Senate Democrats

Vital 9/11 Commission Recommendations Remain Incomplete, Unaddressed


In the two and a half years since the 9/11 Commission completed its investigation and offered its recommendations for securing our homeland and leading an effective strategy against terrorist threats, much remains to be done.  Roughly half of the recommendations have gone unaddressed, while many of the recommendations that have been accepted and adopted into law have not been effectively or fully implemented.  The following report summarizes the status of some of the key 9/11 recommendations.

Our limited homeland security funds are not being allocated wisely

There is not an effective strategy in place to ensure that scarce homeland security funds are being allocated on the basis of risk.  The Department of Homeland Security has yet to implement a system that will ensure that its limited resources are distributed on the basis of the greatest risks and vulnerabilities of attack.  Without an effective plan in place, our nation’s limited funds are not being allocated in a way that best protects our homeland.  During a recent Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee hearing, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and former 9/11 Commission members Lee Hamilton and Slade Gorton criticized the distribution of certain homeland security funds as “revenue-sharing projects” and “pork barrel” spending, and called for funding formulas based on vulnerability and risk for attack. (Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs hearing, 1/9/07)

Cities at high risk for attack are not assured adequate funding.  In May, the Department of Homeland Security announced plans to cut counterterrorist grants to New York and Washington, D.C. by 40 percent in 2007.  Although Secretary Chertoff unveiled new guidelines for the distribution of funds under the Urban Areas Security Initiative last month, it appears that funding formulas will not change significantly, leaving officials from these six key cities unsure if this program will guarantee sufficient funding. (New York Times, 7/12/06; Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs hearing, 1/9/07)

The Administration’s misplaced priorities continue to divert focus and limited resources from more important national security concerns.  The Bush Administration’s emphasis on “taking the fight to the enemy” and, in particular, its failed policy in Iraq, seem to have caused the Administration to lose focus on confronting the threat of weapons of mass destruction, leading an effective campaign to counter terrorists threats, and securing the homeland.  The Administration has directed $379 billion in U.S. taxpayer money to pursue a war of choice in Iraq – funds that could have been better allocated to improve our preparedness and protect critical infrastructure, reduce the risk of nuclear terrorism, secure and rebuild Afghanistan, and wage a successful campaign against terrorists’ extremist ideologies.

We are not as prepared as we should be

Our first responders do not have the tools they need to effectively respond to terrorist attacks or natural disasters.  More than five years after the attacks on 9/11 and 17 months since the failed response to Hurricane Katrina, the necessary steps have not been taken to ensure communications interoperability for emergency responders.  In a report released last month, the Department of Homeland Security gave only six of 75 metropolitan areas in the United States the highest rating for interoperable communications.  The failure to adequately address this critical issue was highlighted in the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee’s recent hearing on the implementation of the 9/11 Commission’s recommendations.  All nine witnesses – including former 9/11 Commission members, state and city officials, and family members of 9/11 victims – called for greater urgency in achieving communications interoperability.  Specifically, witnesses called for increased funding for technology and training programs for first responders and advocated speeding up the hand-off of a dedicated radio frequency to first responders.  Under current legislation, the broadband spectrum is not scheduled to be turned over to emergency officials until February 2009. (Department of Homeland Security, January 2007; Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs hearing, 1/9/07)

Our nation’s disaster response plans are insufficient.  The Department of Homeland Security’s Phase II Nationwide Plan Review completed this past summer found that only 10 states have sufficient disaster response plans in place.  It also reported that the public health infrastructure in most states does not have the training and basic equipment necessary to effectively respond to a terrorist attack or flu pandemic.  In recent testimony before Congress, 9/11 Commission Chairs Thomas Keane and Lee Hamilton highlighted the importance not only of developing effective response plans, but also ensuring that these are “living documents that first responders have practiced working together.”  As the investigation into the failed response to Hurricanes Katrina and Rita found, having plans on paper is only one aspect of the equation; training and simulation exercises also are vital to ensuring preparedness. (Department of Homeland Security, 6/16/06; Thomas Keane and Lee Hamilton, testimony before the House Committee on Government Reform, 6/6/06)

The large and extended deployment of National Guard units overseas, particularly in Iraq, has compromised its capacity to respond to domestic threats.  The Chief of the National Guard Bureau has reported that his forces have less than 34 percent of the equipment they should have to be ready for military operations, protect the homeland against attack, and respond to domestic disasters.  And, as the Government Accountability Office (GAO) recently reported, the Department of Defense does not have adequate measures in place to assess the readiness of National Guard forces and, as a result, “it will remain unclear whether the Guard is equipped to respond effectively to the consequences of a large-scale terrorist attack or natural disaster.” (GAO-07-60, 1/26/07)

Our nation’s borders remain porous and vulnerable to terrorist threats

A biometric entry and exit screening system program is still incomplete and unreliable.  According to the GAO, the U.S. Visitor Immigrant Status Indicator Technology (US-VISIT) program “faces strategic, operational, and technological challenges.”  While US-VISIT entry capability has been installed at 154 out of 170 land ports of entry, the GAO reports that management controls in place remain insufficient.  Further, the study states that the current US-VISIT exit capability cannot be effectively implemented at this time and that the interim exit technology tested has proven unreliable.  DHS has yet to submit to Congress its plan for implementing a comprehensive biometric exit/entry system – a report that it was required by law to be provided by June 2005.  Until the plan is finalized, the GAO has indicated that “neither DHS nor Congress is in a good position to prioritize and allocate program resources. (GAO-07-378T, January 2007)

Federal investigators successfully enter the United States using counterfeit identification.  The GAO recently reported that investigators “successfully entered the United States using fictitious driver’s licenses and other bogus documentation through nine land ports of entry on the northern and southern borders” between February and May of last year.  The study found that the Customs and Border Patrol officers did not detect the counterfeit identification and, in some cases, did not ask for any identification at the border.  The GAO concluded that “this vulnerability potentially allows terrorists or others involved in criminal activity to pass freely into the United States from Canada or Mexico with little or no chance of being detected.” (GAO-06-976T, 8/2/06)

Federal investigators successfully transport nuclear weapons material across U.S. land borders.  The GAO recently detailed how two federal investigators were able to smuggle enough nuclear material to make two dirty bombs across both our northern and southern borders. (GAO-06-940T, 7/6/06)

Significant security gaps remain in our transportation systems

There is still not a system in place to screen passengers against a comprehensive terrorist watch list.   In February 2006, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) suspended the Secure Flight program – a system that would match airline passengers against terrorist watch lists – due to security and privacy concerns.  Last month, the head of TSA, Kip Hawley testified that the Agency was in the process of reviewing the “No Fly” list and that the Secure Flight program would not be in place until at least 2008.  At the same time, the Customs and Border Protection’s (CBP) screening program, the Automated Targeting System, has come under scrutiny from both the DHS’s Privacy Office and the European Court of Justice for its inadequate privacy protections.  While the European Union and CPB successfully renegotiated an agreement for sharing passenger record information in October, this agreement is set to expire on July 31, 2007. (Kip Hawley, Testimony before the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, 1/17/07; CRS RL33645, 1/19/07)

Passenger flights are vulnerable to terrorists smuggling explosives as cargo.  According to the Department of Homeland Security, most air cargo carried on passenger aircraft is not screened for explosives.  A recent GAO report identifies limited funding – particularly for research and development initiatives – and management challenges as the source for delays in implementing the program for the installation of explosive detection systems at airports across the country.  Since 9/11, the Republican-led Congress has appropriated far less than the $5 billion that airport officials have identified as necessary to install these systems.  In fact, funding for air cargo security has declined in recent years, from $115 million in 2005 to $85 million in 2006 and just $55 million in 2007. (GAO-06-371T, 4/4/06; CRS RL33512, 7/5/06)

Key passenger and baggage screening programs have been delayed.  The TSA has stopped its deployment of trace detection portals (known as “puffers”) necessary to screen passengers for explosives due to “reliability problems” and remains years behind federally-mandated deadlines for installing explosive detection systems for screening checked baggage.  As a result, passenger flights continue to be vulnerable to terrorist threats.  Between October 2005 and January 2006 GAO investigators were able to smuggle bomb components past federal screeners at all 21 airports they targeted. (New York Times, 9/3/06; Seattle Times, 3/19/06)

Dangerous vulnerabilities persist in our nation’s rail and mass transit systems.  Although terrorists, including al Qaeda, have repeatedly targeted mass transit systems, just $750 million has been invested in rail and transit security, a fraction of the $6 billion that transportation officials say is necessary to implement security improvements.  This leaves the nearly 3.4 billion passengers who use mass transit in the U.S. each year and the billions that live near rail lines poorly protected against terrorist threats.  

Information sharing remains inadequate

A system for government-wide information sharing is still not in place.  In recent testimony, former 9/11 Commission member, Slade Gorton, highlighted the slow pace of information-sharing initiatives: “The federal government is doing a better job sharing terrorist threat information within its own structure today, but there are still huge gaps in information sharing with state and local authorities.”  Similarly, the GAO has reported that: “the nation still lacks the government-wide 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.”  The report states that “[n]ot 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.” (Slade Gorton, testimony before the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee; 1/9/07; GAO-06-385, 3/17/06)

The current strategy in the war on terrorism is not effectively confronting terrorist threats or serving to counter extremist ideologies

The United States is not leading the effective battle of ideas necessary to defeat the terrorist threat.  While the international community rallied behind America and the U.S.-led campaign against global terrorism in the aftermath of 9/11, the Bush Administration’s unilateralist foreign policies, its record of undermining international institutions and laws – including its policies on military tribunals, detainee treatment, and secret CIA prisons – and its over-reliance on military power have alienated key allies, left the United States less capable of leading the war against terrorism, and failed to accomplish our goal of dismantling al Qaeda’s terrorist network and discrediting its extremist ideology.  At the same time, U.S. diplomatic initiatives and programs to support secular education, scholarship and exchange in the Muslim world are insufficient, largely hobbled by weak strategy and inadequate funding. (GAO-06-535, 5/3/06; Joseph Nye, Ripon Forum, June/July 2006; Peter Singer, Brooking Institution, 9/06)

The terrorist threat continues to grow.  After reaching a 20-year high in 2003, the National Counter-Terrorism Center reports that worldwide terrorist attacks have increased by nearly threefold in the past two years, with 11,111 terrorist attacks recorded in 2005. (State Department press briefing, 4/27/05; National Counterterrorism Center, reported by the Christian Science Monitor, 4/21/06; National Counterterrorism Center, Country Reports on Terrorism, 2005)

Al Qaeda not only continues to operate – it also is inspiring a growing movement with global reach.  Today, Osama bin Laden and other high-level al Qaeda leaders are reported to operate in safe havens along the Afghanistan/Pakistan border where they coordinate operations and continue to promote their extremist ideology.  At the same time, al Qaeda has spawned an expansive terrorist movement.  Experts warn that increasingly decentralized, loosely connected networks of affiliates and “homegrown” terrorists – like those who orchestrated the attacks in Madrid in 2004 and London in 2005 – could grow to be just as dangerous as al Qaeda. (Foreign Affairs, Jan./Feb. 2007; New Republic, 1/22/07)

Afghanistan – a central front in the war on terrorism – is threatened by a lack of security, slow economic development, and a growing terrorist threat. The security, economic and political situation in Afghanistan remains highly tenuous.  The Taliban has successfully re-established safe haven along the Afghan-Pakistani border, opium production has reached record levels (rising 59 percent above 2005 production), and insurgent and terrorist violence has escalated to levels unprecedented since the start of Operation Enduring Freedom in 2001.  Last year, according to U.S. military statistics, more than 4,000 Afghans were killed in insurgency-related violence, terrorist and insurgent attacks increased fourfold (from 1,558 in 2005 to 4,542 in 2006), suicide attacks skyrocketed (from 27 in 2005 to 139 in 2006) and, in the South, Taliban attacks forced the closure of 35 percent of its schools.  According to experts, the situation is unlikely to improve unless the United States dramatically increases its commitment to Afghanistan and rethinks its strategy in the area and, in particular, its approach toward Pakistan.  Currently, the U.S. is spending just $1 billion annually on Afghan reconstruction, making it the lowest per capita rebuilding initiative in recent history.  At the same time, Coalition Commander General Eikenberry also is requesting troop increases, while the NATO commander, General Richards, estimates that his force is 4,000 to 5,000 troops short. (Foreign Affairs, Jan./Feb. 2007; UN Office on Drugs and Crime, 9/2/06; New York Times, 1/7/07; Afghanistan Watch, Century Foundation, 1/19/07)

International support for the war on terrorism is declining.  According to a Pew Research Center poll, “support for the war on terrorism has declined even among close U.S. allies.”  Backing from Spain and Japan has “virtually collapsed,” with the percentage who favor U.S. efforts against terrorism at 19 percent (down from 63 percent in 2003) and 26 percent (down from 61 percent in 2002), respectively. (Pew Global Attitudes Project Report, 6/13/06)

The international community is suspicious of American leadership.  A recent BBC World Service Poll of 26,000 people across 25 countries found that 73 percent disapprove of U.S. policies in Iraq, 68 percent view U.S. military presence in the Middle East as destabilizing, and only 29 percent view the U.S. as having a mainly positive influence in the world.  In the Arab and Muslim world, opinions of the U.S. are even less favorable.  The Los Angeles Times reports that a “survey conducted…in Egypt, a U.S. ally, by the polling group Zogby International found that just more than three percent of those questioned had a ‘very favorable’ opinion of the United States, whereas 71 percent had a ‘very unfavorable’ view.” (BBC World Service Poll, 1/23/07; Los Angeles Times, 8/8/06)

Initiatives to address the threat of nuclear weapons are not as aggressive as they need to be

There are hundreds of tons of loose nuclear material that remain unsecured around the world and vulnerable to terrorist theft.  Key programs to securing nuclear materials – programs vital to ensuring that the world’s most dangerous weapons do not fall into the hands of the world’s most dangerous people – have not been implemented as aggressively as they need to be.  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 U.S. and world response.”  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.  In 2002, the G-8 countries vowed to raise $20 billion over 10 years to prevent terrorists from obtaining nuclear materials yet, as of today, only $3.5 billion has been donated.  As a result, as the New York Times 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; Boston Globe, 7/16/06; New York Times editorial, 8/20/06)

North Korea and Iran continue to advance their WMD capabilities.  North Korea continues to advance its nuclear program, sell sensitive nuclear technology and materials to regimes unfriendly to the United States, while rebuffing U.S. and international calls to halt its uranium enrichment activities.  Today, experts believe that North Korea possesses material sufficient to build between four and 13 nuclear weapons and, unless an agreement is reached to stop the country’s program, it is estimated that Pyongyang will have enough material to manufacture between eight and 17 nuclear weapons by 2008.  Similarly, Iran continues to make progress in its enrichment efforts.  While estimates vary, most experts believe that Iran will have the capacity to produce a nuclear weapon within the next several years to a decade.  Further, there is widespread consensus among military leaders and political experts that U.S. policies in Iraq have significantly increased Iran’s influence in the region, and weakened the capacity of the United States to address the growing threat. (Institute for Science and International Security, 6/26/06; Washington Post, 8/30/06; Chatham House, 8/23/06)

Civil liberties guarantees are not being adequately balanced against national security requirements

Several policies put in place by the Bush Administration do not adequately safeguard civil liberties.  A number of national security policies advanced by the Bush Administration in the name of national security and counter-terrorism have imposed undue threats to civil liberties and privacy rights.  These include the Administration’s warrantless domestic spying program, its military tribunals, and detention and rendition practices for suspected terrorists.

Oversight board compromised by weak independence and authority.  The Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board was sworn in on March 14, 2006, after what the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence called a “frustratingly slow” start-up effort.  While it is now in the process of setting up its agenda, non-governmental groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union have voiced concerns about its future effectiveness, noting that the board “lacks any real, independent power to conduct meaningful oversight to protect privacy and freedom.”  The board does not have subpoena power and its investigations can be vetoed by the U.S. Attorney General. (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; ACLU, 3/15/06; Testimony by Rep. Christopher Shays, 6/6/06)