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DoD Wasn't Geared to Internal Threats on 9/11, Panel Told

By John D. Banusiewicz
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, June 17, 2004 – National policy that geared the Defense Department toward external threats was part of the reason DoD couldn't do more to prevent some of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff told the 9/11 commission here today.

"Our military posture on 9/11, by law, by policy and in practice, was focused on responding to external threats threats originating outside of our borders," Air Force Gen. Richard B. Myers told the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States.

"All the policy guidance (before Sept. 11) was that we treat terrorism primarily as a criminal event, and the role of the Defense Department was to defend our forces primarily, it was force-protection antiterrorism, not counterterrorism," the general said. The FBI was responsible for domestic counterterrorism, and external counterterrorism was the CIA's responsibility, he added.

Another factor, Myers said, was that threat perceptions at the time did not include using hijacked aircraft as guided missiles.

In a written statement he submitted to the commission, the chairman said the spring and summer of 2001 saw a "significant increase in terrorist threat reporting" that clearly indicated a major al Qaeda terrorist operation was in the works. "To the extent that the warnings pointed to specific areas, they pointed to the Arabian Peninsula," the statement said. The FAA issued warnings in the months before the attacks, the statement continued, but those warnings also were nonspecific and focused primarily on threats against U.S. citizens abroad and traditional hijackings.

The intelligence was not specific enough to warrant the North American Aerospace Defense Command increasing its alert status or placing additional forces on alert, the chairman's statement said.

Air Force Gen. Ralph E. Eberhart, commander of U.S. Northern Command and NORAD, also testified. He said in assessing the threat and formulating a response, the possibility of shooting down an innocent aircraft had to be considered.

"We were very concerned about the ability to shoot down a hijacked airplane," he said, "but frankly, we were just as concerned about making a mistake. And if you think this is an interesting session here this morning, had we made a mistake on that morning or (in) subsequent days, I would offer it has a much different content."

Myers said erroneous reports as events unfolded also hindered DoD's response. "We fought many phantoms that day," he said. "There were many phantoms. I remember getting to the (National Military Command Center), and we got the call that a bomb had gone off in front of the State Department. So you think, 'Oh, my goodness, what else is happening in this town?' We got many aircraft calls inbound that morning that turned out to be phantoms."

In his written statement, Myers outlined some actions the Defense Department has taken to adapt to the post-Sept. 11 world:

  • Refined procedures are in place for communication between the National Military Command Center and the FAA.

  • A mature plan now exists to protect against future airborne attacks originating from inside the United States.

  • U.S. Northern Command activated in October 2003, and the U.S. Special Operations Command's budget increased by about 36 percent.

  • Within the Joint Staff, a new deputy directorate and a national military strategic plan for the war on terrorism has been created, and coordination has improved among strategic planning, operations and intelligence.

The chairman also put forth a series of recommendations to the commission in areas he said warrant further attention.

"While we have accomplished a great deal since 9/11, I believe several areas warrant further attention," his statement said. "First and foremost, we must bear in mind that this war on terrorism can't be won by the military alone. We need to ensure that we bring to bear all our instruments of national power and the instruments of power of the international community in a coherent, synchronized manner."

Myers recommended that an independent, comprehensive review of the U.S. government one he likened to the Goldwater-Nichols review of DoD be conducted to determine what organizational, procedural and resource management changes are necessary.

The chairman also urged continued U.S. and international focus on countering the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and dramatically accelerating progress in intelligence collection, analysis and sharing. He emphasized, though, that the separate intelligence agencies in place today should be maintained "to retain the mission focus each of these components brings." DoD, he said, must retain influence to ensure continued intelligence support crucial to combat operations.

The outdated concept of "collector as owner of information" in the intelligence community needs to give way to a user-oriented focus, the chairman said. "The 'need to share' needs to replace the concept of 'need to know,'" his statement said.

In his statement's conclusion, Myers laid out the difficulty of the challenges posed in today's world and praised the work of DoD's people. "Violent extremists who use terrorism as their weapon of choice have a decided advantage in this struggle, at least in the short term," the chairman's statement said. "A small number of people, with inexpensive weapons and equipment, can plan attacks at the place and time of their choosing. They are flexible, adaptable and patient, and they only have to succeed once in awhile.

"Our task, in contrast," the statement continued, "is enormous. We have to defend across the country and beyond, all the time, and can accept not a single failure. I applaud all the men and women in the Department of Defense, especially our troops in harm's way, for their selfless and tireless efforts to defend our freedom and way of life."

Contact Author

Air Force Gen. Richard B. Myers, Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff
Air Force Gen. Ralph E. Eberhart, Commander, U.S. Northern Command and North American Aerospace Defense Command

Related Sites:
Joint Chiefs of Staff
U.S. Northern Command
North American Aerospace Defense Command
National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States
Written Statement by Gen. Richard B. Myers Submitted to National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States, June 17, 2004
Written Statement by Gen. Ralph E. Eberhart Submitted to Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States, June 17, 2004

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