- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 30, 2002

A consensus seems to be building, particularly among President Bush's critics, in favor of an outside investigation of the events leading up to the September 11 attacks. Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle and House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt, for example, have called for creation of an "independent" commission to study whether the attacks could have been prevented. The New York Times asserts that the situation is "too large and complex" to be left in the hands of the House and Senate intelligence committees, which are conducting a joint investigation. According to the Times, the intelligence panels' "complicity" in creating the pre-September 11 record and their "affinity for closed hearings" explain "why the White House favors working with them rather than an independent commission." What a bizarre idea closed hearings for intelligence matters.

Whether congressional intelligence panels, some outside blue-ribbon panel or a combination of the two take the lead, any investigation will be incomplete if it does not revisit the problematic decisions made by both parties in the 1990s and after which weakened U.S. intelligence services. These include the ill-conceived 1995 CIA guidelines, instituted by the since-disgraced agency director John Deutch, which made it much more difficult to aggressively recruit agents with an unsavory past the only type of individuals capable of infiltrating a terrorist group like al Qaeda.

A bipartisan National Commission on Terrorism, headed by L. Paul Bremer, a former U.S. ambassador for counterterrorism, issued a report in June 2000 which included a scathing critique of those guidelines, noting that they forced the CIA to rely much too heavily on foreign intelligence services for information. The Bremer panel, formed after the 1998 bombings of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, also found that the adoption of the Deutch guidelines "contributed to a marked decline in Agency morale unparalleled since the 1970s, and a significant number of case officers retired early or resigned" as a result.

The Bremer panel also recommended far-reaching changes to the controversial 1979 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), rammed through Congress by Democrats like Sens. Edward Kennedy and Birch Bayh and signed into law by President Carter, which has made it virtually impossible for the FBI to wiretap foreign terrorist suspects like Zacarias Moussaoui on American soil. Neither the Clinton administration nor the Bush administration saw fit to act on either of these recommendations prior to September 11. In fact, the Patriot Act passed by Congress last year retains FISA-type language, thanks to the efforts of Mr. Kennedy and Rep. John Conyers.

In recent weeks, Messrs. Gephardt and Daschle have been too busy second-guessing President Bush's briefing schedules last summer to speak about substantive reforms, like those suggested by the Bremer commission, that might actually thwart another September 11. Their Republican colleagues would do well to press them to come out of the closet and explain their position on the Bremer panel's proposed reforms.

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