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9/11 commissioner discusses report

Claire Heininger | Friday, October 8, 2004

In order to follow the example of the bipartisan Sept. 11 panel, Americans immersed in a red-state and blue-state mentality must overcome partisan politics to pressure the government into true intelligence reform, Tim Roemer, a Democratic member of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States and a former House member from Indiana, said Thursday.

Roemer, who holds an M.A. and Ph.D. from Notre Dame and represented South Bend for 12 years in the U.S. House of Representatives, urged the Jordan Auditorium audience to return to the unity felt during the tragic attacks’ aftermath.

“We’ve got a threat, and we need to act on it – that means all of America, not Republicans, not Democrats,” he said. “Duct tape and color codes have not worked particularly well. The American people are tough enough, smart enough to be involved and committed to [their own security.]”

A principal author of the legislation that created the National Commission on Terrorist Acts Upon the United States, Roemer highlighted the four failures identified in the report: a failure of imagination, in which the intelligence community did not assess the possibility of attacks within the United States’ borders; a failure of management, in which the director of the Central Intelligence Agency lacked the budgetary authority to be effective; a failure of capabilities, in which military options were confined to a cold-war mentality; and a failure of policy, in which neither the Clinton nor Bush administration put terrorism as its top priority.

Instead of using a “heads will roll” mindset to compensate for these failures, Roemer said the commission aimed for creating a global strategy to win the war on terror.

And he is sure that America’s resources – especially military, education and economic assistance – are up to the task.

“We need to use all the arrows in our quiver of American power and resources,” Roemer said, “… to convince the Arab and Muslim world that we will not tolerate [their religion] being twisted.”

Another major recommendation of the commission, which included five Democrats and five Republicans, was that the government create a cabinet-level national intelligence director, Roemer said.

“Too many times, we were close to connecting the dots … but we couldn’t draw them together,” he said. “Intelligence was like precious pearls – too precious to share.”

A director with the budgetary power to ensure sharing is essential, Roemer said – but not under the title that has thus far been popular with the press.

“You don’t create a czar, that’s the last thing he should be called,” the former Congressman said. “We need to create somebody with responsibility and accountability that can create a bridge between overseas and our country.”

That scenario would be much improved from the current one, he added.

If intelligence is not streamlined through the bureaucracy, Roemer said, our government will continue to be “an elephant chasing a snake.”

Roemer was also critical of Congress.

“It they can’t fix themselves, they have a have a hard time telling FBI and the CIA to fix their own problems,” he said.

Recalling the story of Flight 93 – which, due to the heroism of its passengers, crashed in a field in Pennsylvania, not into a national landmark in Washington – Roemer called those aboard “the first patriots and heroes of the war on terror.”

“They did that for us – now what can we do?” he asked. “It takes a lot of tenacity and courage to get change … We had such a great unity of spirit, unity of purpose, unity of values on September 11 and right after – and now we can have it back if we want it.”