Crib Sheet: The 9/11 Commission Report Card
Five Years Latter, the Bush Administration Fails to Protect the Nation.
Crib Sheet, Keith White, University of Virginia, Sep. 8, 2006
Five Years Latter, the Bush Administration Fails to Protect the Nation.
By Keith White, University of Virginia
Two years have passed since the release of the 9/11 Commission report, which documented the security breakdowns that allowed 19 hijackers to kill 2,973 innocent people and offered strategies to stop future terrorist attacks. While the White House focuses public attention on Iraq, it has received low grades on implementing the commission’s recommendations. Five years after the attack, according to a report card issued by the commission’s two chairs last December, President George W. Bush and his team are pulling through with a solid C- average (yes, we did the math).
The Bush Administration’s Failure to Heed the 9/11 Commission
One year after 9/11, and only after intense pressure from families of 9/11 victims, Bush finally approved the creation of a bipartisan commission charged with understanding how 9/11 happened and preventing future attacks.
The recently published Without Precedent: The Inside Story of the 9/11 Commission, authored by commission co-chairs Thomas H. Kean and Lee H. Hamilton, documents the two year investigation of the 9/11 Commission. Overcoming paltry funding and an uncooperative White House, the commission released a thorough public report in 2004, documenting the terrorist operation and issuing recommendations to avoid future attacks. In recounting the commission’s work, Kean and Hamilton illustrate a sterling moment in American government oversight and reform. Overcoming political pressure to blame political opponents and find scapegoats in the shadow of an election year, the commission released a unanimously supported report. The 9/11 Commission proved that our government’s failings could be fairly evaluated and publicly aired.
Unfortunately, the book also illustrates the failure of the White House and Congress to heed the commission’s recommendations. The work’s final chapter recounts the December 2005 report card on the government’s response to the commission’s 41 recommendations. How is America doing under the stewardship of George Bush and his Congressional supporters? That C- average came with five Fs and four Ds.
Subjects We Can’t Afford to Flunk: Terror Preparedness Funding and Aviation Pre-Screening
But even these failing grades, released nine months ago, have not brought about a change in direction from the Bush administration or its allies in Congress. In two critical areas that received failing grades last December, the allocation of terror preparedness spending and airline pre-screening, the Bush administration still deserves an old-fashioned dunce cap.
The White House has failed to offer a rational approach to security spending. Michael O’Hanlon, a Brookings Institution fellow, highlights the Bush administration’s warped spending priorities in regards to high-risk urban areas. The urban area security initiative received only 2 percent of federal anti-terror funding. While the debate about how to differentiate between the security needs of San Diego and Alden, Kan., is both difficult and emotional, there’s something wrong when 95 high risk areas such as Washington, D.C., and New York City are only receiving 2 percent of the federal grants for terror preparedness. The administration’s allocation plan also reduced New York City’s federal terror preparedness grant by $80 million. How did the administration justify this cut? The Department of Homeland Security said New York City is devoid of any national monuments or icons.
The administration has fared no better on aviation security. Soon after 9/11, legislation required the Transportation Security Agency (TSA) to screen all checked luggage at more than 400 American airports with explosive detection systems (EDS). This policy was soon changed, owing to manufacturing and implementation limitations, to screening all luggage with either EDS or explosive trace detection (ETD) systems. In their 2002 report, Bob Poole and Viggo Butler reveal the pitfalls of this screening strategy. EDS has a 30 percent error rate, while ETD and other approved detection systems are personnel intensive and cost prohibitive. This Bush-approved approach, according to Poole and Butler, shifts security efforts away from the real task at hand: identifying high-risk persons, not objects. The report suggests holding back on deploying this “mediocre technology” and deploying successful European and Israeli strategies. Regrettably the Bush administration has clogged our nation’s airports with devices that fail to provide security.
The baggage screening snafu is small potatoes next to the Bush administration’s attempt to divert funds from systems for detecting liquid explosives like the ones the recent U.K.-U.S. terror plot would have used. The Bush administration failed to divert bomb detection development funds while would-be hijackers were planning their foiled attack. Even more troubling, the executive office in charge of such anti-terror research, the Sciences & Technology Directorate, has been called "a rudderless ship without any clear way to get back on course” by liberal and conservative members of the Senate’s Homeland Security Committee. The United States is still defenseless when it comes to liquid explosives.
PJ Crowley, Director of National Defense and Homeland Security at the Center for American Progress, points to other security vulnerabilities facing our country: Our nation’s ports still are dangerously exposed and only 6 percent of cargo containers are inspected. The story isn’t much better with transit security: Crowley discusses the Administration’s placement of corporate concerns over railway security. No wonder 9/11 Commission Vice Chairman Lee Hamilton told C-Span viewers on August 27 he was “appalled” at the progress made on the commission’s recommendations.
What’s the Problem?
In flunking the test of living up to the commission’s recommendations, the Bush administration is endangering the American people. While George W. Bush and Dick Cheney tour the country, rallying support for their Iraq policy, critical weaknesses in our nation’s defenses against terrorist attack still exist. A chief finding of the 9/11 Commission was the federal government’s lack of focus on counterterrorism. Today that is not a problem: whether it’s the creation of a Homeland Security Department or recent headline-grabbing plane diversions, our nation pays close attention to the terrorist threat. But while conflating the battle against terrorism with the war in Iraq, the Bush administration has failed to implement reforms necessary for our nation’s protection.
Two years after the commission’s report, the Bush administration continues to ignore their findings. Instead the White House has twisted the report to justify a troubled Iraq strategy, ignoring the gaping holes in our nation’s security. Iraq is only a small piece of homeland security. A White House that still refuses to separate homeland security from justifying the occupation of Iraq not only insults the important work of the 9/11 Commission, but needlessly endangers the American public.