Washington, DC — With President Bush delivering another of his public relations speeches on national security Thursday, Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) delivered the following remarks detailing that – five years after 9/11 – more must be done to win the war on terror and make America safe. Reid made the remarks during an event where Senate Democrats unveiled their Real Security Act of 2006, an aggressive plan to take action on the real lessons of 9/11. A fact check on the president’s address today follows below.
“This morning, President Bush delivered another of his national security public relations speeches. It was straight from his election year playbook: distract, distort, divide and frighten America.
“There was not one new idea to change the course in Iraq, but plenty of rhetoric to scare the American people in advance of the midterm elections.
“Yesterday, President Bush announced he’s transferring 14 terrorists from secret prisons to Guantanamo Bay, so they can be tried before military panels.
“I want to know what took him so long. He’s had years to bring these murders to justice, and he’s waited until now – two months before an election – to do it?
“It’s a cynical – - but typical – - move from the Campaigner in Chief.
“There’s a reason – five years after 9/11 – that America is not as safe as it needs to be. It’s because Republicans play the politics of national security but fail when it comes to the policy of national security.
“If President Bush and Republicans in Congress are serious about protecting the country, they’ll stop frightening the nation and start doing something to make us safer.
“They’ll change course in Iraq, implement the 9/11 Commission recommendations and finally bring terrorists to justice.
“Of the 450 detainees, plus the 14 new additions at Guantanamo, not a single detainee has been brought to justice. Now the White House wants Congress to clean up their failures. Democrats will work with the military lawyers, listen to what Republicans like John McCain have to say, and develop a system that is tough and smart.
“This is not a question of will. It’s a question of competence. From Katrina to Iraq to the war on terror, this White House has proven incapable of doing the job. And rather than acknowledge their mistakes, they use fear.
“This policy of fear will not win the war on terror.
“When confronted with the challenges of their day, leaders in American history – Roosevelt, Eisenhower, Kennedy – did not divide the country. They united the nation.
“They gave hope and stayed focused on the real threats we faced.
“Roosevelt said, ‘The only thing we have to fear, is fear itself.’ President Bush – to the contrary – says to each of us, ‘Be afraid,’ and then does nothing to make us safer.”
Bush claimed he has implemented an effective terrorist watch list program. “9/11 also revealed the need for a coordinated approach to terrorist watch lists. So we established a common criteria for posting terrorists on a consolidated terrorist watch list that is now widely available across federal, state and local jurisdictions.” [9/7/06]
9/11 Commission Recommendation: Improve airline passenger pre-screening.
UNFULFILLED. TSA pre-screening system suspended. There remains no unified terrorist watch list for screening airline passengers. While $130 million has been spent on the Secure Flight program – a system that would match airline passengers against terrorist watch lists – the Government Accountability Office (GAO) reports that it remains in development and faces considerable management and oversight challenges. The TSA is in the process of reassessing the viability of Secure Flight, after suspending the program in March due to security and privacy concerns. [govexec.com, 6/25/06]
Bush promoted his efforts to stem the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction: “As we fight the enemies of a free Iraq, we must also ensure that Al Qaida, its allies and the extremists never get their hands on the tools of mass murder. When we saw the damage the terrorists inflicted on 9/11, our thoughts quickly turned to the devastation that could have been caused with weapons of mass destruction. So we launched the Proliferation Security Initiative, a coalition of more than 70 countries that are cooperating to stop shipments related to deadly weapons.” [9/7/06]
9/11 Commission Recommendation: Maximum effort by U.S. government to secure WMD.
UNFULFILLED. Harvard experts warn that a lack of leadership leaves a “dangerous gap” in efforts to secure WMD and reduce the threat of nuclear terrorism. A recent Harvard study, Securing the Bomb, warns that, “A dangerous gap exists between the urgency of the threat of nuclear terrorism and the scope and pace of the US and world response.” According to the report, “The most fundamental missing ingredient of the U.S. and global response to the nuclear terrorism threat to date is sustained, high-level leadership.” It reports that less than half of the estimated 1,300 tons of weapons-usable nuclear material in Russia has been secured, only 54 percent of the security upgrades have been completed on former Soviet Union buildings containing nuclear material, and only 29 percent of security upgrades have been completed on former Soviet material. As a result, as the New York Times recently reported, “programs to keep dangerous nuclear material out of the hands of terrorists through greater security are moving so slowly that it will take another 14 years to complete the job.” [Securing the Bomb, July 2006; New York Times editorial, 8/20/06]
Bush touted his Administration’s efforts to reform the FBI: “It is clear after 9/11 that something needed to be done to the system, something needed to be changed to protect the American people. And it is clear to me that this started with transforming the FBI to ensure that it effectively and quickly respond to potential terrorist attacks. And so now the top priority of the FBI since 9/11, the culture of that important agency full of decent people, has changed. The top priority is to protect the American people from terrorist attack. The bureau has hired large numbers of counterterrorism agents and analysts that are focusing resources on what they need to do to protect America.” [9/7/06]
9/11 Commission Recommendation: Create FBI national security workforce.
UNFULFILLED. According to a report released last month by the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, “it is clear that a transformational change has not yet occurred” within the FBI. The Committee cites “concerns remain regarding a lack of urgency to meet Intelligence Reform Act mandates, turnover in senior leadership ranks, and the potential loss of momentum towards intelligence reform.” Former 9/11 Commission member, John Lehman offers a similar position in an op-ed in the Washington Post. He wrote that the effort to create “a national security service within the FBI to focus on preventive intelligence rather than forensic evidence…has proved to be a complete failure. As late as June of this year, Mark Mershon of the FBI testified that the bureau will not monitor or surveil any Islamist unless there is a ‘criminal predicate.’ Thus the large Islamist support infrastructure that the commission identified here in the United States is free to operate until its members actually commit a crime. Our attempt to reform the FBI has failed.” [Initial Assessment on the Implementation of The Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004 Subcommittee on Oversight, House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, 7/27/06; Washington Post, 8/31/06]
Bush said his Administration has improved information sharing across the government: “We learned the lessons of September the 11th. We’re changing how people can work together. We’re modernizing the system. We’re working to connect the dots to stop the terrorists from hurting America again.” [9/7/06]
9/11 Commission Recommendation: Government-wide information sharing.
UNFULFILLED. GAO reports that a system for government-wide information sharing is still not in place. According to the GAO, “the nation still lacks the governmentwide policies and processes that Congress called for to provide a framework for guiding and integrating the myriad of ongoing efforts to improve the sharing of terrorism-related information critical to protecting our homeland.” It warns that, “Not having these recommended internal controls for effective programs in place increases the probability that the designations could be misapplied, potentially restricting the sharing of material unnecessarily or resulting in dissemination of information that should be restricted.” [GAO-06-385, 3/17/06]