9/11 Commission's Guidance Crucial to National Security
By Congressman Elton Gallegly (R-Ventura and Santa Barbara Counties)
Just before Congress was to adjourn for its August work session, the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States, better known as the 9/11 Commission, released its report.
Congress adjourned as scheduled, but it was clear that the committees with responsibility for anti-terrorism and intelligence needed to review the commission's findings during August and be prepared to institute necessary legislation once Congress reconvened.
As chairman of the House International Terrorism, Nonproliferation and Human Rights subcommittee, I conducted one of the first hearings on the commission's report. On Aug. 6, Commissioners Slade Gorton and Richard Ben-Veniste, along with Ambassador J. Cofer Black, counterterrorism coordinator for the State Department, appeared before my committee at Los Angeles International Airport. For several hours we examined ways to deny overseas sanctuaries to terrorists, be they in the mountains of Afghanistan, the cities of Europe, or the jungles of South America.
We've already made substantial progress in this area, but I agree with the commission that more needs to be done.
The 9/11 commissioners did a masterful job in compiling their report and in explaining the rationale behind their recommendations before congressional committees. I have been impressed with their energy, with their knowledge of the subject matter and the bipartisan spirit in which they approached their work and that they continue to show today.
Congress needs to weigh the commission's recommendations carefully, thoroughly and expeditiously, but not hastily.
Congress cannot and should not simply rubber stamp the commission's recommendations without analyzing the pros
and cons of implementing each proposal, or possible alternatives, to achieve the same goals.
We should also take into account what Congress has accomplished since the 9/11 attacks. Two of the commission's five major recommendations, the ones that are attracting the most media attention, are to create a National Counterterrorism Center and a National Intelligence Director. Both those recommendations are undergoing minute scrutiny in the House and Senate, as they should be.
Little has been written, however, about another of the commission's five major recommendations because it was one of Congress' major priorities in the wake of 9/11 and-while more improvement is needed-light years ahead of where we were on Sept. 10, 2001.
That recommendation is to strengthen the FBI and homeland defenders.
Prior to 9/11, the FBI's domestic intelligence unit did not share information with other units within the agency. It was precluded by law from sharing information with the CIA or other agencies charged with international intelligence gathering and analysis. In response, the House passed the USA Patriot Act on Oct. 24, 2001, on a 357-66 vote. The Senate passed it without amendment the next day on a 98-1 vote, and President Bush signed it into law a day later.
Changes resulting from the Patriot Act have resulted in about 180 convictions or guilty pleas in terrorist cases.
Before 9/11, the FBI's primary task was law enforcement. Today its primary mission is to thwart terrorism within our borders. Before the Patriot Act, an impenetrable wall stood between the FBI and other intelligence agencies. Today,
with the exception of necessary regulations to protect civil liberties, that wall is gone.
Previously I mentioned our progress in denying sanctuary to terrorists. We have been working with our allies around the world to arrest, detain and disrupt terrorist activities. On Aug. 17, British authorities arrested eight al Qaeda operatives believed to have been behind the plans to blow up financial centers in New York, New Jersey and Washington, DC. They were all British citizens.
We knew about those plans because of raids on terrorist sites in Pakistan.
Our military continues relentlessly to pursue al Qaeda in the inhospitable terrain of southeast Afghanistan.
There are many other examples of successes, none of which precludes us from doing even better. Before the 9/11 Commission submitted its report, Congress knew the process of transforming our government to meet the challenges of terrorism was ongoing. I welcome the commissioners' hard work, dedication and insights that resulted in their recommendations and their continued involvement in the process. I applaud their bipartisan approach and hope that spirit carries over as Congress considers their wide-ranging proposals.
The 9/11 Commission looked at where America stood on 9/11 and suggested changes predicated on the mistakes made in the weeks, months and years before the attacks and the policies in existence then. Once Congress has implemented new policies in line with the commission's report, we'll take another look. No matter how aggressive we are, we can't be 100 percent certain we've closed all avenues of attack. We are at war with a relentless enemy. That's why the process must be ongoing. Nothing can, should or will preclude us from adjusting to our enemy's tactics and strategy, today, tomorrow and well into the future.
(Elton Gallegly is chairman of the International Terrorism, Nonproliferation and Human Rights subcommittee and a member of the Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence in the U.S. House of Representatives.)