of Maurice Sonnenberg
Senate Committee on Governmental Affairs
February 7, 2002
have been asked to testify today on the efficacy of the creation
of a terrorist commission pursuant to Senate bill 1867.
A panel of this sort is of immeasurable importance in
helping to better understand what basically were the factors
that led up to the catastrophe of September 11.
It also places into context journalistic sound bites such
as “a failure of intelligence”.
While these are catchy phrases they are gross
generalizations designed to convey the impression that there
must have been a systemic all encompassing failure on the part
of the agency, the bureau and others in the intelligence
community. There may have been weaknesses in the intelligence
community, but a more comprehensive analysis should also focus
on the role of several governmental institutions, among them the
White House, Congress and the Department of Justice.
When looking at these matters, the commission would also
have to address such matters as impediments to law enforcement,
immigration and border controls, financing of terrorist
activities, intelligence sharing and so on.
The commission obviously must be established in a manner
that supplements but does not replace the need for continued
Congressional oversight. Nor
can it be allowed to compromise security, both at the National
Security Council and intelligence community level.
But now to the specifics of a
commission. It will
take some very talented people and a superior staff to asses
information available both in open and classified sources.
individuals appointed to the commission should bring to the task
a broad understanding of the subject as a whole rather than an
overly detailed knowledge of a specific field.
It goes without saying that everyone associated with the
commission will require multiple clearances, especially in those
instances where investigation hinges on matters related to
The commission will also require a specific site location not known
to the public. When
we had our Terrorist Commission meetings, they were convened in
an unknown location; we never had public hearings.
Congressionally mandated, our members were appointed by
the Majority and Minority leadership.
As far as I know very few people knew the names of our
members until after the report was published.
We had no leaks. This,
I might add, was true for the Commission
on the Roles and Capabilities of the U.S. Intelligence Community
and the President’s Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board.
Another reason not to identify the membership is the real
concern about possible threats and pressure as regards the
security of commission staff and members.
Finally, let me say that you may wonder why after all of
these events I still favor the setting up of a commission.
First, I am certain the White House and/or some branch of
the Legislature will establish one.
Second, a commission of this sort will have substantial
public consequences. The
cynics will say all these commission reports wind up on the
shelf. Most do.
There is however a great difference regarding this one.
It is post-September 11.
If well written and carefully conceived it will carry the
gravitas and influence
a study of this nature should have.
The National Commission Terrorism and the Hart-Rudman
had some influence in focusing many members of Congress, the
media and the press on the subject.
The prescience of those reports made them unique and
totally relevant to the legislation that passed after September
A commission report on so called “failure of
intelligence” can help to inform and educate the public to a
better understanding of the complexity of this matter. This is not to say that a commission would be a font of
wisdom, but it might, by its very making,
keep the public focused on this
problem that is not about to end soon, or for that matter in our
lifetime. You can
control terrorism but you will never totally eliminate it.
The sooner our citizenry is fully cognizant of this, the
less likely it will lose its’ sense of purpose and resolve.
That being the case, it is imperative that the public continue
to be supportive of measures necessary to face this ongoing
commission can be a valuable tool in this effort.