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Last Updated: Tuesday, 20 April, 2004, 11:31 GMT 12:31 UK
Is FBI criticism over 9/11 attacks valid?
Smoke, flames and debris erupts from the World Trade Center towers, 11 September 2001
The FBI has been criticised heavily over failing to respond to the increasing terrorism threats prior to 9/11.

The preliminary report was released as two days of hearings began.

Janet Reno said, "The FBI didn't know what it had. The right hand didn't know what the left hand was doing".

But the former FBI director, Louis Freeh defended the FBI, explaining that the US wasn't at war until the attacks and didn't have the resources needed.

Could FBI have prevented the 9/11 terrorist attacks? Or is it easy to criticise with hindsight? What's your opinion?


This debate is now closed. Read your comments below.

The following comments reflect the balance of the opinion we have received:

We need to know the truth
Susan Kipping, Felton

It has nothing to do with Democrats and Republicans. That's all smoke and mirrors. We need to know the truth. Bottom line. Who are all the players? We are missing a great deal of information. Why wasn't there a full non-partisan investigation? This is much bigger than we know.
Susan Kipping, Felton, USA

Where was all this clamouring from the Democrats to tighten immigration laws, and restrict student visas and start investigations using racial profiling before 9/11? Please, let's not pretend any longer. It dishonours our dead.
Tom Penn, Chattanooga, TN, USA

I do not think that even FBI could have expected such an attack. All those who are full of criticism now could not have anticipated something like that either. There is no point in shifting the blame on the FBI, because terrorists have always been unpredictable. They just do not think like normal people. Nobody can know what they intend to do.
Edvin Agacevic, Zagreb, Croatia

It is amazing how little many European posters here know about the American political system. For the record: Terrorists made several attacks during Clinton's watch. WTC I, Black Hawk Down, African Embassy Bombings, USS Cole, Oklahoma City. These are all Clinton's responsibility. But somehow it is all Bush's fault. Get a grip. You guys are clueless.
Khamal, Los Angeles, CA

The claim that the attacks simply couldn't have been prevented is spurious. The CIA used to cope with some of the most fearsome and skilled spies in the world - the KGB and their friends. And we are supposed to believe they couldn't have penetrated a network of crazy fanatical amateurs? Come on! A more likely answer is that they didn't realize the growing danger of such groups, and the political willingness to deal with them resolutely was lacking.
Marius, Baltimore, US

There is nothing more unedifying than watching the offices of government blame each other
Joseph Wilkinson, Whitehaven

There is nothing more unedifying than watching the offices of government blame each other. Aren't there any people in the US administration with a spine who can stand up and say these were our mistakes, we recognise these as such and we have acted to correct them. Rather than these pathetic figures who wring the hands in anguish and say but it wasn't us, what could we do?
Joseph Wilkinson, Whitehaven, Cumbria

I find Mr. Ashcroft's criticism to be out of place. If the Clinton policies had so severely handicapped intelligence and law enforcement agencies as Mr. Ashcroft claims, how come the attacks didn't happen during Clintons leadership? I think it is sad that politicians turn this into a partisan issue.
Carl, Jönköping, Sweden

Do the FBI actually know the identities of the hijackers now? I thought they were using stolen passports/identities and the published photographs were those on these stolen documents.
Pete, Manila, Phils

Since they had advance warning that hijacks were coming and went 0-4 in stopping them, the FBI clearly failed
Val, Sacramento, USA
Perhaps I'm too simple with numbers, but if they had thwarted two out of the four hijacks we might still have a World Trade Center. Since they had advance warning that hijacks were coming and went 0-4 in stopping them, the FBI clearly failed.
Val, Sacramento, USA

Any criticism of the FBI falls on deaf ears, because no-one from the FBI to the CIA to the White House has lost their job because of the 9/11 failings. It looks like Washington is leaving it up to the American people this November to decide who gets sacked.
Katie, Chicago, USA

Those who are attacking the Clinton administration might do well to keep in mind that the Republicans had control of Congress for the four years preceding the election of Bush and they did their best to tie the administration up with investigations and impeachment hearings.
Jim Frazer, North Olmsted, OH, USA

Ultimately the system failed regardless of who held office over the last few terms
Matt, Atlanta, USA
We can bicker about the past or work to change the future. Ultimately the system failed regardless of who held office over the last few terms. What is being done now is an attempt to negotiate the aims of politicians up for re-election and the attorneys who wait to see if the commission's ruling might somehow find the US government liable for possible failure to prevent the attacks. Stop the grandstanding and finger-pointing, let's just work to prevent this from happening again!
Matt, Atlanta, USA

It is important to remember that the FBI and CIA helped to foil a few attacks during the Clinton administration which makes it feasible that the 9/11 attacks could have been stopped. Therefore, the hearings are important, even when criticising in hindsight, in order to understand where the priorities were and which policies failed that allowed the atrocities of September 11th to occur.
Marcin Szkotak, Philadelphia, USA

I keep remembering through all of this that another US president had a sign on his desk that said, "The buck stops here". The finger pointing just clouds the issue, the responsibility rests with the guy in the Oval Office, no matter what party. It is his job to be informed on all issues. He is the top of the heap and needs to accept responsibility, even if it is to admit that something has slipped by him.
Judy Casserberg, USA

Placing blame is a moot point by now
Jenna, Austin, USA
I really think that placing blame is a moot point by now. We need to concentrate on stabilising and rebuilding Afghanistan and Iraq. We don't need these 'smoke and mirrors' to cloud our true purpose.
Jenna, Austin, USA

It is impossible to tell if the FBI could have prevented the 9/11 attacks. However, being ambivalent to the fact the FBI does not have the capability to process its data shows that the US government did not take terrorism (or any other security issue) seriously. This is the true issue to me.
Adam, Los Angeles, California, USA

Criticism is both valid and necessary. Part of the democratic process. The Bush Administration does itself no credit by muddying the waters. Truth should come out no matter what. At the very least as a mark of respect for those victims of September 11th.
Philip O'Donnell, Auckland, New Zealand

Let's put the responsibility for what happened back into the hands of who is responsible for it. It was a cowardly act by brutal people. Place the blame where it belongs for once.
Margaret, Portland, USA

I am constantly amazed that the current administration says it did "everything" as they claim that they could have done to prevent 9/11. That is not to say it could have been prevented, but it might. If I had received a top secret report (8/6 PDB) saying the FBI had 70 on-going investigations, I would have wanted to know exactly what they were, even if I was on vacation. That's doing "everything"?
Richard, Florida

Finger pointing is too easy using hindsight. The direction of the commission has moved from information gathering and prevention to pure political gain purposes, which makes me sick. Only God could have stopped the initial attacks. But from now on, its our choice if we are going to learn from the past mistakes.
Russell, Ashland, KY, USA

The willingness to air dirty laundry in public, especially during an election year, is actually a sign of a healthy democracy. Will Spain, Turkey, Indonesia, and other countries attacked by al-Qaeda follow suit with similar investigations into their government's failings?
Ron Gompertz, Barcelona, Spain

The 9/11 attacks were possible because the terrorists discovered an Achilles Heel
Jon E, France

All this talk about being involved in some phoney war or not is irrelevant. The 9/11 attacks were possible because the terrorists discovered an Achilles Heel - US airline security was practically non-existent.
Jon E, France

It is up to the FBI and CIA to make sure that such terrible attacks are prevented in the near future and stop throwing blame at each other
Willy Khoury, Beirut, Lebanon

Here's a pertinent quote from a former President: "It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat." Theodore Roosevelt
Doug, Sacramento, CA

I wish we'd exercise democracy in the same level some time in the future in my country! I believe the 9/11 commission should not concentrate to blame someone or an agencies for 9/11 tragedy, but to point out the actual miscommunication problems before and propose solutions to prevent it from happening in the future. And I hope Americans will not make it another election and politics related issue.
Ahmad, Kabul, Afghanistan

In reality it could not be prevented
Katrina, USA

The determination of those of us in the US, to blame our government has to do with Bush's exploitation of the emotions of the nation after 9/11. In reality it could not be prevented, but it should not have been shamelessly exploited either.
Katrina, USA

There is a lot of blame to go around, but it is the ones who did the deed, and their supporters who should get criticised the most. However, it is an election year, and these hearings should be after the election. It is becoming too political.
Mark Morris, Dallas, TX

I think there is plenty of blame to go around. The important thing now is for those responsible for the failures that led to 9/11 to admit their mistakes and learn from them. Not stonewall and shift the blame.
Greg S, Providence, RI, USA

Is it not time that politicians stop using the convenient, and wholly unconvincing ruse of blaming their political predecessors as a smokescreen for their own administration's shortcomings? It is childish, spineless and shows their willingness to take the electorate for fools - but then I suppose it is precisely those devious, wholly unattractive traits that got them elected in the first place. What happened to 'The buck stops here'?
Peter, Italy

Everyone becomes an expert after the fact
Penny, USA
Of course, it is always easy to criticise with hindsight - everyone becomes an expert after the fact. It is important to gather the facts and move ahead. This, I believe the Bush Administration has already done . One asks "Why the Commission now" ? Americans didn't just fall off of the cabbage truck. These activities are thinly disguised political power plays. We are all getting fed up with the polarization of our nation along "Party" lines that continues to be fed by "Party" advocates. We are at "war with terrorism" and it is high time to be unified in this effort.
Penny, USA

I think both administrations could have, and should have, done more before 9/11. The fact that the Bush administration was against this 9/11 commission at first, and their reluctance to testify makes me feel that they are not honest about their negligence.
Roseanne S., NJ, USA

A government requires intense concentration to assess its priorities. That the Bush Republicans worked tirelessly to harass and topple the Clinton administration through extra-electoral means such as the Whitewater 'scandal' and the irrelevancies of Clinton's sexual behaviour can't have helped that administration keep its eye on the counter-terrorism ball. We'll never know now what an undistracted Clinton administration might have done to shake up a moribund FBI.
Michael, Vancouver, Canada

Surely the blame must lie in the authors of US foreign policy over the last umpteen decades. In the old "axis of evil" those who wrote - and continue to write - the lines that link them must be blamed... but I'm not holding my breath waiting for that to happen.
Ajana Zabel, Singapore

Criticism is as essential as appreciation in any healthy system but it should be based on fact and truth. It will reflect the vision of US to fight with such future incidence.
Pradeep Shukla, Chicago

A waste of time and a comfort for our enemies. Political grandstanding (especially by the Democrats on the committee) in an election year is worse than pointless. Especially when many on the left still oppose meaningful pre-emptive action against terrorism.
Peter C Kohler, Washington DC, USA

Lets make sure that blame is firmly placed on terrorists
Warren Rolfe, UK

Lets not forget, it wasn't the FBI who flew planes into buildings to kill innocent people. Lets make sure that blame is firmly placed on terrorists.
Warren Rolfe, UK

My question is not how effective was the FBI, but did they in fact know what was going on? Let's not concern ourselves with funding anti-terrorist measures before 9/11, but instead with finding out what we actually knew.
Nate, USA

In a society like the US it is almost impossible to stop these acts because of the overall freedoms we enjoy here. ACLU would have a field day with law suites (and they already are) if we actually untied the hands of the CIA and FBI as well if we actually tried to secure our own borders from undocumented aliens. These terrorist thugs do not play by any rules and here in the US it is not hard to blend in with the population as ethnically diverse of a country as we are. I think it is important for this commission to see where we can improve but nothing they do or say will ever make us safe from this threat unless people in this country are willing to give up certain freedoms
John Crane, Houston, Texas

Instead of playing the blame game, everyone should get together to make sure this does not happen again
Dennis, Iowa

The Democrats and Republicans seem intent on placing the blame on the other for the failure of American intelligence leading up to 9/11. Obviously, the Clinton Administration and the Bush Administration both failed to adequately assess the situation. The FBI and CIA both ignored warnings and failed to communicate with each other. Instead of playing the blame game, everyone should get together to make sure this does not happen again. There's plenty of blame to go around. Let's move on.
Dennis, Iowa, USA

No, it's not valid! The function of the FBI is to investigate crimes after they happen. If they play a hand in prevention then so be it but their primary function is investigation. Look to the guys who got the Iraq WMD issue wrong and you'll find the 9/11 intelligence culprit. Hint: it's not the FBI.
ERH, Bakersfield, USA

I guess it's normal to have rivalries between government agencies - EG the Army and Navy or the FBI and CIA. Maybe this is a wake up call that these rivalries are getting expensive and are not in the best interest of the people they are sworn to protect.
Anders, Raleigh, NC, USA

Blaming the Clinton administration for everything is a lame excuse.
Jean, Alexandria, VA, USA

I studied in the same school as one of the attackers. When he was in Turkey with his classmates, he wanted to contact a certain Islamic political party - his only interest. The German police had him under surveillance and informed the US that he was in their country prior to the attacks. Months after the 9/11 event, we were told that the INS had extended his US visa. Someone in the US is incompetent? Yes, for sure! A lot of government agencies.
Ursula Hineman, Germany

The criticism is good as long as it is constructive and it doesn't become a witch hunt
Patrick, USA

The criticism is good as long as it is constructive and it doesn't become a witch hunt. Congress should also share some of the criticism since they are the ones who cut the budget of our intelligence agencies. We shouldn't lose focus on the goal. Tightening up our agencies to hopefully prevent the next 9/11.
Patrick, USA

We will never know the truth about whether or how 9/11 could have been prevented - by the FBI or any other intelligence agency. Testimony before the 9/11 commission is universally self-serving and politically motivated. Such investigations are done for show and are simply part of partisan political theatre.
Joe Bob, Santa Fe, USA

Absolutely valid. I don't think you can prevent attacks from people willing to kill themselves to kill others. However, the prior administration imposed a policy of not working with 'undesirables' in protecting the country. If we don't work with those who know about the 'bad guys', how can we ever have a chance? It's time to start playing the game the way they do. The ethical high road will not prevent further attacks.
Clint, NYC, USA

The FBI is not an intelligence gathering organization; its focus is, and should be, solving crimes that have already occurred. Look to the CIA and the State and Justice Departments for this one.
Susan, USA

Is it good to put your dirty laundry out for all to see? No. The problem here is very simple to understand. The Democrats, who have been notoriously weak on defence, are looking to blame someone, namely Bush and the Republicans, when all along it was the Clinton administration that had the opportunities to fix the problem. And Janet Reno was a poor choice for AG. Yet they all still make the most noise. It's the same as if we 'blamed' Roosevelt for Pearl Harbour. What we need is a fix. Go back to the days when the CIA and FBI cooperated, before the 70s when the Democrats like Frank Church crippled the FBI and CIA. That would help fix some of the problem. The rest is to take politics out - if you can.
Peter, Lighthouse Point, FL, USA





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