Experts urge better information-sharing

A proposed national commission to study the events of Sept. 11 must examine whether better information sharing and coordination throughout the federal government might have helped prevent the attacks, several members of past terrorism-related commissions told the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee on Thursday.

"Because of the classification of information -- and, perhaps, some plain confusion -- we do not yet have a full and integrated picture of exactly what went wrong," Richard Betts, director of War and Peace Studies at Columbia University, said during a hearing on legislation, S. 1867, to establish the National Commission on Terrorists Attacks Upon the United States.

Betts served on the National Commission on Terrorism, which completed its investigation in June 2000. He said Sept. 11 was a "watershed in national security policy, and figuring out and adjusting to the lessons will be a long process."

Committee Chairman Joseph Lieberman, a Connecticut Democrat who co-sponsored the bill with Arizona Republican John McCain, said one lesson the nation must learn is whether "possible systemic deficiencies in our counter-terrorism capabilities, our immigration and border control, and even our diplomatic activities" might have prevented U.S. officials from predicting and thwarting the attacks.

"Clearly the nation's future security would benefit from such a commission," Lieberman said. Maurice Sonnenberg, who serves as senior international adviser for Bear, Stearns & Co. and also served as vice chairman of the National Commission on Terrorism, said a comprehensive analysis of the Sept. 11 attacks should focus on the role of several governmental institutions, including the White House, Congress and the Justice Department. It also should investigate any "impediments" to law enforcement, border control and intelligence sharing, he said.

Dave McCurdy, president of the Electronic Industries Alliance, said the commission also would need to determine whether the government is using technology to its "fullest potential" in order to effectively manage information--and rise to the challenge of a new kind of war.

"The September 11 attacks were brilliantly evil. They were entirely 'outside the box' of what we thought likely," said McCurdy, who served in the House for 14 years and on a commission that examined ways to prevent the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. "Now it is our turn to adapt. To win this new war, government must change how it thinks and acts and do a much better job of coordinating its assets."

Sonnenberg said a report from the proposed Lieberman-McCain commission, "if well-written and carefully conceived," could go a long way to help the government make those types of changes. "The cynics will say all these commission reports wind up on the shelf," Sonnenberg said. "Most do. There is, however, a great difference regarding this one. It is post-September 11."

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