9/11 Commission says nation remains at risk

Ten years after the nation’s 9/11 Commission issued its landmark report, Americans remain at risk of terrorist attacks — and the public has little understanding or appreciation of the threat.

That’s the conclusion that former members of the commission reach in an update marking the anniversary of their 2004 report to the nation. Former U.S. Rep. Lee H. Hamilton, director of the Center on Congress and a professor of practice at Indiana University, was vice chairman of the commission and former New Jersey Gov. Thomas Kean was chair. They took the lead in issuing the new document.

“Reflections on the Tenth Anniversary of The 9/11 Commission Report” argues that, just as in the era leading up to the 2001 attacks, government officials are aware of threats but public knowledge lags.

Tom Kean and Lee Hamilton

Tom Kean and Lee Hamilton (Bipartisan Policy Center photo)

“If this gap persists, the political support for needed national security capabilities will fade,” the report concludes. “In today’s very dangerous world, that is something we can ill afford.”

The report was released by the Bipartisan Policy Center and the Annenberg Public Policy Center. Among its findings:

  • U.S. and allied efforts have badly damaged “core” al-Qaida, but the struggle against terrorism has entered a new and dangerous phases. Foreign fighters have flooded into Syria, which is effectively a failed state. ISIS has taken control of much of Iraq. Extremists have carried out attacks in Nigeria and Kenya. “The world has become more dangerous over the past few years.”
  • The American people are largely unaware of cyber-attacks against electronic networks, and the nation’s readiness isn’t keeping pace with the risk of cybersecurity threats.
  • Data collection is essential to deterring attacks, but the government has done a poor job of explaining what data it collects and why. The public is skeptical of government efforts.
  • Congress has resisted needed reforms to the oversight of security and intelligence gathering.
  • After years of alerts and rhetoric, a sense of “counterterrorism fatigue” has set in, with Americans increasingly inclined to write off legitimate threats.

The report offers recommendations focused on congressional oversight, budgets and funding, the role of the Director of National Intelligence and the need to protect cyber infrastructure. Hamilton and Kean summarize the findings in an op-ed that appeared this week in U.S. newspapers.

Obama praises Hamilton, Kean

President Barack Obama praised and thanked the 9/11 Commission and its leaders in a video posted this week on the Bipartisan Policy Center website (and linked from the Center on Congress site).

“Tom’s a proud citizen of the Garden State and Lee is a quintessential Hoosier who first made his name on the basketball court,” Obama said. “But both of you embody what Americans want in their public servants: integrity, humility, intelligence and a commitment to put the interest of our country before any partisan or personal agenda.

“From the Statehouse in Trenton to the halls of Congress you’ve made your mark. And I speak for so many Americans when I say our country could use a lot more public servants like Tom Kean and Lee Hamilton.”

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