9/11 Ten Years Later: Unfinished Business
Ten years ago on 9/11 /01, I was a Major with the Maryland State Police. As I walked across the parking lot that morning, the S.W.A.T. Commander stopped me and informed me that a plane had just slammed into one of the towers of the World Trade Center. Shortly after I entered my office, a second plane struck the remaining tower. My colleagues and I watched in horror as thousands of people were murdered during the worst attack on American soil. We all remember where we were and what we were doing on that horrific day, and like millions of Americans, we will never forget. Part of never forgetting includes the unfinished business this country still has in protecting us from another catastrophe of this magnitude.
The 9/11 attacks prompted President George W. Bush and Congress to commission the 9/11 panel to examine not only how these attacks took place, but just as important, how we could prevent future attacks. “Nineteen men with about $350,000 defeated every single security measure we had in place on 9/11, and they defeated it utterly” said former Democratic Senator Bob Kerrey. The devastation and destruction of the 9/11 attacks prompted our elected officials to declare “war on terror,” and after the finger-pointing in Washington D.C. was over, we vowed to change the way we shared intelligence and completely overhauled the security procedures at our nation’s airports. The initial 9/11 commission report was completed in July 2004, and made 41 recommendations on keeping our country safe. These recommendations were endorsed by both presidential candidates at the time and almost every member of Congress. Out of the 41 recommendations submitted by the 9/11 Commission, only 32 have been completed. I never want to be critical prior to providing positive feedback to our country for fulfilling 32 of the 41 recommendations, but we, as Americans, should be outraged that 10 years after the attacks, nine major recommendations are completely unfulfilled. Some of those recommendations include: Unity of Command and Effort, Radio Spectrum and Interoperability, Civil Liberties and Executive Power, Congressional Reform, Biometric Entry-Exit Screening System, Standardized Secure Identifications and Develop Coalition Standards for Terrorist Detention.
The 9/11 Commission report is very critical of the full-body scanners currently in use at many of our airports. The report indicates that these scanners fail to detect explosives when hidden on the body. The report also says right now, first responders still do not have a dedicated radio spectrum where communication is seamless. Thomas Kean, the co-chair of the commission, stated, “the absence of interoperability during the 9/11 attacks and during Hurricane Katrina was directly responsible for the loss of lives of first responders.” Legislation, which has been supported by the Obama administration, that would give first responders an exclusive radio spectrum (“D Block Spectrum”), is still stalled in Congress. The activation of the D Block Spectrum will provide first responders with a nationwide interoperable public safety network to include voice, video, text and other data transmissions.
Eighteen of the 9/11 hijackers obtained 30 state-issued IDs that enabled them to easily board planes on the morning of 9/11. As a result of this security breach, the commission recommended the federal government standardize the issuance of birth certificates, driver’s licenses and other forms of identification. As reported in previous writings by this author, thousands of passports that have been lost or stolen are currently in circulation, and for the most part, are being used by persons to travel internationally. Although the commission did not touch on the stolen/lost passport dilemma, it is apparent that any implementation of “Standardized Secure Identifications” should address the passport issues as well.
If we truly mean, “We Will Never Forget,” then, it is critical that we close the security gaps highlighted in the commission’s report immediately. If it takes another decade to address the issues highlighted in this report, our war against terrorism won’t get much easier. We all should be extremely concerned that after all this time, we have not fixed all of the security gaps that made us so vulnerable on 9/11. A report card highlighting our failures of 9/11 that is anything short of perfection is a report card that should not take another 10 years to improve upon.