Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

July 29, 2014

“Reflections on the Tenth Anniversary of the 9/11 Commission Report” – a disappointing sequel

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Christopher Bellavita on July 29, 2014

“Nobody pays any attention to these reports. But you still keep printing them.”

The quote is from a prominent (former) intelligence official. He was talking about the Quadrennial Homeland Security Review. But he could have been referring to the “Reflections on the Tenth Anniversary of the 9/11 Commission Report” released last week (available at this link: http://bipartisanpolicy.org/library/report/rising-terrorist-threat-9-11-commission)

One wishes to be fair to the people who wrote the Reflections. No doubt it was as well intentioned as any sequel. But in my opinion it doesn’t come anywhere close to being a worthwhile read. The assertions and arguments in Reflections are as fatigued as the authors claim the America people are.

And that’s unfortunate.

The Commission missed an opportunity to help reinvigorate the homeland security project they were instrumental in shaping.

——————————

The 9/11 Commission Report (available here: http://www.9-11commission.gov/report/) starts with the most memorable sentence of any government report I’ve ever read:

“Tuesday, September 11, 2001, dawned temperate and nearly cloudless in the Eastern United States.”

Here’s the opening sentence in Reflections:

“With temperatures in the low 50s, April 15, 2013, promised to be an almost ideal day for the 23,000 runners competing in the 117th Boston Marathon.”

This artless effort to draw a parallel between the Boston Marathon and the September 11 2001 attacks comes off sounding, at best, tone deaf. At worse, offensive.

But it’s only the start.

Instead of the thoughtfulness, balance, and bipartisanship of the original 9/11 Commission Report, we get a repetitive rehash of banal assertions: The terrorists are coming and they are really dangerous. Cyber threats are growing and they also are really dangerous. Congress is dangerous too. Their refusal to reduce the number of homeland security oversight committees is making the country less safe.

And by the way, the Director of National Intelligence (not dangerous) should control the budget of the Intelligence Community.

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Unlike the hundreds of thorough and informative endnotes supporting the claims in the 9/11 Commission Report, Reflections backs up its assertions with a handful of anecdotes, a few charts, some quotes from unnamed experts and eight seemingly haphazardous endnotes.

The 9/11 Commission Report did not shy away from discussing at length alternative interpretations of “facts” they uncovered. See, for example, the extensive discussion of the intelligence wall.

That balance and realism is missing in Reflections on every significant issue discussed.

Is there no credible argument that the nation continues to overblow the terrorist threat? How about this one: http://www.amazon.com/Terror-Security-Money-Balancing-Benefits/dp/0199795762

Assuming the nation will not take the cyber threat seriously until we have a cyber version of the 9/11/01 attack, what can we do now to mitigate that attack?

Is there a case for having 92 congressional committees looking at homeland security issues? Are all those committees unnecessary?  Did Reflections speak with anyone who defends the current congressional oversight structure? Could it be an example of the messiness that is republican democracy? Is DoD really the efficiency model to be emulated by homeland security?  Are there no substantial downsides to having only a handful of committees looking at Defense matters?

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I appreciate this was not supposed to be another 9/11 Commission Report. But I’m guessing – hoping? – it was supposed to be a serious analysis.

The commission members were “struck by how dramatically the world has changed” in a decade.

Struck? When was the last time a decade went by without dramatic world changes?

What about the current terrorist threat? It’s evolving, says Reflections.

“The forces of Islamist extremism in the Middle East are stronger than in the last decade…. The absence of another 9/11-style attack does not mean the threat is gone: As 9/11 showed, a period of quiet can be shattered in a moment by a devastating attack.”

Reflections continues to press the importance of connecting dots, even if one has to wait years. They ask,

Is the April 2013 rifle attack on an electrical substation in Metcalf, California, a harbinger of a more concerted assault on the national electrical grid or another component of critical infrastructure? What might we be missing today that, three years from now, will prove to have been a signal, a piece of a larger mosaic?

What if it’s not? Or is this report only reflecting things to be afraid of?

——————————

If you stop reading after the first two dozen pages of Reflections you’d think the nation is hanging by an existential thread, worse off now then it was ten years ago.

You have to get to page 25 of the 44 page report before learning:

There is no doubt that the country is better equipped to prevent and respond to terrorist attacks than in 2001. …The mass-casualty attacks many feared in the wake of 9/11 did not materialize. Today, in large part because of … many [security-related] reforms, the United States is a much harder target.

Senior leaders agree that America’s layered approach to homeland defense, which recognizes that no single security measure is foolproof, has improved our security….  At its best, a layered system integrates the capabilities of federal, state, and local government agencies. America’s resilience has improved as well. Federal, state, and local authorities have absorbed and applied the lessons of 9/11 over the last decade…. The country must continue to prepare for the unforeseen, but it appears to be moving in the right direction….

I think that’s called “burying the lede.”

Later:

There is a consensus among the senior officials with whom we spoke that information-sharing has improved significantly since 9/11.

And right before Reflections concludes (page 37):

As we reflect on the last ten years, we believe the government’s record in counterterrorism is good. Our capabilities are much improved, while institutional vigilance and imagination are both far better than before 9/11. Good people in government have absorbed the lessons of the 9/11 attacks, are tracking the evolving threat, and are thinking one step ahead in order to prevent the next attack.

Lest one think that gives us permission to be complacent, Reflections ends with this less-than-upbeat anecdote:

One former senior national security leader told us recently that he expects that his children and grandchildren will be carrying on this fight.

I wonder if there is another former senior national security leader, somewhere, who thinks about his children and grandchildren the way John Adams did:

I must study … war, that our sons may have liberty to study mathematics and philosophy. Our sons ought to study mathematics and philosophy, geography, natural history and naval architecture, navigation, commerce and agriculture in order to give their children a right to study painting, poetry, music, architecture, statuary, tapestry and porcelain.”

If there are any such national security leaders, they were not interviewed for Reflections.

Young Americans need to know that terrorism is not going away. And they need to know that many of our military personnel, intelligence officers, and diplomats on the front lines in the most dangerous parts of the world are like them—young people with dreams of bright futures.

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In addition to the full court press strategy (that includes a congratulations-9/11-Commission youtube video from tired-looking President Obama: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zIA2iiWkvKY), how are young Americans and the rest of the nation to learn “how dramatically the word has changed?”

It’s simple, says Reflections.

Senior leaders, including the President, have to make the case about terrorism and cyber threats and all the myriad things that go (or might go) bump in the night “in specific terms, not generalities.”  

One hoped Reflections would model some of the transparent specificity they want others to provide. Instead, what we get are statements like this one:

“If the American people hear what we have heard in recent months, about the urgent [cyber] threat and the ways in which data collection is used to counter it, we believe that they will be supportive.”

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Don Marquis wrote that “a sequel is an admission that you’ve been reduced to imitating yourself.”

I found Reflections to be a disappointing sequel.

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6 Comments »

Comment by Christopher Tingus

July 29, 2014 @ 6:27 am

One hoped Reflections would model some of the transparent specificity they want others to provide. Instead, what we get are statements like this one:

“If the American people hear what we have heard in recent months, about the urgent [cyber] threat and the ways in which data collection is used to counter it, we believe that they will be supportive.”

Are you kidding, really? wake up for this present administration has successfully sought to increase our bankruptcy even further, now nearly $18 trillion as well as do whatever necessary to fail in pledge in oath to uphold the Constitution and enforce the laws of our nation, subjecting more and more fellow Americans to poverty in meeting Barry Obama’s only real pledge to Hussein Obama and his Kenyan pals, anti-Christians and anti-colonialists – where is the US President as Jonah’s tomb was blown up and the Muslim Brotherhood, Barry’s pals who have been supporting ISIS in the religious war against Christians with more than double the number of Christians killed this year than last and where is Barry Obama speaking out in outrage against those perpetrators who dismantled and took down a 1600 hundred year old church, burning it –

Are you kidding, really? You have been duped and no matter the security reports and recommendations, this US Senate led by the corruptness of Harry Reid and “smug-smiled Pelosi” now turning to their new Commander – Ms. Hillary who should also be under House arrest for suspicion in breach of faith, treason…and you honestly believe we as a nation will somehow be safe from the doors of hell which this administration has opened by its perverse and tainted, its biased ways seeking to run to get involved with the Cambridge (MA) Police Department and a 911 call and Barry’s Martha’s Vineyard Professor pal and he cannot stand for Christianity, You folks who are on the front line of truly protecting us have your work cut out and unless this nation musters together quickly and addresses this will with and Enemy from within and addresses in the November election a new way forward, We are in much peril and our arch enemies Germany will assure us that War looms ahead as the Assyrian leads the charge against Tehran and dupes the Middle East eventually and WAR becomes certain -

We know the threat against our electric grid – it has already been attacked in places…we know that our borders are porous and our brave US marine sits in a mexican prison and this administration holds talks with the Mexican President last week and discusses Not the closing of Mexican borders to keep lawbreakers from entering our nation and says nothing about our brave Marine so given that the supposed Commander in Chief cannot give the order to walk over the border and secure our Marine instead of leaving him stripped naked and tied to a Mexican jail bed, many would be encouraged to see our soldiers quickly retrieve our soldier for we never leave anyone behind or do we, after all, at the “Benghazi Massacre” all looked to the skies for help and Barry chose as well as Ms. Hillary to campaign and go to bed….our electric grid and cyber security are real threats and Congress and the US Senate prefer to play politics so it is time for term limits and investigation(s)….and conviction of those entrusted and elected in serving their own needs and dismissing us here on “Main Street USA” –

Saul refused to stand forthright against those who pledged bad things and it was only King David who was willing to stand and be counted when aghast at what he saw, a people who lacked the Will to stand for the truth and real enemies and today, until we place Barry Obama and his illustrious AG under House arrest for suspicion in breach of faith, treason and we hold folks who choose to spew blatant lie such as Barry and Ms. Hillary standing shoulder to shoulder as outright liars and yes, indeed leaving our men behind at the “Benghazi Massacre: as well as this young brave warrior who has been tied naked to a Mexican prison bed while busloads of illegals are welcomed by this Barry Obama et al who cares little for our Constitution and the enforcement of laws, until a leader evolves from the throes of hell which we are now being exposed to with DHS allowing convicted felons out of jail, six of the worst terrorists with blood on their hands and this administration allowing them free in support of the Muslim Brotherhood, Barry’s pals who sends monies to Cairo and these monies in turn used against us and the list continues, until we get serious about the self-serving and elected officials from national, to state to local who outright lie and are not held accountable, well the arduous road ahead will be far more turbulent that you can expect and as our borders have been opened against the present laws of legal immigration to this country by this administration who has little for our beloved Republic and uses the pigment of a man’s skin and divisiveness in its tactics with little concern other than running to Cairo, bowing and kissing the ring of another sovereign nation in pledge and outright total disrespect to our good People and our safety, it is time to get serious maybe like the Chinese in the following breaking news story:

BREAKING NEWS Tuesday, July 29, 2014 6:41 AM EDT

China Says Zhou Yongkang, Former Security Chief, Is Under Investigation

In President Xi Jinping’s most audacious move yet to impose his authority by targeting elite corruption, the Communist Party on Tuesday announced an investigation of Zhou Yongkang, the retired former head of domestic security who accumulated vast power while his family accumulated vast wealth.

Mr. Zhou, who retired from the Politburo Standing Committee in late 2012, is the most senior party figure ever to face a formal graft inquiry. Until now, no standing or retired member of the Standing Committee has faced a formal investigation by the party’s anticorruption agency.

The party leadership has “decided to establish an investigation of Zhou Yongkang for grave violations of discipline,” Xinhua, the state-run news agency, reported Tuesday, citing a decision by the party’s anticorruption agency. The terse announcement gave no details of the charges against Mr. Zhou.

Comment by William R. Cumming

July 29, 2014 @ 9:23 am

Perhaps the 9/11 Commission still feels limited by their jurisdictional restrictions imposed by others and by themselves.

So far no real analysis has appeared on why the Commission allowed their handcuffs to be put on IMO!

Comment by John Comiskey

July 29, 2014 @ 1:37 pm

HLS reruns

Last month the nation commemorated the 70th anniversary of the longest day, the D-Day landings. Some things are more worth remembering than others. http://time.com/98157/the-war-after-d-day-deeper-into-hell/

In 2010, we commemorated the 10th anniversary of 9/11 (my longest day).

Likewise, the members of the 9/11 commission are commemorating the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 report.

Like many of the readers of this blog, I have followed recent HLS policy releases and especially the 2014 QHSR and President Obama’s 2014 West Point Speech. Like the Reflections report there are terrorists here, there, and everywhere.

Changing lanes a little (or none at all), yesterday the White House released the first ever National Plan for Civil Earth Observations. Might Civil Earth be a HLS issue? See: https://www.hsdl.org/?abstract&did=756319

I thank the members of the 9/11 Commission if for nothing else for reminding us that the bad guys would enjoy nothing better than our complacency.

HLS is not an oxymoron
http://www.salon.com/2010/05/07/homeland_security_oxymoron_sorrentino/ and is not about water bills http://www.rushlimbaugh.com/daily/2014/06/30/detroit_forced_to_turn_off_water_for_nonpayment

Comment by Arnold Bogis

July 29, 2014 @ 5:34 pm

Bill, there was a bit of push back when the original report came out due to the feeling in some quarters that the Commission was created to document events leading up to 9/11, not to make recommendations going forward. For example, see Richard Falkenrath’s critique in International Security.

Kinda like the creation of DHS itself, the Commission’s recommendations are now treated by the conventional wisdom as universally sound and accepted.

Comment by William R. Cumming

July 29, 2014 @ 11:54 pm

Thanks Arnold!

Comment by Arnold Bogis

July 30, 2014 @ 11:52 pm

Chris, I couldn’t agree with you more. This report was basically DC conventional wisdom dressed up in the 9/11 Commission clothes. Everything cyber related can be connected with terrorism? Check. Terrorism in general anywhere equals Al Qaeda threat to the homeland? Check. Citizen apathy might mean an end to ever increasing military/intelligence budgets? Check. The 9/11 Commission recommendations are infallible and should be considered sacrosanct? Check.

Nuance and analytic depth has been replaced by interviews with recent government officials and cut-and-paste thoughts from the most recent think tank report.

A shame, really.

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