9-11 Panel Gives Administration Failing Grades The 9-11 Public Discourse Project issued its final evaluation Monday, a report card assessing how well the United States has implemented key counter-terror reforms. Madeleine Brand talks to NPR homeland security correspondent Pam Fessler about the panel's conclusion that the federal government has not done a sufficient job of protecting the country against future attacks.
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9-11 Panel Gives Administration Failing Grades

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9-11 Panel Gives Administration Failing Grades

9-11 Panel Gives Administration Failing Grades

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MADELEINE BRAND, host:

From NPR West, this is DAY TO DAY. I'm Madeleine Brand.

Coming up, questions about torture follows Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on her trip through Europe.

But first, the United States is not well-prepared for a terrorist attack, that according to members of the 9-11 Commission. That's the bipartisan group set up to examine how government agencies could have responded better to the September 11th terrorist attacks. Here's the group's co-chair Tom Kean speaking today at a press conference.

Former Governor THOMAS KEAN (Republican, New Jersey; Co-Chair, 9-11 Commission): We believe that the terrorists will strike again, so does every responsible expert that we have talked to. If they do and these reforms that might have prevented such an attack have not been implemented, what will our excuses be?

BRAND: The members of the commission say this is their final status report. Joining me now to talk about that is NPR's homeland security correspondent Pam Fessler.

And, Pam, what reforms was Kean talking about there? What are the most glaring shortcomings the commission identified?

PAM FESSLER reporting:

Well, perhaps the biggest was the fact that first-responders, police and firemen, still have trouble communicating with each other when they're at the site of an emergency, that they don't have enough bandwidth to have compatible radios. The commissioners called this a scandal because that was a big problem on 9/11 and it continues to be a big problem, something that we saw with Hurricane Katrina.

Another thing that got an F was the fact that homeland security money is still distributed around the country by Congress on a formula that doesn't really take risk into account, that states such as Wyoming still get more per capita than states such as New York. There were also low grades for the inability to secure nuclear sites around the country, the fact that nuclear materials could be accessible to potential terrorists, lack of standards, international standards for treatment of terrorist detainees and a whole bunch of other things.

One of the things that they did give a little bit higher grade to, a B, was the intelligence reform. That was one of the major recommendations of the commission, that the nation's intelligence operations be overhauled which, in fact, Congress did. But some commissioners still think things are going too slowly.

BRAND: And did the leaders identify who was responsible for these lapses?

FESSLER: Well, it was a combination. They were pointing fingers both at Congress and the White House. They said that basically the urgency of dealing with a terrorist threat seems to have diminished over the past four years. They blamed both Congress and the White House for not keeping this a high priority, and they said one of the greatest threats that the country faces is the fact that terrorists could get their hands on a weapon of mass destruction and use it inside the United States. And as you heard Chairman Kean say, they expect that there will be another attack.

BRAND: Hmm. Some people said that we got a taste of that with Hurricane Katrina. The commission's Democratic co-chair, Lee Hamilton, suggested over the weekend that Hurricane Katrina proved that the federal government had not fixed national emergency response procedures. So did the commission draw specific parallels between 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina?

FESSLER: Well, this was probably the best example of how much more needs to be done. The administration and Congress actually have done a lot of things in changing the way that first-responders talk to each other. There have been some improvements, but clearly Hurricane Katrina just showed how much more needs to be done as far as these communication equipment--but even more so, having a unified command structure when there is an emergency. Who's in charge? It was not clear who was in charge on 9/11, and the commissioners say it was still not clear in Hurricane Katrina.

BRAND: Pam Fessler is NPR's homeland security correspondent, and she joined me from Washington.

Thank you, Pam.

FESSLER: Thank you.

BRAND: And you can read their report card yourself on our Web site, npr.org.

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