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July 22, 2004

9/11 Commission Report: More Hits Than Misses

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Today the independent 9/11 Commission published a sweeping and largely on-the-mark report. The Heritage Foundation and other independent bodies that have looked at the major challenges facing the nation have drawn similar conclusions. It is past time to address these issues directly.

 

A little over one year after the horrifying September 11 strikes on New York and Washington, Congress passed and President George W. Bush signed into law a bill creating an independent, bipartisan national commission chartered to prepare a full and complete account of the circumstances surrounding the terrorist attacks and make recommendations to guard against future threats. The second part of the 9/11 Commission's mandate is particularly critical to the future security of the nation. Taken together, many of the major recommendations in the Commission's final report fulfill that obligation well. Congress and the Administration should make addressing these recommendations a special priority.

 

The Commission received unprecedented access to documents and administration officials, access that was reflected in the breath and thoroughness of the final report. The result was a useful documentation of the events surrounding 9/11 and a thoughtful set of recommendations for moving ahead.

 

The Commission's analysis makes clear that many of the nation's failures in responding to the rising danger of transnational terrorism stem from long-standing structural flaws in the U.S. government that transcend the policy decisions of any one administration. Addressing them will require Congress and the Administration to roll up their sleeves. The following should be at the top of their list:

 

  1. Stay on the Offensive. The Commission found that taking the war to the terrorists is the right thing to do. Terrorist sanctuaries have to be rooted out, international cooperation garnered, and a war of ideas won. These are the right priorities. (For background, see "The New National Security Strategy: An Effective Blueprint for the War on Terror," Heritage Foundation WebMemo No. 149)
  2. Improve Congressional Oversight. The Commission's criticism of the lack of effective congressional oversight of homeland security and intelligence is damning. Improving how the House and the Senate provide oversight of the Intelligence Community must be a priority. And as Heritage scholars have argued consistently, Congress must establish permanent homeland security committees in both houses. (For background, see "Homeland Security Needs Responsible Congressional Oversight," Heritage Foundation WebMemo No. 528)
  3. Undertake Intelligence Reform. The 9/11 Commission's final report calls for major reform in the organization of the Intelligence Community, including the creation of a new position, National Intelligence Director, to oversee the community and the establishment of a National Counterterrorism Center (NCC). These suggestions deserve careful consideration. In some areas, they might be improved. For example, an NCC might be best situated within the Department of Homeland Security, strengthening the department's statutory role as lead agency for the analysis and integration of terrorist information. (For background, see "An Agenda for Responsible Intelligence Reform," Heritage Foundation Executive Memorandum No. 931)
  4. Organize Homeland Security Grants. Making the case that homeland security grants can't become "pork-barrel spending," the Commission argues that federal assistance needs to be based on a national assessment of risks and vulnerabilities. That is absolutely right. (See, for example, "Homeland Security Grant Bill Needs Revision But Is a Step in the Right Direction," Heritage Foundation Executive Memorandum No. 909) Sadly, the House has just killed the Faster and Smarter Funding for First Responders Act (H.R. 3266), which would have done exactly that. Perhaps once permanent committees are established to guide such legislation, Congress will produce better results.

In the months and years ahead, the important day to remember may not be September 11, 2001, but July 22, 2004, when Congress was handed a blueprint on how to better deal with the threat of global terror.

 

James Jay Carafano, Ph.D., is Senior Research Fellow for National Security and Homeland Security in the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for International Studies at The Heritage Foundation.

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