Panel: U.S. Underestimated Pre-9/11 Threat

Chairman Kean: Terrorists 'Turned the International Order Upside Down'

By Hope Yen

The Associated Press

Thursday, July 22, 2004; 11:59 AM

The United States government could not protect its citizens from the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks because it failed to appreciate the threat posed by al Qaeda operatives who exploited those lapses to carry out the deadliest assault ever on American soil, the chairman of the Sept. 11 commission said Thursday.

In issuing the panel's final report, commission chairman Tom Kean said none of the government's efforts to thwart a known threat from al Qaeda had "disturbed or even delayed" Osama bin Laden's plot.

"(They) penetrated the defenses of the most powerful nation in the world," Kean said. "They inflicted unbearable trauma on our people, and at the same time they turned the international order upside down."

The commission recommended the creation of a new intelligence center and high-level intelligence director to improve the nation's ability to disrupt future terrorist attacks.

The panel appealed for political unity at the heights of America's power, particularly between Democrats and Republicans. The commission's vice chairman, Lee Hamilton, called for "a shift in mind-set and organization" within the U.S. intelligence apparatus, as well as more unity in Congress and a smoother transition between presidencies, to ensure "that this nation does not lower its guard every four or eight years."

"The U.S. government has access to vast amounts of information, but it has a weak process, a weak system of processing and using that information," Hamilton said. "The need to share must replace need to know."