In a hearing before the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs,Thomas H. Kean and Lee H. Hamilton said intelligence agencies have improved group-to-group communications since 9/11,but still have far to go.
Hamilton,the commission's vice chair,said that without improved information sharing and a better-defined chain of command,U.S. agencies might be less able to see signs of future terrorist attacks.
“There are still ambiguities,and they can contribute to mission confusion and lack of clarity about lanes in the road,” Hamilton said. “Improvements have clearly been made,although that sharing is not as prompt and seamless as it should be.”
The meeting was the second of two held by the committee this month to discuss the lessons learned from the attempted Christmas Day bombing of Northwest Airlines Flight 253.
In a joint statement,Hamilton and Kean,the 9/11 Commission chairman,called the incident a “failure to connect the dots.”
Better information sharing among the 16 intelligence agencies and more oversight from Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair could have stopped Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab,the accused bomber,before he boarded flight 253,they said.
Kean said gathering information is just a start. The only way to avoid incidents such as the Christmas Day attack is to improve how U.S. agencies analyze data.
“The principle challenge to improved analysis is that the intelligence community is awash in data,” Kean said. “We need the very best people not only sorting through it for tactical details,but in a strategic sense asking where the next attack will come from.”
Kean said U.S. agencies knew al-Qaida was growing strong in the Arabian Peninsula before the Dec. 25 attack,but did not think the group was ready to launch an attack in the U.S. Better data analysis could have linked Abdulmutallab with al-Qaida sooner,Kean said.
Kean and Hamilton said better analysis can go only so far without improved leadership,which can only come from better defining the role of the DNI.
The DNI was created in the wake of 9/11 to help intelligence agencies coordinate on counter-terrorism measures,but the position's role is still unclear. Hamilton said the DNI should function as an overseer who coordinates inter-agency efforts. The DNI cannot do that,however,without clear approval from President Barack Obama. The president should make it “crystal clear” who is in charge,Hamilton said.
“The burden is on the president to be clear on who is in charge of the intelligence community and where final authority lies on budget,personnel and other matters,” the two witnesses said in their statement.
Committee Chair Joseph I. Lieberman,I-Conn.,said the frequency of attempted terrorist attacks against the United States rose in 2009 and asked what the cause might be. Twelve attacks were attempted,Lieberman said,and three of them were carried out.
In addition to the attempted airline bombing,he listed the shootings at Fort Hood,Texas,and the June shooting at a Little Rock, Ark.,military recruiting center.
Kean and Hamilton said,however,that recent efforts by al-Qaida have been small and unsophisticated. The absence of a major attack indicates that,while not perfect,U.S. intelligence capabilities have improved since 9/11.
Sen. Susan Collins,R-Maine,said proposed reforms are up to the president,and she urged him to approve them immediately.
“Nothing less than our security hangs in the balance,” she said.