More than four years after the September 11 attacks, the U.S. is still not prepared to thwart another potential terror assault, according to a report issued by the 9/11 commission on Monday (December 5). The panel claims the government has not done enough to secure the country against what it calls an inevitable attack.
The 10-member bipartisan commission issued its final 567-page report in July 2004 and took to the airwaves over the weekend to give its assessment of how well its recommendations have been carried out.
"Four years after 9/11, it is a scandal that police and fire departments in major cities still can't talk to each other reliably when they are hit with a major crisis," said Thomas Kean, former governor of New Jersey and chairman of the 9/11 Public Discourse Project, in a press conference Monday morning. "It's scandalous that airline passengers are still not screened against all names on a terrorist watch list. And it's scandalous that we still allocate scarce homeland security dollars on the basis of pork-barrel spending and not on risk."
The commission gave the government an average grade of C- for progress in enacting recommendations to prevent another terror attack, with various government agencies getting five F's, 10 D's and two incompletes. The highest grade was an A- for counter-terrorist financing.
"People are not paying attention," Kean said Sunday, according to The Associated Press. "God help us if we have another attack." Pressed to give the government grades on how it has responded to the committee's 41 suggested changes in security measures, Kean said the White House gets "more F's than A's."
Since the 9/11 report was issued, the government created a national intelligence director position (currently filled by John Negroponte), but it has been slower to improve communication between emergency responders and allocate anti-terror money based on risk levels.
"We agree that more work needs to be done," White House counselor Dan Bartlett said Monday. He told CBS' "The Early Show" that the Bush administration had acted on almost 70 of the commission's recommendations and that others were awaiting congressional action. And even though the U.S. has not been attacked again since 9/11, Bartlett told NBC's "Today" show that the government is not "resting on our laurels."
The commission's vice chairman, former Indiana Congressman Lee Hamilton, told NBC's "Meet the Press" Sunday that, "We believe that another attack will occur. It's not a question of if. We are not as well-prepared as we should be," according to the AP report.
While the commission no longer has any official authority, its recommendations are now being promoted through the privately funded Public Discourse Project.
Congress established the commission in 2002 to investigate what government oversights led to the attacks that killed nearly 3,000 people. While it did not blame Presidents Bush or Clinton for mistakes that led to the attacks, it did conclude that they would not likely be the nation's last.
Among its original findings was that U.S. leaders didn't understand the gravity of the threat from al Qaeda, terrorism wasn't a chief concern of the Bush or Clinton administrations, and that information wasn't being shared across intelligence agencies. According to the AP, Kean and Hamilton again urged Congress to pass spending bills that would allocate money for police and fire department first-responders to buy equipment that would let them communicate across radio spectrums and to reallocate homeland security money so that higher-profile targets like Washington, D.C., and New York would receive more for terrorism defense.
Both bills on those issues have stalled out in Congress, mainly over turf battles concerning the allocation of anti-terror dollars.
"It really approaches scandal to think that, four years after 9/11, the police and the fire [departments] cannot talk to one another at the scene of the disaster," Hamilton said on "Meet the Press." "They could not do it on 9/11, and as a result of that, lives were lost. They could not do it [after] Katrina. They still cannot do it."
Congress is still considering a bill to establish such a radio frequency, according to CNN, but even if it passes, it might not begin offering fixes for the situation before 2009.
"We've had some of this money spent to air condition garbage trucks," Kean said of the way terror funds have been dispersed. "We've had some of the money spent for armor for dogs. This money is being distributed as if it's general revenue sharing."