A panel made up of officials of the former September 11th Commission presented some sobering news to the country this week. The short version: In the four years since the 9/11 attacks, the government has failed to make substantive changes in procedures and policies to make the United States safer from another major terrorist attack.
The panel cited security funds that were spent on pork-barrel projects, disjointed airport screening methods, and other problems.
After more than three years of hearings and investigations, the panel issued what members said was their final assessment of the government's counter-terror performance as a report card. It gave failing grades in five areas and issued only one A -- for the Bush administration's efforts to curb terrorist financing.
The five Fs were for:
Failing to provide a radio system to allow first responders from different agencies to communicate with each other during emergencies.
Distributing federal homeland security funding to states on a "pork-barrel" basis instead of risk.
Failing to consolidate names of suspicious airline travelers on a single terror-watch screening list.
Hindering congressional oversight by retaining intelligence budget information as classified materials.
Failing to engage in an alliance to develop international standards for the treatment and prosecution of detained terror suspects.
The panel also gave the government 12 Ds and Bs, nine Cs, and two incomplete grades in other aspects of preparedness. It's a staggering indictment, one that may very likely come back to haunt us.
Thomas Kean, a Republican and former New Jersey governor, was chairman of the commission. "We shouldn't need another wake-up call," Kean said. "We believe that the terrorists will strike again. So does every responsible expert that we have talked to. And if they do and these reforms that might have prevented such an attack have not been implemented, what will our excuse be?"
We would like to think the current administration would be energized and alarmed by the panel's report and spring into action with corrective measures. But no. Predictably, White House spokesman Scott McClellan related the commission's findings to the administration's campaign in Iraq, saying, "By taking the fight to the enemy abroad, that is keeping them from plotting and planning to attack inside America."
Yes, that makes so much sense, Scotty. How could there possibly be al-Qaeda operatives in the United States when some of them are fighting in Iraq? That strategy has already paid off handsomely for London, Madrid, Bali, and France.
Perhaps the most powerful criticism on the government's progress came from Mary Fetchet, who lost a son in the World Trade Center attack.
"How many lives have to be lost?" she said tearfully. "How many tragedies do we have to have before we have a system put in place that's going to protect our country domestically?"
Good questions. Too bad no one in the Bush administration seems to be listening.