Members of the Commission, with your help, your staff has developed initial findings regarding law enforcement and intelligence collection in the United States prior to the 9/11 attacks. These findings may help frame some of the issues to be discussed during this hearing and inform the development of your judgments and recommendations.
This statement reflects the results of our work so far. We remain ready to revise our understanding of this topic as our investigation progresses....
The FBI played the lead role in the government's domestic strategy before Sept. 11. In the 1990s, the FBI's counter-terrorism efforts against international terrorist organizations included both intelligence and criminal investigations. Consistent with its traditional law enforcement approach, most of the FBI's energy during this period was devoted to after-the-fact investigations of major terrorist attacks in order to develop criminal cases.
Investigating these attacks always required an enormous amount of resources. As most of these attacks occurred overseas, many of the FBI's top terrorism investigators were deployed abroad for long periods of time. New York was the "Office of Origin" for the Al Qaeda program and consequently where most of the FBI's institutional knowledge on Al Qaeda resided.... *
The FBI took a traditional law enforcement approach to counter-terrorism. Its agents were trained to build cases. Its management was deliberately decentralized to empower the individual field offices and agents on the street.
The bureau rewarded agents based on statistics reflecting arrests, indictments and prosecutions. As a result, fields such as counter-terrorism and counterintelligence, where investigations generally result in fewer prosecutions, were viewed as backwaters.
Agents developed information in support of their own cases, not as part of a broader, more strategic effort. Given the poor state of the FBI's information systems, field agents usually did not know what investigations agents in their own office, let alone in other field offices, were working on. Nor did analysts have easy access to this information. As a result, it was almost impossible to develop an understanding of the threat from a particular international terrorist group....
Former FBI officials told us that prior to 9/11, there was not sufficient national commitment or political will to dedicate the necessary resources to counter-terrorism. Specifically, they believed that neither Congress nor the Office of Management and Budget fully understood the FBI's counter-terrorism resource needs. Nor did the FBI receive all it requested from the Department of Justice, under Atty.Gen. Janet Reno.
Reno told us that the bureau never seemed to have sufficient resources given the broad scope of its responsibilities. She said in light of the appropriations FBI received, it needed to prioritize and put counter-terrorism first. She also said that Director [Louis J.] Freeh seemed unwilling to shift resources to terrorism from other areas such as violent crime. Finally, even though the number of agents devoted to counter-terrorism was limited, they were not always fully utilized in the field offices. We learned ... that prior to 9/11, field agents often were diverted from counter-terrorism or other intelligence work in order to cover ... criminal cases....
Certain provisions of federal law had been interpreted to limit communication between agents conducting intelligence investigations and the criminal prosecution units of the Department of Justice. This was done so that the broad powers for gathering intelligence would not be seized upon by prosecutors trying to make a criminal case. The separation of intelligence from criminal investigations became known as the "wall." New procedures issued by Reno in 1995 required the FBI to notify prosecutors when "facts and circumstances are developed" in a foreign intelligence or foreign counterintelligence investigation that "reasonably indicate a significant federal crime has been, is being, or may be committed." The procedures, however, prohibited the prosecutors from "directing or controlling" the intelligence investigation.
The FBI's new counter-terrorism strategy was not a focus of the Justice Department in 2001. Atty. Gen. [John] Ashcroft told us that upon his arrival at the department, he faced ... challenges that signaled the need for reform at the FBI. He mentioned the Ruby Ridge and Waco incidents, the Wen Ho Lee investigation, FBI agent Robert Hanssen's espionage, the late discovery of FBI documents related to the Timothy McVeigh case, and public disclosures about lost laptops and firearms.