WASHINGTON -- Draft portions of the Sept. 11 commission's final report offer a stinging rebuke of the FBI and intelligence agencies but refrain from assigning blame to individuals in government to avoid the appearance of partisanship, several commissioners say.
The 10-member panel still is wrestling over recommendations to shore up the intelligence gaps and communications breakdowns that allowed the hijackers to succeed, four commissioners said.
"There's broad consensus that major changes are needed. This is not just a question of running faster, jumping higher," said Republican commissioner John Lehman, a former secretary of the Navy. "We need to ensure the fusion and sharing of all intelligence that could have helped us to avoid 9/11."
Among the ideas under consideration is a domestic intelligence agency modeled after Britain's MI5.
Democratic commissioner Timothy Roemer said FBI Director Robert Mueller's recent proposal to improve domestic surveillance by creating an intelligence service within the bureau is another option, but it might not be enough.
The commission was established by Congress in 2002 to investigate government mistakes before the attacks and recommend ways to improve the nation's protection against terrorists.
The bipartisan panel's final report is due July 26. However, portions of it, dealing with factual findings on the attacks, already have been drafted and sent to the White House for vetting and declassification, commissioners said.
CIA Director George Tenet, former FBI Director Louis Freeh, and President Bush's national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, have been harshly criticized by some lawmakers and relatives of Sept. 11 victims for not doing more to combat the threat of terrorism.
The commissioners who spoke to the Associated Press said the panel wants to avoid blaming individuals to avert charges of partisanship.
"We're going to say everything we need to say, but there's not going to be a political gotcha," said Republican commissioner Slade Gorton..
One example of the FBI's troubles was seen in the case of Sept. 11 hijackers Khalid al-Mihdhar and Nawaf al-Hazmi, who were linked by the CIA to Al Qaeda and were found to have entered the United States in summer 2001. FBI agents couldn't track the men down because intelligence officials weren't allowed to share information .
The two later boarded American Airlines Flight 77, which slammed into the Pentagon.
FBI and CIA officials declined to comment until agency officials had an opportunity to review the report. CIA spokesman Mark Mansfield said cooperation between the CIA and FBI on counterterrorism has never been better.
The commission holds its final public hearing next week.