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The former members of the bipartisan 9-11 Commission will hand out a final report card today for both the White House and Congress. Expect to see a fair number of D's and F's. The panel made recommendations more than a year ago on how to avoid another terrorist attack. Members say the results have been disappointing as NPR's Pam Fessler reports.
PAM FESSLER reporting:
As commissions go, this one was among the most successful. The five Democratic and five Republican members were unanimous in their findings on what led to the 9/11 terrorist attacks and on what the government should do to prevent another one. Congress reorganized the intelligence community and response to the commission's findings. And when the panel disbanded, its members created a non-profit group to press their agenda. Now it's about to end. The non-profit will cease to exist and the commissioners will go their separate ways. Former Chairman Tom Kean says when all is said and done, though, there's a lot that hasn't been done. One key commission finding was that prior to 9/11, the government didn't take the terrorists' threat seriously enough.
Mr. THOMAS H. KEAN (Chairman, 9-11 Commission): This was somewhat down on the priority scale. What we're concerned now about is that it seems it's happening again, that bin Laden still wants to kill as many Americans as possible, and yet we're talking about other things. We're not having a national debate on how to make the country safer.
FESSLER: Kean says it's still too easy for terrorists to get their hands on nuclear materials, that first responders still have incompatible communications equipment and that Congress still hands out Homeland Security funds without regard to risk.
Mr. KEAN: Information sharing is still far from what it should be. The FBI has the right goals to reform itself but has made very little progress.
FESSLER: And the commission's key proposal, that the nation's intelligence operations be overhauled, has moved much too slowly. One commissioner, former Navy Secretary John Lehman, complained in a recent OP-ED that the intelligence reorganization has created more, not less, bureaucracy. Former CIA official John Brennan thinks that the changes made so far could actually be hurting national security. He says some of the blame, though, rests with the commission's proposals.
Mr. JOHN BRENNAN (Former CIA Official): They spent most of their time doing an excellent job re-creating the events that led to 9/11. They spent a limited amount of time on what should be done to correct those issues. So their recommendations were rather limited.
FESSLER: He says that left a void with intelligence agencies still struggling. He says there's no overall game plan on how to prevent information from slipping through the cracks as it did prior to 9/11.
Mr. BRENNAN: We need to make sure that we are interconnecting those different elements there and that has not yet happened.
FESSLER: The Bush administration disagrees. The new director of national intelligence, John Negroponte, told CNN last week that he thinks the country's safer and that his office has done a good job integrating foreign, domestic and military intelligence. The White House says by its count, the administration has adopted all but two of the commission's 41 recommendations. Richard Falkenrath is former White House deputy homeland security adviser.
Mr. RICHARD FALKENRATH: The commission really should be proud of the extent to which the administration embraced their recommendations from July of last year, but I question their ability and their new incarnation to gauge objectively how the federal government is doing.
FESSLER: He says the former commissioners are just private citizens who no longer have access to the inner workings of government. He says they don't really know what's going on, but Tom Kean says it's no secret that there are serious gaps and the former commissioners have spent the past year trying to point that out.
Mr. KEAN: But there's a lot more to be done, and at this point, somebody else has got to pick up the ball.
FESSLER: Mary Fetchet, who lost her son Brad in the World Trade Center, is worried that won't happen. She's formed a non-profit group called Voices of September 11th which will keep pushing for change, but she says the public has a very short attention span.
Ms. MARY FETCHET: I think the general public really is under the false impression that the country is really safer, that just because these reforms have been passed, legislated, that they're being implemented.
FESSLER: She says like former members of the 9-11 Commission, she hopes it doesn't take another terrorist attack for that to happen.
Pam Fessler, NPR News, Washington.
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