A year after 9/11, America still unprepared for a terrorist attack, warns new Hart-Rudman task force on homeland security
“First responders’ … radios can’t talk with one another, and they lack the training and protective gear to protect themselves and the public in an emergency. The consequence of this could be the unnecessary loss of thousands of American lives.” — task force report
A year after Sept. 11, 2001, America remains dangerously unprepared to prevent and respond to a catastrophic attack on U.S. soil. That’s the conclusion drawn by a blue-ribbon panel led by former Senators Warren Rudman and Gary Hart—co-chairs of the Commission on National Security that warned of such a terrorist attack three years ago.
The independent task force that came to this conclusion and that makes recommendations for emergency action, included two former secretaries of state, three Nobel laureates, two former chairmen of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, a former director of the CIA and FBI, and financial, legal, and medical experts. Stephen Flynn, a senior fellow of the New York-based Council on Foreign Relations, directed the Task Force.
If the nation does not respond more urgently to address its vulnerabilities, the task force warned, “the next attack could result in even greater casualties and widespread disruption to our lives and economy.”
The task force warned that the need for specific preparatory acts is made even more imperative by the prospect that the United States might go to war with Iraq, and that Iraqi President Saddam Hussein might threaten the use of weapons of mass destruction in America.
The task force credited the Bush administration, Congress, governors and mayors for taking important measures since Sept. 11, 2001, to respond to the risk of catastrophic terrorism, and said that it does not seek to apportion blame about what has not been done or not done quickly enough. The task force said that its report is aimed instead at closing the gap between U.S. intelligence estimates and analysis—which it said acknowledge immediate danger on the one hand—and the country’s capacity to prevent, mitigate and respond to these attacks on the other.
Among the risks that the task force said still confront the United States are
650,000 local and state police officials continue to operate in a virtual intelligence vacuum including having no access to terrorist watch lists provided by the U.S. Department of State to immigration and consular officials.
While 50,000 federal screeners are being hired at the nation’s airports to check passengers, only the tiniest percentage of containers, ships, trucks, and trains that enter the United States each day are subject to examination-and a weapon of mass destruction could well be hidden among this cargo.
First responders—police, fire, emergency medical personnel—are not ready to respond to a chemical or biological attack. Their radios can’t talk with one another and they lack the training and protective gear to protect themselves and the public in an emergency. The consequence of this could be the unnecessary loss of thousands of American lives.
An adversary intent on disrupting America’s reliance on energy need not target oilfields in the Middle East. The homeland infrastructure for refining and distributing energy to support our daily lives remains largely unprotected to sabotage.
Our own ill-prepared response has the capacity to hurt us to a much greater extent than any single attack by a terrorist. America is a powerful and resilient nation and terrorists are not supermen. But the risk of self-inflicted harm to our liberties and way of life is greatest during and immediately following a national trauma.
To deal with these and other weaknesses, the task force made a number of recommendations for emergency action, including the following:
Make first responders ready to respond by immediately providing federal funds to clear the backlog of requests for protective gear, training, and communications equipment. State and local budgets cannot bankroll these necessities in the near term.
Recalibrate the agenda for transportation security; the vulnerabilities are greater and the stakes are higher in the sea and land modes than in commercial aviation.
Strengthen the capacity of local, state, and federal public heath and agricultural agencies to detect and conduct disease outbreak investigations. The key to mitigating casualties associated with a biological attack against people or the food supply is to identify the source of infection as early as possible.
Empower front line agents to intercept terrorists by establishing 24-hour operations centers in each state that can provide access to terrorist watch list information via real-time intergovernmental links between local and federal law enforcement.
Fund, equip, and train National Guard units around the country to ensure they can support the new state homeland security plans under development by each Governor. Also, triple the number of National Guard Weapons of Mass Destruction Support Teams from 22 to 66.
To see the task force’s report, “America Still Unprepared — America Still in Danger,” click here