- The Washington Times - Saturday, July 31, 2004

“Leaders pick up urgency of 9/11 panel,” reads a July 24 Page One headline in The Washington Post. Good news. Or is it?

It’s not that the September 11 commission’s report is lacking. It has been widely, and rightly, hailed as generally on the mark. It offers fair suggestions for the next steps in improving homeland security. Congress and the Bush administration should be commended for wanting to act on them, and soon. But haste isn’t necessarily a virtue here. It’s more important to get the next steps right rather than fast.

As much as we may want to believe otherwise, it’s unlikely the most significant proposed reforms would help much in stopping the next attack. It would take years to reap the full benefits of many, even if we wrote them into law today.

Still, it is worth doing and worth getting right. When we created what became the Defense Department and the CIA in 1947, no one expected they would win the Cold War by 1948. We needed the right instruments to fight a long war. Likewise, we need weapons for the long war on terrorism.

Another reason not to rush is that, in many cases, we have already started. Of the 40 or so recommendations of the commission, most are consistent with initiatives taken since the September 11, 2001, attacks. Some are already law, such as the Department of Homeland Security’s United States Visitor and Immigrant Status Indicator Technology (US-VISIT), an automated system to expedite legitimate travelers while singling out those who intend to do us harm. Others are proposals now under consideration.

So, in large part, America needs to stay on its present course — targeting terrorist sanctuaries, building international cooperation and engaging in the struggle of ideas to discredit the fascism of international terrorism. We also need to keep improving the homefront — building layered defenses and public-private partnerships to improve security while protecting the lives and property, and civil liberties, of our citizens.

Of the work still undone, Congress and the Bush administration need to pay particular attention to reforming congressional oversight and national intelligence community. These are the tough tasks, avoided so far since September 11. Now, however, Washington has run out of excuses. It’s time to act. Here is what policymakers should do:

(1) Appoint an intelligence chief. The president doesn’t have to wait for congressional action. George Tenet, who was director of the Intelligence Community (DCI) and head of the CIA, has resigned. Both jobs are empty. Given the ongoing terrorist threat, President Bush should fill them now. He should forward his nominees for a new DCI and a deputy to Congress as soon as possible, and lawmakers should waste no time considering them. The DCI would be the head of the community until congressional legislation formally establishes a separate position. The deputy would run the CIA.

(2) Get ready for intelligence reform. Getting the reform right is critical, because whatever is done is likely to stand for generations. Congress should now hold extensive hearings on intelligence reform to lay the groundwork for legislation next session.

(3) Reauthorize the Patriot Act. If lawmakers want to legislate something right away, they should reauthorize Patriot Act provisions due to sunset in 2005. These include measures that helped tear down the “wall” preventing the sharing of information between law enforcement and intelligence officials. Congress should review the provisions in the act, as the panel suggested, and reauthorize the sunset provisions.

(4) Reform thyself. The message from the September 11 commission was clear. Congressional oversight of homeland security and intelligence is abysmal. Intelligence committees need to be strengthened with long-term appointments for members, a larger and more capable staff and a clear mandate. We should consolidate responsibilities for homeland security in single House and Senate committees — that should be charged with overseeing the Department of Homeland Security.

“Time is not on our side,” said Thomas Kean, chairman of the September 11 commission. But acting quickly won’t help if we don’t act wisely. If policymakers accomplish the four steps listed above before the elections, they will have acquitted themselves well and made important steps in meeting the challenges laid out by the September 11 commission.

James Jay Carafano is a senior research fellow for defense and homeland security at the Heritage Foundation. He served 25 years of active duty in the U.S. Army.

Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide