- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 31, 2011

The U.S. is safer from terrorism than it was before Sept. 11, 2001, but gaps remain, particularly in aviation security, intelligence reform and congressional oversight, according to the 9/11 Commission.

“There were major screwups” in establishing a new director of national intelligence to lead U.S. spy agencies, and problems with congressional oversight are now worse than they were in 2001, commission member John F. Lehman told The Washington Times.

As for aviation security, the “current system is not efficient, there is no cost-benefit analysis and the screening technology can be defeated” to get explosives and firearms onto planes, said Mr. Lehman, who served as Navy secretary under President Ronald Reagan.

The 10-member commission, set up by President George W. Bush 15 months after the 9/11 attacks, was charged with finding out how al Qaeda’s plot to crash hijacked airliners into the centers of U.S. economic, military and political power succeeded - and what changes were needed to protect the country against future attacks.

In July 2004, after more than a year of hearings and research - including protracted disputes with the administration about access to intelligence documents - the commission issued its report.

In addition to a much-praised narrative of the attacks, the report contained 41 recommendations for sweeping changes to the policies and institutional structures of the U.S. government.

On Wednesday, with the 10th anniversary of the attacks looming, the commission reconvened to deliver its latest scorecard on the implementation of those recommendations and to evaluate progress in securing the U.S. against terrorism.

“Overall, the water glass is more full than empty,” Mr. Lehman said. “I’d say it was 60-40.”

He noted that 32 of the commission’s 41 recommendations have been implemented to some degree.

But the problems it identified in congressional oversight had “gotten worse, and nobody is pushing to make them better,” he said.

Congress “has got to shape up,” Mr. Lehman added. “They are now the biggest problem.”

Commission co-chairman Lee Hamilton told The Times that 88 congressional committees and subcommittees had oversight of the new Department of Homeland Security when the commission first issued its report. That “weakens oversight and [is] a huge burden on DHS,” he said, noting that the commission recommended a single panel to oversee the department.

Instead, the number of committees with oversight responsibility for DHS has grown to more than 100. “They’ve gone backwards,” said Mr. Hamilton, who served in Congress for 34 years.

He noted that there had been some moves to improve oversight of intelligence spending, but that the commission’s recommendations on that score also have languished.

Mr. Lehman was particularly critical of the establishment of the director of national intelligence (DNI).

Bush turned our recommendation for the DNI upside-down,” he said, noting that the commission had wanted a powerful leader for the 16 U.S. intelligence agencies with control of personnel and budgets. “He got none of that,” he said of the new director, calling the office “just a new 2,000-person bureaucracy.”

The director of national intelligence “has no authority … he’s just a cheerleader,” Mr. Hamilton said, noting that there have been four people in the post in six years.

Other areas where commissioners said their recommendations remained unfulfilled include the establishment of a biometric border for the United States, secure identity documents for U.S. citizens and a strong executive branch oversight committee to protect privacy and civil liberties.