Even a decade later, US not prepared for 9/11-like disaster

Nearly 10 years after the World Trade Center terrorist attacks in New York City, the US is still unprepared to handle significant national security threats, according to a Bipartisan Policy Center report released on Wednesday.

The report was authored by the members of the former 9/11 Commission, which now operates as the National Security Preparedness Group. The commission was initially formed to suggest policies to prevent large-scale terrorist attacks on the US similar to 9/11. In July 2004, it issued 41 recommendations that were endorsed by Congress.

The latest report, “Tenth Anniversary Report Card: The Status of the 9/11 Commission Recommendations,” found that although the US government has improved coordination among intelligence agencies and airline passenger screening, there is much more to be done.

 Even a decade later, US not prepared for 9/11-like disaster

Many security recommendations of the 9/11 Commission have not been implemented - and may never be. Shannon Stapleton / Reuters

“Today, our country is undoubtedly safer and more secure than it was a decade ago,” the report said. “We have damaged our enemy, but the ideology of violent Islamist extremism is alive and attracting new adherents, including right here in our own country. With important 9/11 Commission recommendations outlined in this report still unfulfilled, we fail to achieve the security we could or should have.”

But the bottom line: "A decade later, after 9/11, the nation is not yet prepared for a truly catastrophic disaster," according to the report.

Emerging threats

The US government needs to be mindful of the tactics and techniques of US “terrorist adversaries” that are “evolving rapidly,” the commission said. “We will see new attempts, and likely successful attacks,” the report noted.

US intelligence agencies have noted two emerging threats, in particular.

One is the “increasingly prominent roles” that Americans are playing in al Qaeda. “Muslim-American youth are being recruited in Somali communities in Minneapolis and Portland, Oregon, in some respects moving the front lines to the interior of our country. Alarmingly, we have discovered that individuals in the US are engaging in “self-radicalisation.”

Another area of growing concern is cyberterrorism, where electrical, financial, water, energy, food supply, military, and telecommunications networks could be hacked and disrupted. “This is not science fiction,” the report stated. “Defending the US against such attacks must be an urgent priority.”

Nine in need of improvement

The bulk of the report focussed on nine of the 41 recommendations that need the most work. They include improving the “unity of command” among federal, state, and local agencies during a disaster, as well ensuring that the US Congress create a single point of oversight and review for homeland security. “Congressional oversight for intelligence—and counterterrorism—is now dysfunctional,” the report stated.

Notably, the report also praised US President Barack Obama for the series of executive orders he signed that requires periodic review of Guantanamo detainees, and that bars the CIA from using “harsh interrogation methods.” The group recommended that Congress and the Obama administration create a “comprehensive approach that spells out clearly the rules of evidence and procedures and the forums in which they will be applied.”

Failing to do so will have political consequences, the report authors said. “[W]e are concerned that the issue of prisoner treatment has become highly politicised,” the report stated. “This is not good for the country or our standing in the world. Showing that bipartisan agreement is possible, and intending to reaffirm our values, the five Republicans and five Democrats on the Commission unanimously agreed on this recommendation. Together, we believed that our country’s values require adherence to the rule of law and a commitment to human rights and humane treatment.”

Easier said than done

In the end, however, it may be hard for the US to implement all of the commission’s recommendations.

Rick Nelson, a counter-terrorism expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington thinktank, told the Los Angeles Times that some of the recommendations were either too expensive or they raised potential concerns about privacy and civil liberties.

"A lot of the work that remains requires a decision by Congress and ultimately the American people," Nelson said. "Do they want this increased security and are they willing to pay for it and give up some civil liberties?"

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Updated Date: Sep 01, 2011 06:41:39 IST