9/11 Commission members warn of emerging threats in new report

    The struggle against terrorism “has entered a new and dangerous phase,” the members of the 9/11 Commission said in a report issued on July 22, 2014, the 10-year anniversary of the original 9/11 Commission Report, at a news conference and symposium in Washington, D.C.

    Spearheaded by the Bipartisan Policy Center in partnership with the Annenberg Public Policy Center (APPC), the new report identified emerging threats and continuing U.S. security vulnerabilities. One of the major problems, said the 10 members of the 9/11 Commission, was Congress’s failure to streamline the oversight of the Department of Homeland Security — the only major recommendation from their original report that has not been acted upon.

    When the commission made its original recommendation in 2004, the Department of Homeland Security reported to 88 Congressional committees and subcommittees. By the last Congress, the department answered to 92, along with another 27 caucuses,  commissions and groups.

    9/11 Commission chairman Tom Kean and vice-chairman Lee Hamilton, on July 22, 2014, the 10th anniversary of the release of the 9/11 Commission Report. Credit: Greg Gibson Photography. Courtesy of Bipartisan Policy Center.

    9/11 Commission chairman Tom Kean and vice-chairman Lee Hamilton. Credit: Greg Gibson Photography. Courtesy of Bipartisan Policy Center.

    The new report, titled “Today’s Rising Terrorist Threat and the Danger to the United States: Reflections on the Tenth Anniversary of the 9/11 Commission Report,” highlighted the need to simplify oversight along with a series of other threats, including:

    • The rise of ISIS, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, an extremist group that has killed thousands and conquered parts of Western Iraq and Syria, creating a breeding ground for terrorism.
    • The danger posed by foreign fighters returning to the United States and Western Europe from Syria and Iraq who may bring their extremist ideology home.
    • The need for improved cyber-readiness. As one former intelligence agency said, “We are at September 10th in terms of cyber preparedness.”
    • Concerns that Americans have a waning sense of urgency about the struggle against terrorism.

    Streamlining the oversight of the Department of Homeland Security has been endorsed by a wide range of experts on the left and the right. In May, more than 60 authorities — including the 9/11 Commission, the three past Secretaries of Homeland Security, and former heads of the FBI, CIA, NSA and the Joint Chiefs — signed on to a full-page ad, created by the Annenberg Public Policy Center, that ran in the Wall Street Journal. The need for reform was also endorsed by the Sunnylands-Aspen Task Force, a bipartisan group of experts organized in 2013 by APPC, the Aspen Institute Justice & Society Program, and the Annenberg Retreat at Sunnylands in 2013. The group’s report is here.

    A graphic illustrating the problem ran in the New York Times on Sunday, July 20. More about the ad, which was sponsored by APPC in partnership with the Aspen Institute Justice & Society Program, can be found here or at www.annenbergpublicpolicycenter.org/security.

    In the Washington BPC-APPC event on July 22, APPC director Kathleen Hall Jamieson introduced a panel on DHS oversight. Former Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge said the issue wasn’t just an organizational problem for Congress. “We’re simply saying to the leaders: It’s a national security issue, deal with it in an effective way, and that is changing the jurisdiction” of the committees overseeing it,” Ridge said. He told the audience, “My plea today isn’t to you, but to the leadership of the House and Senate to do something with regard to the massive, inefficient, ineffective oversight procedures dealing with the Department of Homeland Security.”

    APPC director Kathleen Hall Jamieson with the Wall Street Journal ad. Credit: Greg Gibson Photography.

    APPC director Kathleen Hall Jamieson with the Wall Street Journal ad. Credit: Greg Gibson Photography.

    Former 9/11 Commission vice-chairman Lee Hamilton said the oversight “continues to be dysfunctional… episodic, inadequate and threatens our national security.” Added former Commission member Timothy Roemer: “We hear Congress talk all the time about waste, fraud and abuse, waste fraud and abuse, how bad that is. Here is a great example of waste, fraud, and abuse, and how Congress could do it better.”

    The 9/11 Commission event was followed on Wednesday by a hearing before the House Homeland Security Committee, whose chairman, Michael McCaul (R-TX), cited the oversight graphic published by APPC. “When you have the [DHS] Secretary having to report to almost a hundred committees and subcommittees in Congress, Congress has not done its job…. This is dysfunction,” he added. “If you looked in the dictionary and looked under dysfunctional, you would probably see this map.” Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson remarked on the same graphic during an interview at the Aspen Security Forum, in Aspen, Colorado, on July 24. “There’s a point where oversight is too much,” Johnson said. “It definitely takes away from the mission that I know the taxpayers and Congress want us to be focused on.”

    In the House committee hearing, 9/11 Commission chairman Gov. Thomas Kean testified, “People have got to understand that dysfunctional oversight makes the people of this country less safe. That it impedes the department in doing its job. … We’ve had four Secretaries now in the department, two Republicans and two Democrats, all four of them have told me personally and told our group, nothing is more important than changing this, and trying to get the oversight right.”

    News coverage on this issue includes:

    9/11 Commission members who gathered in Washington, D.C., for the 10th anniversary of their report. From left: Thomas Kean (chairman); James Thompson; Timothy Roemer; Richard Ben-Veniste; Jamie Gorelick; Slade Gorton; Fred F. Fielding; and Lee Hamilton (vice-chairman). Missing are Bob Kerrey and John Lehman. Credit: Greg Gibson Photography. Courtesy of Bipartisan Policy Center.

    9/11 Commission members who gathered in Washington, D.C., for the 10th anniversary of their report. From left: Thomas Kean (chairman); James Thompson; Timothy Roemer; Richard Ben-Veniste; Jamie Gorelick; Slade Gorton; Fred F. Fielding; and Lee Hamilton (vice-chairman). Missing are Bob Kerrey and John Lehman. Credit: Greg Gibson Photography. Courtesy of Bipartisan Policy Center.