WASHINGTON — The authors of the seminal 9/11 Commission report have produced a new study, a decade after the first, painting an often alarming picture of the country’s vulnerability to another terrorist attack.
The report, released Tuesday, praises some federal actions for making the country ”better equipped to prevent and respond to terrorist attacks than in 2001.” The commission, led by Chairman Tom Kean and Vice Chairman Lee Hamilton, points to the federalization of airport security, upgraded security at ports of entry, and the devotion of hundreds of billions of dollars to the intelligence community as policy movements in the right direction
Yet the report finds foreboding gaps. The authors argue that the U.S. remains under-resourced on cyber-terrorism and under-appreciative of emerging threats, predominantly in the Middle East. They note that while core al Qaeda “has been damaged in recent years, its affiliates and associated groups … now have a presence in more theaters of operation than they did half a decade ago, operating today in at least 16 countries.”
Titled “Today’s Rising Terrorist Threat and the Danger to the United States,” the report, released in conjunction with the Bipartisan Policy Center, is meant to map out the progress and continued shortcomings of America’s anti-terrorism policy. It spends more ink on the latter than the former. The authors seem particularly unsparing with Congress.
The legislative branch just doesn’t seem to get oversight right, as Kean and Hamilton see it. The authors note that in 2004, they were astonished to learn that the Department of Homeland Security reported to 88 committees and subcommittees of Congress.
“Incredibly,” they write, “Congress over the past ten years has increased this plethora of oversight bodies to 92.”
Kean and Hamilton recommend that Congress reduce the number of committees with jurisdiction over DHS, or simply empower one primary authorizing committee.
Meanwhile, the authors argue that Congress’ thumbprint is too faint elsewhere. Lawmakers, they write, need to provide “additional oversight” over the National Security Agency data-collection programs that were revealed by Edward Snowden.
Kean and Hamilton argue that these NSA “programs are worth preserving,” but they see a downside in lax checks and balances. They reference the need to protect civil liberties almost in passing, spending more time expressing concern that the NSA will suffer staffing shortages as young, computer-savvy Americans recoil at working there.
While there was a post-9/11 upsurge in the number of young people applying for national security jobs, recent headwinds appear to have seriously affected recruiting efforts. We see at least two potential factors behind this troubling trend. One is the Edward Snowden leaks, which may have dented young Americans’ enthusiasm for national security work. NSA applications reportedly fell by one-third in the wake of these disclosures, and the NSA was apparently disinvited from conferences at which it had recruited in the past…. A second factor is what we see as a waning sense of urgency on this issue, particularly among a younger generation for whom the 9/11 attacks were not a formative experience.
Finally, the authors urge Congress to get more involved (not less) in litigating the war on terror. The 2001 Authorization for the Use of Military Force needs to be updated, they argue, “to track the evolution of the terrorist threat.” Kean and Hamilton express skepticism that that authorization was legally sound for dealing with the rise of ISIS in Iraq. But the need for a new legal foundation is about more than just emerging threats in the Middle East.
“The Constitution assigns Congress a central constitutional role in authorizing the use of military force,” the report says. “Congressional approval also confers greater legitimacy, both at home and in the eyes of the world. Whatever course is ultimately chosen, this is not a decision that can or should be taken by the executive branch alone. Continuing to indefinitely rely on the September 2001 AUMF without further congressional action threatens to erode the constitutionally mandated separation of powers.”