More government is not the answer: instead of making it more difficult for terrorists to enter this country, the 9/11 Commission would intrude on the freedoms and privacy of all Americans.
The lead sentence in an August 18 Tucson Citizen story on Adnan G. El Shukrijumah stuns up the alarming content: "A suspected al-Qaeda terror cell leader may be trying to enter the United States illegally from Mexico along immigrant smuggling routes, the FBI said yesterday." Shukrijumah had been sought by the FBI for more than a year for alleged extensive ties to al-Qaeda, and he had trained as a pilot and in explosives. Shukrijumah and two companions had been spotted in a Honduran "Internet cafe" by two eyewitnesses.
The story about Shukrijumah was the second alert in as many weeks that suspected al-Qaeda leaders were allegedly planning to use America's porous southern border to infiltrate terrorists into the country. The FBI had looked into a report a week earlier, which officials later discounted as unreliable, that a different al-Qaeda operative had tried to open up a bank account in Tijuana, Mexico. FBI officials believe the Shukrijumah alert to be real.
The Tucson Citizen story also highlighted one of the main problems with the 9/11 Commission's recommendations, endorsed en toto by Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry and largely endorsed by President Bush. The commission's recommendations offered no advice on how to stop illegal immigration or how to clear up the emerging security threat from America's borders. Instead, commissioners called for the federal government to "send a message of welcome, tolerance, and justice to members of immigrant communities in the United States" and to "reach out to immigrant communities."
The 9/11 Commission did at least acknowledge that it is "elemental to border security to know who is coming into the country. Today more than nine million people are in the United States outside the legal immigration system. We must also be able to monitor and respond to entrances between our ports of entry, working with Canada and Mexico as much as possible." But a careful inspection of the 9/11 Commission report reveals that not a single one of the commissioners' 41 recommendations had anything to do with stemming illegal immigration, which would make it more difficult for accused terrorists such as Shukrijumah to get into the United States undetected.
Increasing Government's Presence
Instead, commissioners focused on imposing more government controls on average Americans. "Many of our recommendations call for the government to increase its presence in our lives," the 9/11 Commission report candidly admitted. And while the 9/11 commissioners are largely silent on obvious gaping holes in our national security, they have embraced leviathan "solutions" that at best would only minimally impact the terrorist threat.
Consider, for example, the 9/11 Commission's recommendation for a cradle-to-grave "biometric" national identification card for all Americans. "Secure identification should begin in the United States," commissioners stated. "The federal government should set the standards for the issuance of birth certificates and sources of identification, such as drivers' licenses." And by "secure" commissioners mean "biometric identifiers" that "measure unique physical characteristics, such as facial features, fingerprints, or iris scans, and reduce them to digitized, numerical statements called algorithms."
The 9/11 Commission stressed that "Americans should not be exempt from carrying biometric passports." It is almost as if the American people themselves--and not foreign al-Qaeda agents--are viewed as the enemy. The 9/11 commissioners complained: "Currently U.S. persons are exempt from carrying passports when returning from Canada, Mexico, and the Caribbean."
The commissioners insisted that "improved biometric systems will be required" and will be "an essential investment in our national security." The investment is essential, commissioners argue, because "better technology and training to detect terrorist travel documents are the most important immediate steps to reduce America's vulnerability to clandestine entry." Of course, a terrorist who simply wades across an unmonitored Rio Grande, as thousands of illegal immigrants do every day, won't need to worry about having biometric travel documents.
Nevertheless, the federal government is proceeding with a test of the biometric identification program. "Since September 11, the United States has built the first phase of a biometric screening program, called USVISIT (the United States Visitor and Immigrant Status Indicator Technology program)," commissioners noted. The program requires two "biometric identifiers," digital photographs and prints of both index fingers.
The call for nationalizing drivers' licenses and other identification is a particularly striking example of going after the wrong target, considering that most of the 9/11 hijackers traveled openly in the United States. The 9/11 Commission report noted that "Al Qaeda ... considered the environment in the United States so hospitable that the 9/11 operatives used America as their staging area for further training and exercises--traveling into, out of, and around the country and complacently using their real names with little fear of capture."
The reality is that secure identification would have made little if any difference in preventing the 9/11 attacks. Washington's failure to act on information provided by its own FBI field agents, and the failure even to communicate existing intelligence to immigration officials and to state and local law enforcement (which handled airport security before the 9/11 attacks), were the most serious problems law enforcement faced.
"Three hijackers were known or knowable by intelligence authorities as al-Qaeda terrorists in early 2000, but their biographical information was not fully developed and communicated to border authorities for watchlisting," the recent 9/11 Commission staff report 9/11 and Terrorist Travel noted. If border officials are not told to look out for terrorists who are known to intelligence officials, the most secure identification card in the world is useless.
David M. Walker, the comptroller general of the United States, agreed in an August 2004 General Accounting Office report that "the federal government did not share national-level intelligence with states and cities, since they were not viewed as having a significant role in preventing terrorism.... [I]nformation that was shared was not perceived as timely, accurate, or relevant; and federal officials have not established comprehensive processes or procedures to promote effective information sharing."
9/11 and Terrorist Travel added that intelligence officials considered border control almost irrelevant to the terrorist threat, specifically: "no agency of the U.S. government thought of border security as a tool in the counterterrorism arsenal. Indeed, even after 19 hijackers demonstrated the relative ease of obtaining a U.S. visa and gaining admission into the United States, border security still is not considered a cornerstone of national security policy."
The 9/11 Commission staff report concluded that border security "must be made" a national security policy, but, as Comptroller Walker stressed in the GAO report, this has yet to be done. Walker noted: "Our recent work indicates that DHS [Department of Homeland Security] has not yet officially documented communication protocols for providing threat information and guidance to federal agencies and states, with the result that some federal agencies and states may first learn about changes in the national threat level from media sources. Moreover, federal agencies and states responding to our inquiries indicated that they generally did not receive specific threat information and guidance, and they believed this shortcoming hindered their ability to determine whether they were at risk as well as their ability to determine and implement appropriate protective measures."
In their recommendations to over-federalize law enforcement on terrorism measures, 9/11 commissioners actually are countering their own advice. "No single layer of security is foolproof," the 9/11 commissioners correctly stated. And so they advocated putting "multiple layers of security in place to defeat the more plausible and dangerous forms of attack against public transportation." Yet under the 9/11 Commission plan, the only real layer of protection the terrorists would need to circumvent is the same federal government that performed so poorly on September 11, 2001.
The only real obstacles to the terrorists" plans on September 11 were the passengers on United Airlines flight 93 and the first responders on the ground in New York City and Washington, D.C., who saved so many lives. By way of contrast, FBI headquarters failed to pass on a crucial warning from its Phoenix field office. The warning, issued three weeks before the September 11 attacks, was that al-Qaeda operatives had sought flight training for terrorist purposes. In addition, the FBI botched the investigation of Zacarias Moussaoui, the so-called "20th hijacker," that its Minneapolis field office wanted vigorously to pursue.
According to Coleen Rowley, chief attorney for the FBI's Minneapolis office, these failures caused FBI field agents in Minneapolis to bitterly joke that key officials at FBI headquarters "had to be spies or moles ... working for Osama bin Laden." In a May 2002 memo to FBI director Robert Mueller, Rowley asked why the FBI would "deliberately sabotage a case." "The Phoenix, Minneapolis and Paris Legal Attache offices reacted remarkably [well], exhibiting keen perception and prioritization skills regarding the terrorist threats they uncovered or were made aware of pre-September 11th," she noted. "The same cannot be said for the FBI Headquarters' bureaucracy and you want to expand that?!" Clearly, it is not in the best interests of security to place all of our anti-terrorism efforts in the hands of the federal government.
The 9/11 Commission report also recommended a much-needed realignment of intelligence agencies, with more of a focus on the human intelligence that was obviously lacking on 9/11 and before the Iraq War. Unfortunately, commissioners propose organizing intelligence under a Cabinet-level "national intelligence director." The United States already has not only a Defense Department but a second defense department in the form of a new Department of Homeland Security.
The nation doesn't need a third Cabinet-level agency to handle what should be the job of a single Cabinet-level defense department. The national intelligence director would not only likely become yet another oxymoronic title, similar to "jumbo shrimp," it would elevate intelligence to the Cabinet level it has held in historical police states, such as the KGB in Soviet Russia and the Gestapo in Nazi Germany.
Finally, the 9/11 Commission report called for more foreign aid and greater international entanglements, based on the premise that "the American homeland is the planet." For example, the 9/11 commissioners argued that "the United States and the international community should make a long-term commitment to a secure and stable Afghanistan."
The Opposite of Wisdom
Despite the fact that the 9/11 Commission recommendations would almost universally "call for the government to increase its presence in our lives," the commission's recommendations now appear politically sacrosanct. Even partisan bills are being couched in the terms of the 9/11 Commission's proposals. On CBS's Face the Nation program for August 21, Senator Pat Roberts (R-Kansas) said that a bill he has worked on with other Republican members of the Senate Select Intelligence Committee was a direct response to the following question: "What would you put together now that really represents an answer to what the 9/11 Commission has recommended and what our Senate report has indicated?"
Roberts would probably have been closer to the mark if he had written the proposal on the question: "What is the opposite of what the 9/11 Commission recommended?" Americans can certainly do better than an increasing government presence in their lives without any more national security.
|Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback|
|Author:||Eddlem, Thomas R.|
|Publication:||The New American|
|Article Type:||Cover Story|
|Date:||Sep 20, 2004|
|Previous Article:||Electoral College in peril?|
|Next Article:||Solutions to the terrorist threat: there are a number of practical steps that can be taken, from securing our borders to restoring multiple layers of...|