July 28, 2004
By James Jay Carafano, Ph.D.
"Leaders Pick Up Urgency of 9/11 Panel," reads a front-page
headline in the July 24 Washington Post. Good news. Or is it?
It's not that the 9/11 commission's report is lacking. It's been
widely hailed, and rightly so, as generally on the
mark. It offers fair suggestions for what should be the next
steps in improving homeland security. Congress and the Bush
administration should be commended for wanting to act on them, and
But haste isn't necessarily a virtue here. It's more important to
get the next steps right than to get there fast.
As much as we may want to believe otherwise, it's unlikely that the
most significant proposed reforms would help much in stopping the
next attack. It would take years to reap the full benefits of many
of them, even if we wrote them into law today.
Still, it is worth doing and worth getting right. When we created
what became the Department of Defense and the CIA in 1947, no one
expected they would win the Cold War by 1948. We needed the right
instruments to fight a long war. Likewise, we need weapons for the
long war on terrorism.
Another reason not to rush is that in many cases, we've already
started. Of the 40 or so recommendations the commission made, most
are consistent with initiatives taken since the 9/11 attacks. Some
are already law, such as the Department of Homeland Security's
United States Visitor and Immigrant Status Indicator Technology
(US-VISIT), an automated system to expedite legitimate travelers
while singling out those who intend to do us harm. Others are
proposals now under consideration.
So, in large part, America needs to keep on the course it is on --
targeting terrorist sanctuaries, building international
cooperation, and engaging in the struggle of ideas to discredit the
fascism of international terrorism. We also need to keep improving
on the homefront --building layered defenses and public-private
partnerships to improve security while protecting the lives and
property, as well as the civil liberties, of our citizens.
Of the work left undone, Congress and the Bush administration need
to pay particular attention to reforming congressional oversight
and national intelligence community. These are the tough tasks,
ones that have been avoided so far since 9/11. Now, however,
Washington has run out of excuses. It's time to act. Here is what
policy-makers should do:
1) Appoint an intelligence chief. The president
doesn't have to wait for congressional action. George Tenet, who
served as the director of the Intelligence Community (DCI) and head
of the CIA, has resigned. Both jobs are empty. Given the ongoing
terrorist threat, Bush should fill them now. He should forward his
nominees for a new DCI and a deputy to Congress as soon as
possible, and lawmakers should waste no time considering them. The
DCI would serve as the head of the community until congressional
legislation formally establishes a separate position. The deputy
would run the CIA.
2) Get ready for intelligence reform. Getting the
reform right is critical, because whatever is done likely will
stand for generations. Congress should hold extensive hearings on
intelligence reform now, which would lay the groundwork for
legislation next session.
3) Reauthorize the Patriot Act. If lawmakers want
to legislate something right away, they should reauthorize the
provisions of the Patriot Act due to
sunset in 2005. Among these are measures that helped tear down the
"wall" separating the sharing of information between law
enforcement and intelligence officials. Congress should review the
provisions in the act, as the 9/11 panel suggested, and then
reauthorize the sunset provisions.
4) Reform thyself. The message from the 9/11
commission was clear. Congressional oversight of homeland security
and intelligence is abysmal. Intelligence committees need to be
strengthened with long-term appointments for members, a larger and
more capable staff, and a clear mandate. We should consolidate
responsibilities for homeland security in single committees in the
House and Senate -- committees that should be charged with
overseeing the Department of Homeland Security.
"Time is not on our side," said Thomas Kean, chairman of the 9/11
commission. But acting quickly won't help if we don't act wisely.
If policy-makers accomplish the four steps listed above before the
elections, they will have acquitted themselves well and made
important steps in meeting the challenges laid out by the 9/11
James Jay Carafano is a senior research fellow for defense and
homeland security at The Heritage Foundation (heritage.org). He
served 25 years of active duty in the U.S. Army.
Distributed nationally on the Knight-Ridder Tribune wire
It's not that the 9/11 commission's report is lacking. It's been widely hailed, and rightly so, as generally on the mark.
James Jay Carafano, Ph.D.
Vice President, Foreign and Defense Policy Studies, E. W. Richardson Fellow, and Director
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