Quick Action On Sept. 11 Findings?

Report issued by the independent commission investigating the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks CBS/AP

Though adopting a low profile at his ranch during the Democratic convention, CBS News Correspondent Mark Knoller reports President Bush may act within a matter of days to implement some of the recommendations of the Sept. 11 commission.

The White House is studying which of the panel's more than 40 proposals can be implemented by executive order, which ones require congressional approval and which ones actually would improve domestic security, a senior administration official said.

President Bush has directed the White House chief of staff, Andrew Card, to undertake a high-level review of the proposals. That process will advance beginning Monday, when national security adviser Condoleezza Rice arrives at Mr. Bush's ranch in Crawford, Texas.

The source would not say which recommendations are likely to be adopted or offer more precise timing.

Mr. Bush is following the long-standing tradition of keeping a low profile during this week's Democratic National Convention. Still, if the president were to take action soon, it could certainly serve to upstage the convention, Knoller reports.

The Washington Post reported Monday Mr. Bush is considering supporting some variation of the commission's call for a national intelligence director who would report directly to the president.

The panel recommended the creation of a national counterterrorism center and a Cabinet-level national intelligence director to centralize efforts now spread over 15 agencies in six Cabinet departments, including the CIA.
The commissioners said that without a more integrated approach to intelligence, "it is not possible to 'connect the dots' " about terrorist intentions

Meanwhile, House and Senate committees will begin rare August hearings.

Even before Capitol Hill cleared out for what was supposed to be a lazy August break, the word went out: Get back here and get back to work. CBS News Correspondent Joie Chen reports.

"I think it's a shame if we allow vacation schedules or election year politics to come in the way of safety," says Carrie Lemack, vice president of the Families of September 11 group. Lemack's mother, Judy Larocque, was a flight attendant on one of the hijacked planes that hit the World Trade Center in New York City.

When the Sept. 11 Commission's final report was released, both the White House and Congress played down any chance of major reform before the November elections. But the message has been heard.

On Sunday, the commission's vice chairman told CNN the panel's report didn't include the war in Iraq because Congress wanted it that way.

Former Indiana Congressman Lee Hamilton said that decision allowed the panel to keep a "laser beam" focus on terrorism and reach agreement without such a potentially divisive issue on the table.

Hamilton said that when Congress laid out the panel's mission, the clear focus was on the events surrounding the Sept. 11 attacks.

Hamilton added that including the war on Iraq would have opened up a "vast new area" that could have jeopardized the panel's work.

The unanimously endorsed report could spell trouble for Mr. Bush, who has made his handling of terrorism the centerpiece of his campaign.

Democrat John Kerry said disputes within the Bush administration had delayed the commission's work and improvements to the nation's security.

"Nearly three years after terrorists have attacked our shores and murdered our loved ones, this report carries a very simple message for all of America about the security of all Americans — we can do better," Kerry said last week.

Democratic commissioner Jamie Gorelick said she believed the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, which killed nearly 3,000 people when 19 Arab hijackers flew airliners into New York City's World Trade Center, the Pentagon and the Pennsylvania countryside, represented a "tectonic moment" in history that would force speedy changes.

"There are bad consequences to being in the middle of a political season and there are also good ones, because everyone who is running for office can be asked, 'Do you support these recommendations?'" she told reporters.

Relatives of Sept. 11 victims said they too would lobby.

"We're going to hold these people's feet to the fire," said Debra Burlingame, whose brother Charles was the pilot of the hijacked plane that struck the Pentagon.

The commission identified nine "specific points of vulnerability" in the Sept. 11 plot that might have led to its disruption had the government been better organized and more watchful. Despite these opportunities, "we cannot know whether any single step or series of steps would have defeated" the hijackers, the report concluded.

While there were "friendly contacts" between Iraq and al Qaeda and a common hatred of the United States, none of these contacts "ever developed into a collaborative relationship," the report said. Nor did Iran or Saudi Arabia have knowledge of the plot.

The Sept. 11 commission also concluded that passengers aboard United Airlines Flight 93 fought back against the hijackers but never actually made it into the cockpit.

While sweeping in its proposals, the commission acknowledges the limits of any effort to thwart killers.

"No president can promise that a catastrophic attack like that of 9/11 will not happen again," it warns. "History has shown that even the most vigilant and expert agencies cannot always prevent determined, suicidal attackers from reaching a target."
  • Lloyd Vries

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