deeply involved in supporting terrorists, including al Qaeda.
The report also disclosed that "intelligence indicates the persistence of contacts between Iranian security officials and senior al Qaeda figures after [Osama] bin Laden's return to Afghanistan [in 1997]."
The commission report also said that captured al Qaeda terrorist Waleed bin Attash, known as Khallad, disclosed that Iran's government "made a concerted effort to strengthen relations with al Qaeda" after the October 2000 attack on the destroyer USS Cole in Aden harbor, Yemen.
According to the report, bin Laden rebuffed the offer from the Shi'ite regime in Iran because of fears that the cooperation would alienate Sunni supporters in Saudi Arabia.
"Khallad and other detainees have described the willingness of Iranian officials to facilitate the travel of al Qaeda members through Iran, on their way to and from Afghanistan," the report said.
Iranian border inspectors helped the terrorists by not placing travel stamps on passports, which allowed Saudi members to return to Saudi Arabia and not have their passports confiscated by Saudi authorities.
The report noted there is "evidence suggesting that eight to 10 of the 14 Saudi 'muscle' operatives traveled into or out of Iran between October 2000 and February 2001."
Intelligence information showed that senior al Qaeda leaders in Sudan during the 1990s "maintained contacts with Iran and the Iranian-supported worldwide terrorist organization Hezbollah," the report said."

MSNBC - Rafsanjani said Americans should blame their government

MSNBC - Iran, Saudi Arabia laud 9/11 report:

"Iran, Saudi Arabia laud 9/11 report
Countries find exoneration in conclusions drawn by U.S. probeThe Associated Press
Updated: 9:29 a.m. ET July 23, 2004TEHRAN, Iran - Iran's powerful former president told Friday worshippers chanting "Death to America" that there was nothing in the Sept. 11 commission report to incriminate Iran, while Saudi Arabia also found exoneration in conclusions drawn by the U.S. investigation into the deadliest assault on American soil.

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The commission report, which followed a 20-month independent investigation, said intelligence points to contacts between Iranian security officials and senior al-Qaida figures. It also found Iran allowed eight to 10 of the Sept. 11 hijackers to pass through its territory on their way from Afghanistan and other countries without stamping their passports. While the commissioners said no evidence had been found that conservative, Shiite Muslim Iran was aware extremist, Sunni Muslim al-Qaida was planning the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on New York and Washington, "we believe this topic requires further investigation by the U.S. government."

On Saudi Arabia, the commissioners said they found no evidence the Saudi government directly contributed money to al-Qaida or its Saudi-born leader Osama bin Laden. They also said Saudi Arabia itself was threatened by the terror network, which accuses the Saudi royal family of being insufficiently Islamic. But the panel criticized what it saw as lack of Saudi cooperation with U.S. investigators of al-Qaida before the Sept. 11 attacks and called the kingdom "a problematic ally in combating Islamic extremism."

The commissioners said the United States must: "confront problems with Saudi Arabia in the open and build a relationship beyond oil, a relationship that both sides can defend to their citizens and includes a shared commitment to reform."

Saudi ambassador ignores criticism
In his government's first response to the report, the Saudi ambassador to Washington, Prince Bandar, ignored the criticism. In a statement on his embassy's Web site Thursday, he pointed to the commission's findings that the Saudi government had not funded al-Qaida and was pursuing bin Laden and concluded the commission "has confirmed what we have been saying all along. The clear statements by this independent, bipartisan commission have debunked the myths that have cast fear and doubt over Saudi Arabia."

During his sermon at weekly prayers in Tehran, former Iranian President Hashemi Rafsanjani sounded a similar theme.

"First of all, we don't know whether they (al-Qaida hijackers) passed through Iran ... every day thousands of people come and go ... such people usually carry false passports. Moreover, many can illegally cross the border. It has been always like this," Rafsanjani said.

"Even if it's true that they have passed through Iran, can you really incriminate Iran with this bit of information?" he said in a sermon that drew chants of "Death to America" from the thousands of worshippers.

Rafsanjani, still a key figure in Iran, also accused Washington of creating extremist Sunni Muslim al-Qaida to fight mainly Shiite Iran and weaken both Islamic factions. America's critics often point to U.S. support of a war on Afghanistan's Soviet invaders as proof it helped create al-Qaida. Bin Laden was among the thousands of Arab fighters inspired by Islamic fervor to fight in Afghanistan.

Rafsanjani said Americans should blame their government for failing to uncover the plot and protect Americans instead of pointing fingers at others. "

DallasNews.com | Charles Krauthammer: Iran a tougher challenge

DallasNews.com | News for Dallas, Texas | Opinion: Viewpoints: "Charles Krauthammer: Iran a tougher challenge

By CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER

Did we invade the wrong country? One of the lessons now being drawn from the 9-11 report is that Iran was the real threat. It had links to al-Qaeda, allowed some of the 9-11 hijackers to transit through, and is harboring al-Qaeda leaders. The Iraq war critics have a new line of attack: We should have done Iran instead of Iraq.

Well, of course Iran is a threat and a danger. But how exactly would the critics have "done" Iran? Iran is a serious country with a serious army. Compared to Iraq, an invasion of Iran would have been infinitely more costly.

If not war, what then? We know the central foreign policy principle of Bush critics: multilateralism. They promise to "rejoin the community of nations" and "work with our allies."

Well, that is exactly what we have been doing on Iran. And the policy is an abject failure. The Bush administration, having decided that invading one axis-of-evil country was about as much as either the military or the country can bear, has gone multilateral on Iran. Washington delegated the issue to a committee of three – the foreign ministers of Britain, France and Germany – that has been meeting with the Iranians to get them to shut down their nuclear program.

The result? Iran is caught red-handed with illegally enriched uranium, and the Tehran Three prevail upon the Bush administration to do nothing while they persuade the mullahs to act nice. We do not impose sanctions. We do not begin squeezing Iran to give up its nuclear program.

Instead, we give Iran more time to swoon before the persuasive powers of "Jack of Tehran" – British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw – until finally, humiliatingly, Iran announces that it will resume enriching uranium and that nothing will prevent it from becoming a member of the "nuclear club."

The fact is that the war critics have nothing to offer on the single most urgent issue of our time – rogue states in pursuit of weapons of mass destruction. Iran instead of Iraq? The Iraq critics would have done nothing about either country. There would today be two major Islamic countries sitting on an ocean of oil, supporting terrorism and seeking weapons of mass destruction – instead of one.

Two years ago there were five countries supporting terror and pursuing WMDs – two junior-leaguers, Libya and Syria, and the axis-of-evil varsity: Iraq, Iran and North Korea. The Bush administration has just eliminated two: Iraq, by direct military means, and Libya, by example and intimidation.

Syria is weak and deterred by Israel. North Korea, having gone nuclear, is untouchable. That leaves Iran. What to do? There are only two things that will stop the Iranian nuclear program: revolution from below or an attack on its nuclear facilities.

The country should be ripe for revolution. The regime is detested. But the mullahs are very good at police-state tactics. The long-awaited revolution is not happening.

Which makes the question of pre-emptive attack all the more urgent. Iran will go nuclear during the next presidential term. Some Americans wishfully think that the Israelis will do the dirty work for us, as in 1981 when they destroyed Saddam Hussein's nuclear reactor. But for Israel, attacking Iran is a far more difficult proposition.

There may be no deus ex machina. If nothing is done, a fanatical terrorist regime openly dedicated to the destruction of the "Great Satan" will have both nuclear weapons and the terrorists and missiles to deliver them. All that stands between us and that is either revolution or pre-emptive strike.

Both of which, by the way, are far more likely to succeed with 146,000 American troops and highly sophisticated aircraft standing by just a few miles away – in Iraq.

Charles Krauthammer writes for The Washington Post. His e-mail address is letters@charleskrauthammer.com"

Asia Times - Pentagon on the defensive

Asia Times - Asia's most trusted news source: "Pentagon on the defensive
By Jim Lobe

WASHINGTON - Capping 18 months of work, the bipartisan 9-11 Commission released its 567-page report here on Thursday, and challenged President George W Bush and Congress urgently to make sweeping changes to the structure of the US intelligence community. One major recommendation is sure to rankle the Pentagon and its chief, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.

The report's central recommendations called for the creation of a National Counter-Terrorism Center (NCTC) that would feature joint operational planning and intelligence-sharing across different government agencies and, more controversial, the position of a National Intelligence Director (NID) who would oversee the 15 different agencies that make up Washington's vast intelligence apparatus.

Such a post, which would require confirmation by the US Senate and be given space in the White House, is certain to be strongly resisted by the Pentagon, which currently controls about 80% of the estimated US$40 billion intelligence budget and focuses most of those resources on spying on foreign militaries rather than on suspected terrorist groups.

"Our reform recommendations are urgent," said former Illinois governor James Thompson, one of the Republican members of the 10-person National Commission on Terrorist Attacks upon the United States. "They need to be enacted, and enacted speedily, because if something bad happens while these recommendations are sitting there, the American people will quickly fix political responsibility for failure, and that responsibility may last for generations," he warned.

Bush met with the commission co-chairs, former New Jersey Republican governor Tom Kean and former Democratic congressman Lee Hamilton, in the White House just before the report's official release, and praised the group for "a really good job", promising to study their "very solid, sound recommendations". His Democratic rival for the presidency, Senator John Kerry, issued a statement endorsing its conclusions and calling for their urgent implementation.

"I received an initial briefing on the report from Tom Kean and Lee Hamilton this morning," Kerry said. "We have a big agenda for reforms and no time to lose in tackling them," he added, noting that Republican Senator John McCain and Democratic Senator Joseph Lieberman intended to introduce legislation that, if enacted, would translate the key recommendations into law.

In a joint press conference one hour later, McCain and Lieberman said they will ask Congress to convene a special session this autumn, if necessary, to move their legislation.

The independent commission, whose creation and mandate were initially resisted by the Bush administration, reviewed tens of thousands of documents and heard testimony from some 1,200 witnesses, including Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney - who insisted, however, on appearing jointly and behind closed doors - as well as senior members of the Bush government and that of his predecessor Bill Clinton.

The main findings of the long-awaited report came as little surprise, as much of it has leaked out since the commission issued an initial staff report last month. The commission said it found no evidence of an Iraqi connection to the attacks of September 11, nor any evidence of any "collaborative operational relationship" between the al-Qaeda terrorist group and the government of former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein. "Conversations, yes; but nothing concrete," said Hamilton.

An alleged link between Saddam and al-Qaeda was one of the Bush administration's most-repeated arguments to justify attacking Iraq in March 2003.

Similarly, the commission found no evidence of a role by the governments of Saudi Arabia and Iran with respect to the September 11 attacks, although it did find evidence that Iran may have had an operational relationship with al-Qaeda at one time - an allegation that has already provoked renewed tensions between Washington and Tehran.

"We don't know of any current relationship," said Kean. "We do know that when people wanted to get through Iran to Afghanistan to meet with Osama bin Laden, including a number of the [September 11] hijackers, they were able to do [that] without marks in their passports that would indicate they'd been through Iran. But there is no evidence whatsoever, for instance, that Iran knew anything about the attack on [September] 11 or certainly assisted it in any way."

But the main thrust of the report was on how the intelligence community failed to "connect the dots" about the threat posed by al-Qaeda, and specifically the hijackings of the jetliners used for suicide attacks on New York and the Pentagon on September 11, a plan that appears to have been hatched as early as 1998, the report said.

"Ninety percent of the facts that we knew about [al-Qaeda leader] Osama bin Laden we knew in 1998," said former Democratic senator Bob Kerrey, another commissioner. "But the full story wasn't delivered until after [September 11 because] it was held in classified compartmentalized sections" of the government.

Many critics have charged that Washington failed to detect and disrupt the attacks, which killed nearly 3,000 people, in major part because most US intelligence resources were focused on potential conventional military threats as opposed to unconventional threats, such as those posed by al-Qaeda.

Indeed, the commission identified 10 "unexploited opportunities" before the attacks - four under the Clinton administration and six in the first eight months of the Bush administration - when, if the relevant agencies had known what other agencies had known, the government could have discovered, delayed, or disrupted the plot.

"We need changes in information sharing," said Hamilton. "The United States government has access to vast amounts of information, but it has a weak system of processing and using [it]. 'Need to share' must replace 'need to know'."

That would be the primary purpose of establishing the NCTC. As for the creation of the NID, the consequences of such a move would be enormous, not only altering the focus of US intelligence gathering and reducing the Pentagon's control, but also scrambling powerful and jealous congressional committees, several of which oversee different parts of the intelligence community.

The enormity of the task prompted Kerry to say that, while "hopeful", he was "not optimistic that these changes will be enacted prior to another terrorist attack on the United States".

"It will require members of Congress to give up committee assignments that ... they love," he said. "It will require, in the government, people to give up authority that they currently have over hiring budgets. The Department of Defense, most notably, will be asked to give up substantial authorities."

Indeed, Rumsfeld has strongly opposed any move to create a NID, an idea that has long been pushed by Brent Scowcroft, the former national security adviser under former president George H W Bush (1989-93), who chaired a presidential commission on the subject in the late 1990s.

Until now, Rumsfeld has succeeded in keeping the proposal at bay, but the commission's weighing in so strongly on the question could help tip the balance in Congress, if not in the administration.

The commission's work before now had already won widespread praise, not only because of the exceptional bipartisanship that characterized its public appearances - a striking contrast to the increasingly bitter partisan polarization taking place in Washington in an election year - but also as a result of the strong public backing it received from the families of the victims of the September 11 attacks.

On several occasions, the administration and the Republican leadership in Congress were forced to cave in to the commission's demands for documents or for an extension in completing its work.

A survey by the Pew Center for People and the Press released this week indicated that more than 60% of the public had confidence in the commission's work, compared with only 24% who did not - a level of support that commission members clearly hope will be used to press Congress and the administration on the reforms."

The Hawks and the Doves Are Aflutter Over U.S. Iran Policy - Blame Iran for everything.

The Hawks and the Doves Are Aflutter Over U.S. Iran Policy: "The Hawks and the Doves Are Aflutter Over U.S. Iran Policy
Bush should stop bashing Tehran and seek better relations.


COMMENTARY

By William O. Beeman
The Bush administration is now under fire daily for the debacles in Iraq and Afghanistan. It also faces criticism for its failings in preparing for and reacting to the tragedy of Sept. 11. Consequently it has adopted a tried-and-true ploy of muddying the waters to deflect negative press: Blame Iran for everything.

On Saturday, President Bush stated that although the CIA had found "no direct connection between Iran and the attacks of Sept. 11," nevertheless "we will continue to look and see if the Iranians were involved."

But why? Although the 9/11 commission found some connections between Iran and Al Qaeda and determined that some of the Sept. 11 hijackers may have been allowed to travel through Iran, it did not find any evidence that Iranian officials collaborated on the Sept. 11 plot. The accusations against Iran are a diversion, and they do not stop with Sept. 11. Resident analysts at the neoconservative, right-wing American Enterprise Institute and other similar bodies have tried to blame Iran for the faulty intelligence presented by the Bush administration to justify the Iraq war. The scenario is this: Iran wanted the United States to remove its old enemy, Saddam Hussein. Iranian intelligence therefore worked through the Defense Department's now-discredited leader-in-waiting, Ahmad Chalabi, to provide false information to U.S. officials about weapons of mass destruction.

Iran has also been accused of supporting Iraqi cleric Muqtada Sadr and his Al Mahdi militia in their opposition to the U.S. occupation. The accusation came from neoconservative pundit Michael Rubin, who until recently was an advisor to the U.S.-led Coalition Provisional Authority. Rubin has laid out to the Department of Defense and to the public in the National Review Online a baroque set of connections between Iran and Sadr tenuously based on family and personal relations. Predictably, the headlines that followed were versions of "Iran supports Sadr rebellion!"

Such "guilt by accusation" constitutes a long-standing practice of administration officials and their think-tank surrogates. Because Iran already has been demonized in the public mind, the administration hopes that any accusation against it will be treated as fact. And the notion is likely to be cemented by repetition. The president's announcement that Iran should be investigated will no doubt be followed by administration spokespeople casually mentioning in interviews and news conferences that Iran seems to have been involved in killing Americans on Sept. 11.

At one time it seemed that the administration was trumping up charges against Iran in advance of a military action against it. Now it is clear that any idea of military action has been put aside as impractical, as indeed it is. This new round of Iran-bashing is not a prelude to another invasion of a Persian Gulf country but rather a political ploy in an election year. The accusations, it seems clear, could help rouse the American electorate and provide another demonstration of Bush's resolve to resist evil in the world. They certainly have no effect on Iran, except to increase that country's hostility toward the United States.

The administration may not be able to keep this game up indefinitely. The Council on Foreign Relations issued a sober, thorough report on Tuesday, titled "Iran: Time for a New Approach," that calls the tension between the United States and Iran into question. The report recognizes Iran as a "critical actor in the postwar evolution" of Afghanistan and Iraq, and as an "indispensable player in the world economy." It asserts that the U.S. and Iran have significant mutual interests that must be dealt with on a regular basis. And it advocates abandonment of the policy of estrangement and recommends "limited or selective engagement with the current Iranian government."

The co-chairmen of the report are Zbigniew Brzezinski, former national security advisor to President Carter, and Robert M. Gates, former director of the CIA. Neither of these men could be construed as doves or pro-Iranian sympathizers.

It would be irresponsible of Bush to ignore this report, but it will be difficult for him to implement its recommendation of engagement while he and his supporters keep attacking the Islamic Republic of Iran with little justification. Let us hope that the Council on Foreign Relations report will be the occasion for the White House to work toward developing a helpful and productive relationship with Iran. The world will be better for it.

William O. Beeman is professor of anthropology and director of Middle East studies at Brown University. He is author of the forthcoming "Double Demons: Cultural Impediments to U.S.-Iranian Understanding.""

Seattle Post-Intelligencer: AP - Middle East: Iraq border issue reveals Iran concerns

Seattle Post-Intelligencer: AP - Middle East: Iraq border issue reveals Iran concerns: "Iraq border issue reveals Iran concerns

By SUSAN SEVAREID
ASSOCIATED PRESS WRITER

CAIRO, Egypt -- Iran is eager to work with senior Arab security officials on stopping the flow of foreign fighters into Iraq, a sign that Tehran wants a role in sculpting the new Iraq and is concerned about accusations it harbors terrorists, analysts say.

The new cooperation also shows just how much fear there is of an unstable Iraq, a stronger Islamic extremist network and an angry United States in a region where regimes often shelter each other's opponents.

On Wednesday, Iraq proposed an eight-nation conference to discuss the issue and Iran agreed to host it. Iraq's five other neighbors and Egypt also will attend, but no date has been set.

Such a gathering in Tehran would be unprecedented after decades of animosity between Iran and some of the nations it has invited - including a 1980-1988 war with Iraq. But it is expected to be only the first of regular meetings.

Officials realize it may take time for high-level exchanges to have any calming effect on Iraq, where foreign fighters and Iraqi insurgents are fighting U.S.-led forces and the U.S.-backed interim government.



Still, Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari and Europe's envoy to the region both said they were satisfied, for now. The EU's Javier Solana, who was in Cairo to encourage Iraq's neighbors to help, said "things are going at the pace they can go."

Iranian analysts say Iran's offer to host the meeting is a message, especially to the United States, that Iran understands al-Qaida is a threat to Iraq and itself, and that it wants the situation in Iraq to improve.

"Iran wants to show that it is willing to have a better and more positive position on Iraq," said Saeed Laylaz, a political and security analyst in Tehran. "It is, of course, a message to the new Iraqi government and the United States (that) al-Qaida is a threat ... but it is also a card in a game ... (in which) we are trying to keep a very sensitive balance."

Laylaz noted Iran, Iraq and Turkey all have political, ethnic and religious interests in Iraq and a history of supporting each other's opposition groups. "They are all strong enough to destabilize each other, and they are all threatened by al-Qaida," he said.

It is in their interest, he said, "to keep each other peaceful and satisfied."

Davoud Hermidas Bavand, a professor of international law and former Iranian diplomat, said holding the meeting in Iran indicates Tehran can play a key role in Iraq's political development.

Iraq has asked its other direct neighbors as well - Turkey, Jordan, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia - to ensure secure borders, and has said Saudis and Jordanians as well as Iranians, Syrians and Egyptians are among foreign fighters detained in Iraq.

The biggest problem has been the long, porous borders with Iran and Syria. Also, Iran's influence in Iraq - which like Iran is predominantly Shiite Muslim - is far greater than Syria's, so it makes sense to have Iran take a leading role in high-level security cooperation, Laylaz said.

In recent weeks, the United States has stepped up demands on Iran do more to stop foreign fighters from crossing into Iraq and accused Tehran of meddling.

Tehran doesn't deal directly with Washington - which accuses it of trying to build a nuclear bomb and, in a report released Thursday, of providing safe passage to the al-Qaida terrorists who carried out the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.

But Iran has deported terror suspects to countries in the Islamic world that are on good terms with the United States.

Conflicting political, religious and ethnic interests and vastly different relationships with Washington have made it difficult for Arab nations to cooperate on Iraq. The task is compounded by their suspicions of the interim Iraqi government, which Iran and Syria consider a Washington puppet regime.

Zebari said Arab leaders welcomed Iraq's proposal for cooperation because they know that giving militants full rein to flourish now could hurt them in the future.

"They recognize that the situation can backfire on them. There is a limit on how far they can be indifferent," Zebari told The Associated Press. "I made that point very clear to them."

But he acknowledges getting the government ministers and security chiefs together, deciding what steps to take, sharing the necessary information and ultimately getting results on the ground will take time.

In the meantime, Zebari said, Iraq will continue to insist on other, unspecified steps to stem the flow of foreign fighters.

"All of them accepted to work with us on this issue, so it's up to us, really, to go back to them and approach them specifically on our requirements," he said. "And I think they will cooperate.""