The National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States does not blame individuals for the attacks or conclude that the attacks could have been prevented, but says that federal agencies were not prepared, especially within the intelligence community, for the kind of attacks that occurred.
"This was a failure of policy, management, capability and, above all, a failure of imagination," Commission Chairman Thomas Kean said following the report's release. "None of the measures adopted by the United States government before 9/11 disturbed or even delayed the progress of the al Qaeda plot."
"There's no single individual who is responsible for our failures," he added. "Yet, individuals and institutions cannot be absolved of responsibility. Any person in a senior position within our government during this time bears some element of responsibility for our government's actions."
The report, passed unanimously by the 10-member bipartisan panel, makes dozens of recommendations for reforming the executive and legislative branches, particularly an overhaul of the intelligence community on a scale comparable to the 1986 Goldwater-Nichols law that reformed the military.
Notably, the report calls for the creation of a Cabinet-level national intelligence director that would oversee all of the government's 15 intelligence agencies, the majority of which are now run by the Pentagon.
The director would report to the president and manage a new federal structure that includes three directorates with responsibility for foreign, defense and homeland intelligence, and five national intelligence centers that would focus on weapons of mass destruction proliferation, international crime and narcotics, the Middle East, China and East Asia, and Russia and Eurasia.
The commission also recommends the establishment of a new national counterterrorism center to coordinate strategic and operational planning against Islamist terrorists, whether foreign or domestic. This new center would eventually replace the Terrorist Threat Integration Center, which was established under the CIA last year, as well as other terrorism fusion centers within the government. While the center would direct operational planning, execution would be carried out by existing agencies.
"We recommend significant changes in the organization of government. We know that the quality of the people is more important than the quality of the wiring diagrams," said committee co-chairman and former congressman Lee Hamilton. "Day and night, dedicated public servants are waging the struggle to combat terrorists and protect the homeland. We need to ensure that our government maximizes their efforts through information sharing, coordinated efforts and clear authority."
The commission also recommends a shakeup in Congress. For intelligence oversight, the panel recommends the creation of either a powerful new joint committee or a single committee in the House and Senate. The commission further recommends setting up permanent oversight committees for the Homeland Security Department in both chambers.
While not calling for the creation of a new domestic intelligence agency to replace current FBI activities, the panel recommends a new National Security Intelligence Service that offers a career track to train a workforce of agents, analysts, linguists and surveillance specialists.
"Our reform recommendations are urgent," said committee member James Thompson. "If these reforms are not the best that can be done for the American people, then the Congress and the president need to tell us what's better."
The commission's report and recommendations were met with mixed reactions by family members of 9/11 victims and observers who have followed the 9/11 investigation.
Jules Aronson, whose brother was on American Airlines Flight 11, which crashed into the World Trade Center North Tower, commended the commission but said more work needs to be done.
"I think the commission, from what I know of testimony, probably has done a very good job in general," he said. "What we really need to do now is look at our policies and what we are doing as a nation to foster [terrorism]."
9/11 Citizens Watch, a group of independent researchers, issued a report blasting the commission during a press conference Thursday. Group co-founder Kyle Hence said the report focuses on the process the commission used during its investigation. He said his organization expects the final report to be an "out and out cover-up and shameful colossal spin job."
"Given the catalog of compromises, flawed premises, conflicts of interest, unanswered questions, neglected areas of inquiry and ignored whistleblowers, we have drawn a most reasonable and fully justified conclusion that the report being released today by this so-called independent commission cannot possibly be deemed definitive or authoritative as an account to the events of Sept. 11," he said. "Let us not mince words."
Mindy Kleinberg, whose husband Alan was killed in the World Trade Center, said it was too early to draw conclusions about the report and recommendations. Kleinberg is part of the Family Steering Committee, which helped drive the creation of the 9/11 commission and worked closely with it throughout the 20-month investigation.
Kleinberg said she would have liked to see more accountability for the attacks in the government. She said she favors the idea of creating a director of national intelligence so the public knows who is responsible. Hopefully, she said, the government will have future measures that hold individuals and agencies more accountable for their actions.
Committee members now plan to meet with congressional leaders and administration officials to push the recommendations. Family members said they will take some time to digest the report and recommendations, and then push for changes.
Kean said the government should not wait to enact reform.
"Every expert with whom we spoke told us an attack of even greater magnitude is now possible, and even probable," he said. "We do not have the luxury of time. We must prepare and we must act."