Yet after two days of hearings examining flaws and searching for solutions, members of the Sept. 11 commission said they have yet to reach firm conclusions on what change is necessary. The bipartisan panel is scheduled to issue its final report in July.
"Everybody speaks of reform," said the panel's Democratic vice chairman, Lee Hamilton, a former congressman from Indiana. "It's very easy to come out for reform. The task of the commission is going to be to put specificity to that, and that's going to be a major job."
The 10-member commission is reviewing proposals on how to prevent future domestic terror attacks, including expanding the powers of the director of central intelligence, establishing a domestic intelligence agency or endorsing more limited measures embraced by the heads of the CIA and FBI.
The panel on Wednesday heard from those two men — CIA Director George Tenet and FBI Director Robert Mueller.
It also released for failing to fully appreciate the threat posed by al Qaeda before Sept. 11 and questioning the progress of what commissioners say are the FBI's badly needed reorganization efforts.
Tenet testified that intelligence-gathering flaws exposed by the attacks will take five years to correct. He said that in the 1990s the CIA had lost 25 percent of its staff and was haphazard in training undercover officers who worked overseas to penetrate terror cells and recruit secret informants.
The commission in its statement also found that Tenet, like his predecessors, had limited authority over the direction and priorities of intelligence agencies, hampering his ability to devise a more comprehensive defense strategy.
"By no stretch of the imagination am I going to tell you that I've solved all the problems of the community in terms of integrating and in lashing it up," said Tenet. "But we've made an enormous amount of progress."
He noted that the National Security Agency, which handles electronic surveillance, and U.S. mapping and analytic intelligence agencies need time and continued funding to improve.
But the commission's chairman, former New Jersey Gov. Thomas Kean, said he was concerned by how long it would take to rebuild. "It scares me a bit that we dismantled the CIA to the point that it now takes five years to rebuild it," he said.
Kean's commission is weighing ways to reorganize the alphabet soup of U.S. intelligence agencies, which includes the CIA, Defense Intelligence Agency, National Security Agency, National Reconnaissance Office, National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, and intelligence offices within each military branch as well as in the departments of State, Energy and Treasury.
Mueller recounted a range of steps the FBI has taken since the Sept. 11 attacks to improve its intelligence capabilities, sharpen its focus on terrorism and replace outmoded technology. He urged the panel to let those improvements continue and not to risk derailing them by recommending creation of a new domestic intelligence agency outside the FBI.
"We don't want to have historians look back and say, 'OK, you won the war on terrorism but you lost your civil liberties,'" Mueller said. "We have become, since Sept. 11, a member of the intelligence community in ways we were not in the past."
Mueller and Tenet said a key step has already been taken to improve the situation through last year's creation of the Terrorist Threat Integration Center, in which 124 FBI and CIA personnel work side-by-side to compare overseas and domestic intelligence reports on terrorism. Some 2,600 government officials have access to its products, he said.
"We have spent enormous time and energy transforming our collection, operational and analytic capabilities," Tenet testified, adding, "the care and nurturing of these capabilities is absolutely essential."
Along with the CIA and FBI, Congress and the courts have come in for criticism by the commission, which has blamed legal separation between law enforcement and intelligence officers for the failure to detect the Sept. 11 plot.
"We were absolutely discouraged by law, by practice, by Congress from aggressively collecting intelligence in this country," former FBI counterterrorism director Steve Pomerantz told the CBS News Early Show. "It had been a matter of decades in the building of those obstructions. And now we have to tear them down and move ahead much more aggressively if we're going to protect this country."
Tenet suggested Congress conduct hearings to "examine the world we will face over the next 20-30 years." James Woolsey, who headed the CIA from 1993 to 1995, said earlier geopolitical changes posed stark challenges to U.S. spy agencies.
When he took over the CIA, "it was as if we had been struggling for a dragon 45 years and finally defeated it — the Soviet Union — and then found ourselves in the jungle with a lot of poisonous snakes," Woolsey said. "The snakes were harder to keep track of than the dragon."
Some have suggested the United States needs a separate domestic spy agency, like Britain's MI5. But neither Woolsey nor Pomerantz was enthusiastic about the creation of a new intelligence agency
"I think the director of central intelligence needs more authority like that than he has now," Woolsey told the Early Show. "I'm not yet over the fence in saying we need a whole new office."
Pomerantz was also skeptical.
"The idea of taking — creating a new agency and taking that responsibility away from the FBI is not good for the civil liberties of this country and not good for the protection of its citizens," he said. "They can do the job."
Separately, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jim Sensenbrenner called for Jamie Gorelick to resign from the commission Wednesday, citing a memo she wrote as a deputy attorney general on separating counterintelligence from criminal investigations.
Gorelick said she would not resign. Kean backed her up, telling reporters, "People ought to stay out of our business."