Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Homeland Security Seven Years After 9/11/2001

Its been seven years since 9/11/2001, and the United States has not experienced another terrorist attack. For everyone concerned with the issue of our security, the question to ask is not if we are safer than before the World Trade Center attacks.

Indeed, the real question to ask about the absence of another terrorist attack concerns the reason. Was the lack of an attack just sheer luck or are we now safe enough?

Certainly there has been progress in the effort to secure the United States from terrorist attack over the last seven years. In 2004, Congress created a Director of National Intelligence to unify the efforts of the 16 agencies that make up the U.S. intelligence community. Congress also created the National Counterterrorism Center, where CIA analysts, FBI agents and other experts from all areas of the government share intelligence continuously.

Since 9/11/2001, the number of FBI bureau intelligence analysts has more than doubled to about 2,100. National transportation security has also greatly improved. In fact, the Terrorist Screening Center has a football-field-size room filled with a giant electronic board and dozens of experts who track the flight manifests of over 2000 international flights that arrive in the United States each day.

So, there is no doubt Homeland Security has improved but has it improved enough? The answer is there is still much more to do, according to a report just released from the bipartisan Partnership for a Secure America. In fact, the study concludes that The United States remains ``dangerously vulnerable'' to chemical, biological and nuclear attacks.

The report cites concerns in the following areas: Efforts to reduce access to nuclear technology and bomb-making materials have slowed, thousands of U.S. chemical plants remain unprotected, and the U.S. government continues to oppose strengthening an international treaty to prevent bio terrorism.

The independent study, however, did credit the Administration with progress in a number of areas. It cited improved U.S. port security, reduction of military chemical stockpiles, increased U.S. funding for securing nuclear weapons sites in Russia and new international programs aimed at preventing crimes involving biological weapons.

However, numerous reports on national security in recent years have criticized a cumbersome federal bureaucracy that is slow to implement new technology and drive the pace of change. For example, it remains difficult to understand why the prescreening of passengers is still left to the airlines, which lack access to the complete watch lists of suspected terrorists.

In addition, Congress mandated national standards for secure driver's licenses but has not given states the money to make it happen. For airline travel, advanced baggage-screening systems will not be in place until at least the year 2024.

Also consider, that three years ago, the 9/11 commission noted that the Department Of Homeland Security reported to 88 congressional committees and subcommittees -- a major drain on senior management and a source of contradictory guidance. After several dubious reforms that number is now down to 86.

There has been substantial Homeland Security reform in the United States during the last seven years. However, it is easy to see how a growing complacency about Homeland Security may well become a formidable enemy in the effort to prevent the next terrorist attack.

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