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Public Statements

Stakeout Media Availability with Republican Representatives Following a Briefing by the 9-11 Commission

Location: Washington, DC

Federal News Service July 22, 2004 Thursday

July 22, 2004 Thursday





REP. SHAYS: My name is Christopher Shays. I chair the National Security Subcommittee and have been involved in these issues for years. I first want to thank the commission for an extraordinary job they've done. It is clearly a bipartisan report. It's a report that is unanimous, and their recommendations are substantive.

Each member is going to have to digest these recommendations before they come to some conclusions, but I would say to you that this has my full support. I've thought about these issues for a number of years. I'm going to be working to see how this report can move forward.

And I understand how other members will have varying degrees of that. We have four other members here who would like to make comments as well.

REP. KING: I'm Congressman Pete King from New York. I'm on the Homeland Security Committee. And I lost well over a hundred constituents on September 11th.

I also want to congratulate the commissioners. I think it's an outstanding report. I also want to commend the administration for cooperating so closely with the commission.

As Congressman Shays says, there's a lot of recommendations here. I think all of them are going in the right direction. There could be a difference here or there. But the fact is, it's really an issue we have to address. We have to make sure the intelligence agencies work better. There has to be much more coordination. We have to put aside the turf battles. That, to me, is the main message from this report. Not to debate it forever, but if we do have some differences, let's get them resolved and go forward as quickly as we can.

REP. FOSSELLA: I'm Congressman Vito Fossella, Staten Island and Brooklyn; regrettably, lost almost 300 people on September 11th. And to those families who have been awaiting details of this tragedy, our hearts are still with you.

And what this report, I believe, does is highlight the details that led to the tragedy, and they go back to at least 1993, with the blowing up of the World Trade Center, and continued through the '90s. It highlights the failures on the part of some to connect the dots.

And rather than be a Monday morning quarterback, I think it's important for all Americans to demonstrate a unity of purpose, to learn from this report, to understand that improvements can be made to our intelligence apparatus; that it is critical that agencies, that people within and among all agencies work together for the good of the American people, to share information, to assess, to analyze and coordinate information, to prevent another September 11th from ever happening again.

And at the end of the day, I think what-the commission has really highlighted its ability to work together, and I commend them for doing so.

Congressman Hamilton indicated that the commission had unprecedented access to all documents. All documents requested were reviewed and provided. And I think at this point in time it is critical that we come together as a people, put aside our partisan differences, and work together to ensure that national security and our unity of purpose prevails.

REP. PENCE: Mike Pence from the state of Indiana.

And I echo my colleague's strong appreciation to the commission for the bipartisan and dignified manner that this work was conducted in, and for the very useful proposals that, as Mr. Shays said, are a challenge for all members of Congress to reflect on. But I also believe that the American people want action, that they respect the Congress to respond thoughtfully but quickly to these meaningful proposals.

I am, like many members of Congress, disappointed that the 9/11 commission was not able to perform their work on the original deadline, which would have allowed the Congress to have the summer to consider many of these major changes. But nevertheless, I think it's incumbent on members of the House and Senate to come together to find those things that we will be able to move on, even in the 108th Congress, and give the American people the kind of action on protecting our nation in the challenging days ahead that is recommended in the pages of this report.

REP. KINGSTON: I'm Congressman Jack Kingston from Georgia.

I think that the commission really did an outstanding job when you consider the political nature of this town that seeps into absolutely everything. So the fact that they had a bipartisan, unanimous report is a miracle in itself.

They pointed out that we had a number of problems.

The first thing is that we did not have the imagination, even with all the red flags out there-the things in Somalia, the 1993 attack on the World Trade Center-we did not imagine that there would be people who hate us enough that they would use airplanes as missiles.

Secondly, the capacity of information. We were still looking at the world through Cold War lenses and did not think about, well, what is going on out there with the terrorist world and the terrorist mind.

And then, finally, the management of the information. Certainly one of the overlying themes here of our failure was the CIA and the FBI not talking to each other, not sharing information. So taking those problems and coming up with recommendations such as a national intelligence center where you combine 15 different intelligence agencies to come to one clearinghouse, you create the position of an intelligence czar who has real staff power, real authority to do things, and then finally more congressional oversight-it was a recommendation and I guess a conclusion of the 9/11 commission that Congress should be doing a lot more oversight than what we are doing.

And to do that, they recommended combining and authorizing-adding an appropriation arm of the Congress, which would be the first time any committee will set up like that. And it would give that committee lots and lots of power. If not that, maybe a joint committee similar to the atomic energy committee, which I understand was in the past and before my day.

So I think they had a good, meaty report. There's some great recommendations. And the fact that they got Democrats and Republicans during an election year on the same page means that there's some serious liveable proposals that will find some traction in the Congress.

REP. SHAYS: Do you all have any questions?

Q Yeah. For those of us who don't have a personal copy, first, just essentially, could you just hold up a copy of the report? Thank you.

Congressman Shays, is it -- (inaudible) -- for your committee to investigate the Sandy Berger (mess ?)?

REP. SHAYS: It's actually essential that the committee do that, but not in any way to interfere with what's being discussed here today. That's a separate issue. But when someone takes out these very serious papers-and the question is, what papers were they? And I think there is a sense that they were-that this may not have been an accident and it may not have been a mistake.

Q Gentlemen, do the recommendations-are they urgent enough to warrant Congress staying late this year, working on this stuff now instead of waiting until next year?

REP. SHAYS: I'll jump in.

REP. : Do it.

REP. SHAYS: I mean, I believe that a lot of us have been thinking about these issues for a long time, so it's nothing new for us. It's a matter of finding common ground. But these recommendations are very serious, they're based on reality, they're based on substantive backup. And I think that we could resolve a lot of these issues before, and maybe one or two issues would get deferred for a variety of reasons. But I believe that we need to get cracking right now on it and get the job done.

And Mr. Pence is right; action is required. We've had a lot of talk, a lot of investigation. Action is required.

REP. PENCE: I would just add I think there's a balance. I think we have to err on the side of taking action. I think people have been waiting a while for this report, and a good report at that. I think it's important to engage the American people in this debate as well, to allow them to understand the implications of what led to the failures, what led to September 11th. And collectively Congress and the American people coming together, hopefully before November, to implement those changes that are needed right away, and then debate those that perhaps could wait.

Q Is there anything -- (inaudible) -- that you were disappointed about -- (inaudible)?

REP. KING: Well, now, I'm just going to add that, you know, it took 50 years for this current intelligence system to develop. It's probably going to take another 50 years once we change it now, so I want to make sure we do it right.

So it may take a few extra months. And we have to do it, as Mike Pence said, as quickly as possible. I wouldn't want to do it in a matter of weeks or even a few months, as far as the overall revamping. But certainly we have to get it done as quickly as possible; early next year at the latest.

Q Do you all agree there should be an intelligence czar, Cabinet-level position, or is there disagreement here in this group on that?

REP. KINGSTON: You know, my own impression is right now we need to define this more, because I'm not sure how that affects the director of the FBI, the CIA or Homeland Security, because you have a lot of people right now dealing with this, so I don't see how you merge that into one person and you get necessarily a better product.

One of the criticisms is they said the head of the CIA answers to the president, answers-or is responsible for intelligence and responsible for running the CIA and that's a big job for one person. Yet we want to make a bigger job for another person?

So I think what we would like to see, just more definition as to what does this czar do? And they kept emphasizing that this would not create a new bureaucracy or a new government agency. Well, you know, that was our idea behind Homeland Security, and I think you can certainly say that we have increased the size of the bureaucracy through Homeland Security. So we really need to vet that through the process, and I believe that will take place.

REP. FOSSELLA: And just to add that the American people I think want us to get it right and not just fast. Governor Kean indicated that this war against terror will be going on, as predicted, not just in our generation, but perhaps in our children's. So it's critical that we establish the ground rules now and do it right, as opposed to just expedient.

REP. PENCE: And finally, just briefly, as a conservative member of the House, I came to this proposal for a national intelligence director very skeptical. But the information that I've reviewed so far, the briefing this morning, the idea that we would have one individual that would bring together foreign intelligence, homeland security intelligence and military intelligence and facilitate and encourage the kind of communication that was at the heart of much of the failure that made 9/11 possible, is very appealing to me. And the commissioners' clear statement, as Mr. Kingston said, that this is not about the creation of a new bureaucracy, this is about the facilitation of communication between agencies that know their work in their field of intelligence.

REP. SHAYS: I'd like to just say this is a wonderful illustration of why it may take longer than a few months to resolve.

But this isn't a partisan debate. This is why we were all sent to Congress. We will debate this issue and come to conclusions based on what we're learning.

But from my view, having worked on this since 1998, to run the CIA is a full-time job. And yet we said, "You're also going to be adviser to the president. And by the way, you're going to coordinate 15 activities." And I don't think it's possible really to run the CIA and be the intelligence director.

I know we're using the word "czar," but I call-a czar has a different feel to it. A czar is someone who can bully -- (snapping fingers) -- who can just do whatever they want. What I'm thinking of is, as the word is, a director that coordinates these activities.

And as Mr. Pence said, within this office, they would have deputies, one dealing with military intelligence, one dealing with Homeland Security intelligence and one dealing with foreign intelligence. There's lots of logic to it. But we're going to have this kind of debate and, I think, come to a good conclusion. If we can do the job quickly, we'll do it, and if we can't come to a conclusion, it may flow into next year.

STAFF: Last question.

REP. KING: If I can just add one thing to that, I think we should have a debate, but also I think we should somehow try to fast- track it, put a definite date, so we don't debate this forever and ever and ever. The American people want action. Really, the time has come for that. We have to address this, one way or the other.

Q For a good part of the commission's existence, there was a fair amount of criticism that the commissioners had become political -- (inaudible). With the report today, have they exceeded your expectations?

REP. KING: Yeah, I think this is a-you know, from the extent I've seen it, it's bipartisan, it's nonpartisan. It's certainly risen above politics, and I think the commission has certainly, from what I've seen thus far, has really fulfilled its mandate. I think Tom Kean and Lee Hamilton deserve a tremendous amount of credit for that.

REP. SHAYS: Thank you all very much.

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