The New York Times
July 19, 2004
ASHINGTON, July 18 - Members of the independent Sept. 11 commission say they will mount an aggressive nationwide lobbying campaign to pressure the White House and Congress to overhaul the nation's intelligence agencies, an effort they say will begin this week with release of a unanimous final report criticizing virtually every element of the way the government collects and shares intelligence.
The lobbying effort would be a break with tradition, since blue-ribbon federal commissions often disband almost as soon as they have completed a final report, the members returning home from Washington and leaving the report to speak for itself.
Members of the Sept. 11 commission say they have decided that given the gravity of terrorist threats that the nation continues to face, they cannot allow their recommendations to be ignored, especially since President Bush has already said he is willing to consider a shakeup of intelligence agencies and Congress is already considering several proposals that mirror the commission's expected recommendations.
"I believe we have the perfect storm," said Timothy J. Roemer, a Democratic member of the commission and a former House member from Indiana.
He noted that the Sept. 11 report would be made public only two weeks after the release of a blistering Senate Intelligence Committee report that found that the Central Intelligence Agency and other intelligence agencies had systematically overstated the threat posed by Iraq before last year's invasion.
The bipartisan Senate report brought new calls for an overhaul of the C.I.A., which is also expected to be a central target of criticism by the Sept. 11 commission. Mr. Roemer said the commission's report, which is expected to be made public on Thursday, would add to the momentum for change.
"We've said many times that the Congress and the executive branch will have to make serious changes, and I expect that the 9/11 commissioners will be part of that process," Mr. Roemer said in explaining the panel's lobbying plans. "Now, for us, the hard work begins."
In interviews, commissioners said they were preparing a series of appearances on Capitol Hill through the summer and fall. That effort will be matched outside Washington with speaking engagements, television and radio appearances and promotional efforts linked to a private mass-market authorized version of the report that is expected to reach stores around the country within hours of its release in Washington.
While the White House has said it is receptive to the panel's findings, it is not clear that the Bush administration will welcome a lobbying campaign by the commission to promote its report in the midst of the presidential campaign.
The report is expected to document intelligence and law enforcement failures that occurred in the Bush and Clinton administrations. Republican campaign strategists have long said they fear that Democrats will seize on the report to question why Mr. Bush and his deputies did not respond more aggressively in the spring and summer of 2001 to intelligence warnings of an imminent, possibly catastrophic terrorist attack.
John F. Lehman, a Republican commissioner who was Navy secretary in the Reagan administration, said the commission was eager to keep its report and its subsequent lobbying efforts above presidential politics.
"I think there is now broad acceptance across the political spectrum of the need for fundamental change," Mr. Lehman said. "This report cannot be interpreted as any attack on the Bush administration. These are problems that are very longstanding."
He said that President Bush would almost certainly want to respond to criticism of his performance by pointing to any evidence in the report suggesting that the Clinton administration had also done too little to deal with terrorist threats.
"The Bush campaign will be making the case that there were eight years of dramatic evidence that this threat was aimed at the United States," Mr. Lehman said. "The thrust of our report is not to try to place blame relative to one administration or the other, but just to state the facts. We can't help how people interpret that."
Commission members have said they are barred from discussing details of the report, citing an agreement not to divulge its contents until it is made public.
But government officials who have read or been briefed on the recommendations, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the report would call for a major restructuring of intelligence agencies and the creation of a cabinet-level national intelligence director to oversee the government's 15 intelligence agencies. Bills recently introduced in both the House and the Senate would create such a post. The bills are expected to draw fierce opposition from intelligence agencies concerned about ceding some of their power.
The acting director of central intelligence, John McLaughlin, said in an interview on Sunday on Fox News that it might be better to increase the oversight powers of his job rather than create a new post and "add an additional layer of bureaucracy" to the intelligence community.
While refusing to divulge details of the report, Mr. Lehman said the commission would call for "reforms that are going to be very extensive."
"It's not going to be tinkering around the edges," he said of the legislative package the panel would recommend. "It's going to be very substantial and systemic. And it's not just the intelligence community. The intelligence community will be an important part of it. But there are other things: domestic security and airport security and first responders."
Given the subject of the 19-month investigation, the report by the Sept. 11 commission, known formally as the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States, was always going to have a large readership.
But the commission has made special efforts to guarantee that, signing a deal with a private publisher, W. W. Norton, for an authorized version of the report, which is expected to total more than 500 pages.
Under the agreement, no money is to be paid to the commission, and Norton has agreed in return to publish 500,000 copies and to make them available at stores throughout the country almost immediately after the report is made public. Publishing industry executives say that the $10 retail price is relatively low for a book of its size.
"The American people will have access to this report," said Al Felzenberg, the commission's chief spokesman. "If it's not in stores the minute that it's released in Washington, it will certainly be there very soon, within hours, not days."
He said the commission had also gone to unusual lengths to ensure that the full report would be instantly available on the commission's Web site (www.9-11commission.gov) on the day of its release.
Mr. Felzenberg said the panel's members had already begun considering a series of speaking engagements outside Washington this summer and fall in which they would explain why the commission's recommendations needed to be adopted quickly.
"We need to take this out of the Beltway, to take it into the country," he said. "We certainly hope that the recommendations become policy and that we act with all deliberate speed in making that happen. That means that the commissioners will continue to speak out. There have already been a lot of invitations for them to speak at prominent forums around the country."