AP depicted 9-11 Commission recommendations as either "accomplished" or unfeasible
Research ››› ››› JOSH KALVEN
An Associated Press article asserted that the incoming Democratic Congress will face an uphill battle in its drive to implement all of the 9-11 Commission's recommendations because "[m]uch of what the commission proposed has been accomplished" and "there are no still-lingering proposals that can easily be enacted into law." But there are several "still-lingering" recommendations that members of the commission -- none of whom were quoted in the article -- say could be implemented by the Democratic Congress.
In a November 25 article, Associated Press writer Leslie Miller asserted that the incoming Democratic Congress will face an uphill battle in its drive to implement all of the 9-11 Commission's recommendations because "[m]uch of what the commission proposed has been accomplished." Miller reported: "Intelligence institutions were reorganized, some terrorist financing has been disrupted and planning for air defense of the U.S. has been improved." Miller went on to cite a claim by analysts that "there are no still-lingering proposals that can easily be enacted into law" and quoted Heritage Foundation homeland security fellow James Carafano saying, "I don't think there's a lot more there. ... I think we're done." But Miller overlooked several "still-lingering" recommendations that members of the commission -- none of whom she quoted in the article -- say could be implemented by the Democratic Congress.
From Miller's article, headlined "9/11 Commission Ideas Not Easy to Enact":
Democrats poised to take control of Congress say they'll work to implement the unfinished business the 9/11 Commission recommended to better protect America from terrorists. But it won't be easy. Much of what the commission proposed has been accomplished, at least in some measure. And many other proposals won't get through because they're either too expensive or face stiff political opposition.
Intelligence institutions were reorganized, some terrorist financing has been disrupted and planning for air defense of the U.S. has been improved. Those were key elements of the program the Sept. 11 commission said must be instituted for America.
Yet, with Democrats eyeing the 2008 presidential election and eager to show they're strong on security issues, analysts say there are no still-lingering proposals that can easily be enacted into law.
"I don't think there's a lot more there," said James Carafano, homeland security fellow at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative-oriented Washington think tank. "I think we're done."
Miller subsequently noted that in December 2005, the 9/11 Public Discourse Project -- a private entity made up of the 10 former 9-11 Commission members -- released a follow-up report in which it gave the federal government mostly failing grades on its handling of the commission's 41 original recommendations. As an example, Miller reported that the commission had given the government an "F" on improving "airline passenger prescreening." She then noted the basic restrictions subsequently put in place by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) following the disclosure in August 2006 of a plot to attack U.S.-bound flights using liquid explosives:
The Transportation Security Administration, acting after an alleged plot was discovered last summer to blow up airliners heading to the United States from Britain, severely restricted the amount of liquids that can be carried onto planes to reduce the threat posed by liquid explosives.
This restriction on carry-on liquids is apparently the improvement Miller had in mind when she asserted in the second paragraph of the article that "planning for air defense of the U.S. has been improved." But at no point did she note other yet-to-be-fulfilled air security recommendations put forth by the commission and supported by the incoming Democrats.
For instance, while the TSA began in recent months restricting the amount of liquid passengers are permitted to carry onto an aircraft, it has still failed to develop and adequately distribute both the "explosive detection trace portals" and cargo screening devices recommended by the commission. According to their December 2005 report, funding is the "main impediment" to fulfilling this recommendation. And as Media Matters for America noted, Republican House members have repeatedly voted down numerous Democratic proposals to increase funding for aviation security technology, despite ongoing warnings regarding the vulnerability to on-board attacks.
In a January 13 article, National Journal staff writers Shane Harris and Greta Wodele similarly reported that "House Republicans, in particular, have kept a tight hand on TSA's purse strings." Harris and Wodele noted an April 2005 Washington Post op-ed by Brookings Institution senior fellow Paul Light, in which he wrote that House Republicans "never met a TSA budget they couldn't cut and eventually capped the number of screeners at 45,000 in 2003. ... The cuts and caps not only distracted the agency from more important problems, such as port security, but they also delayed the development of new technologies that might have helped employees wade through X-rays of cluttered carry-on baggage and eliminate the much-reviled pat-downs."
Miller went on to address the issue of whether it is realistic to "set deadlines to screen 100 percent" of U.S.-bound cargo containers for radiation, as congressional Democrats have pledged to do. Specifically, she noted that the "shipping industry and many Republicans argue that inspecting every container would shut down global shipping overnight." GOP congressional leaders have made similar claims in order to justify their past opposition to such proposals. But while Miller repeated their argument, she failed to note that Democrats and other supporters of enhanced screening of cargo containers entering the United States have cited the inspection system currently being tested in Hong Kong as an example of the type of efficient technology needed worldwide. Indeed, since 2004, the Hong Kong Terminal Operators Association has screened every container passing through its two busiest marine terminals using American-built technology. "Hong Kong is more advanced than any American port I've seen and we should be ashamed they inspect every container and we don't," said Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) in March 2006 following a trip to China. Republican lawmakers who support full screening of U.S.-bound cargo containers have also cited the efficiency of the Hong Kong system. From a March 15 press release from Sen. Norm Coleman (R-MN):
Coleman says technology exists to solve our port security problems. As part of the PSI probe, Chairman Coleman recently traveled to Hong Kong to examine a system that demonstrates the potential to screen 100 percent of maritime containers. Each container in the Hong Kong port flows through an integrated system featuring an imaging machine (similar to an x-ray), a radiation scan, and a system to identify the container. This system enhances inspections without impeding commerce.
Miller's claim in the article's second paragraph that "[i]ntelligence institutions were reorganized" as per the commission's recommendation also exaggerates the extent of the progress made on this front by the GOP-led Congress. Indeed, while the Bush administration created the Director of National Intelligence position and launched the National Counterterrorism Center -- for which it received "B" grades from the commission -- the corresponding proposals to increase and streamline congressional oversight of the intelligence community has faced resistance from GOP leaders, as Harris and Wodele explained:
Time and again, the commission criticized Congress for its resistance to institutional changes that would improve legislative oversight over the executive branch's intelligence operations. The commission called for a strengthened committee system in both chambers and more openness about the intelligence budget. Congress has achieved neither goal -- because of the lack of support from House and Senate leaders and the White House, and because of turf battles within the executive and legislative branches.
[Steven] Aftergood [director of the Project on Government Secrecy at the Federation of American Scientists] said the House GOP leadership opposed the creation of an intelligence appropriations subcommittee partly as a way to duck the 9/11 commission's related reform proposal: disclosure of the intelligence community's top-line budget figure. Most experts agree that creating Appropriations subpanels on intelligence would pressure Congress to publicly reveal the intelligence budget.
The Senate attached a proposal to declassify the intelligence budget to the 2004 legislation that overhauled the intelligence community. The GOP-led House and the White House objected to the provision, however.
In contrast with Miller's handling of this issue, in their November 11 article on the challenges facing the upcoming Democratic efforts to implement commission recommendations, Washington Post staff writers Dan Eggen and Spencer S. Hsu noted that Pelosi intends to tackle the issue of intelligence oversight and quoted 9-11 Commission co-chairman and former Republican New Jersey Gov. Thomas H. Kean commending her:
A Democratic leadership source, speaking on the condition of anonymity because the plans are not final, said Pelosi is likely to reorganize House committees to streamline jurisdiction over security matters.
"There's a whole realm of things that need to be done," Kean said. "The fact that the new speaker wants to make it a priority, I congratulate her."
Miller, meanwhile, failed to include a response from Kean or any other commission member in her November 25 article. If their recent comments on the status of their proposals are any indication, they would likely disagree with her assertion that "[m]uch of what the commission proposed has been accomplished."
Likewise, while she reported that "analysts say there are no still-lingering proposals that can easily be enacted into law," she did not offer readers any contrasting assessment.
Unlike Miller, Eggen and Hsu quoted Kean and national security consultant Carie Lemack, co-founder of Families of September 11, noting those recommendations that would be "relatively easy to implement" now that the Democrats have gained control of both houses of Congress:
Republican Thomas H. Kean, a former New Jersey governor who served as the commission's chairman, said yesterday that some recommendations that have languished -- including reserving portions of the broadcast spectrum for emergency responders and improvements in border security -- would be relatively easy to implement if Democrats are determined.
Lemack said some of the commission's recommendations are relatively easy but have lacked the political backing to move forward. She cited naming a senior adviser to the president to oversee the lockdown of nuclear weapon materials worldwide and declassifying intelligence agencies' budgets.
Furthermore, despite asserting in the lead paragraph that that "many proposals won't get through" because they "face stiff political opposition," Miller did not offer any evidence that the Democratic majority in either the House or Senate is divided or in disagreement over fully implementing the recommendations.