WASHINGTON — A decade after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, there are still nine ways the U.S. can better protect Americans from terrorism, seven officials from the 9/11 Commission said Wednesday.
The 10-member commission issued 41 recommendations in 2004, and while most have been adopted, the nine still-unheeded ones affect key areas that include airport security and communication among first responders.
Sitting alongside his former commission members at the nonprofit Bipartisan Policy Center, commission Vice Chairman Lee Hamilton warned leaders not to "pat ourselves on the back too strongly."
"In my mind, there isn't any doubt that we are much better prepared than we were 10 years ago," Hamilton said. "Are we where we ought to be? No, I don't think we are."
The former Indiana Democratic congressman chided leaders for their slow response to two recommendations that the committee saw as "no-brainers." One called for developing so-called "D Block" radio frequencies, an unused portion of the airwave spectrum that first responders could use to communicate. The other urged a clearer chain of command when multiple agencies respond to the same emergency.
"Ten years after 9/11, we are not yet in the place in this country where the first responders can talk to one another," Hamilton said. "Ten years after 9/11, we are not yet at the place where we know who's in charge at the site of a disaster."
The other seven unheeded recommendations highlighted Wednesday address a wide range of issues. Commission members want to see better tracking of people leaving the country, as well as national standards for birth certificates and driver's licenses. They're pushing for airport-screening techniques that more reliably pick up explosives, and at the same time they want to see the Department of Homeland Security better address privacy and health concerns about full-body scans.
Commission members also want to see the government strengthen the position of the national intelligence director, which was established after the initial 2004 report but has been filled four times in six years.
They also said that while Congress had made significant progress changing other parts of government, legislators needed to overhaul their own oversight of the DHS. The agency "responds to the inquiries of more than 100 committees and subcommittees," according to a report passed out at Wednesday's session.
That's unacceptable, said commission Chair Thomas Kean, a former Republican governor of New Jersey.
"That's confusion, it's not oversight," Kean said. "It means that the Homeland Security Department spends so much time preparing and testifying that they're not spending enough time protecting us, which is their prime job."
Kean praised government officials for improving intelligence sharing, which he said had helped officials track and kill al Qaida leader Osama bin Laden. Still, he and other commission members said, the country continues to face a terrorist threat that's complicated by new fears of homegrown radicals and cyber-terrorists.
That's why it's important to adopt the nine unfulfilled recommendations without further delay, said former commission member Timothy Roemer, a former Indiana Democratic congressman who later served as ambassador to India.
"If it takes us 10 years to deliberate and consider those pending recommendations, how do we stay ahead of the terrorists?" Roemer asked.
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