An examination of some of the 9/11 commission's recommendations - and the results
WASHINGTON (AP) - We are safer, but not safe enough.
In the decade since the Sept. 11 attacks, the government has taken giant steps to protect the nation from terrorists, spending eye-popping sums to smarten up the federal bureaucracy, hunt down enemies, strengthen airline security, secure U.S. borders, reshape America's image and more. Still, the effort remains a work in progress, and in some cases a work stalled.
Whole alphabets of acronyms have been born and died in pursuit of homeland security, a phrase that wasn't even used much before 9/11.
Hello, TSA, DNI, DHS, NCTC, CVE, NSI and ICE. Goodbye, TTIC, INS and more.
How quaint that travelers used to be asked a few questions about whether they'd packed their own bags. Now, people routinely strip off their belts and shoes, dump their gels in small plastic bags, power up their laptops to prove they aren't bombs and submit to full body scans and pat downs once reserved for suspected criminals.
We have gone from "Let's roll" to "Don't touch my junk."
The bipartisan Sept. 11 Commission in 2004 laid out a 585-page road map to create an America that is "safer, stronger, wiser."
Many of the commission's recommendations are now reality. But in some cases, results haven't lived up to expectations. Other proposals are just that, ideas awaiting action.
"What I've come to appreciate is there's no magic wand on some of these things," says Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, who says that progress overall has been significant.
But remember how some of the police and firefighters who rushed to the twin towers in New York couldn't talk to one other because their radios weren't in sync? There's still no nationwide communications network for disasters, as the commission envisioned, although individual cities have made progress.
It's understandable if you've never heard of the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, created to ensure that the government doesn't go overboard with new terrorism-fighting powers bestowed by the Patriot Act and other counterterrorism measures. The board has no members, no staff, no office.
Despite a top-to-bottom reorganization of the country's intelligence superstructure, it's still a challenge for analysts to tease out the critical clues needed to prevent an attack.
On Christmas Day 2009, lots of people in government had information about a Nigerian man whose behavior was raising red flags. But because no one had pieced all the information together, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab managed to stroll on to a plane headed for Detroit with a bomb in his underwear. Only his failure to detonate the explosives properly saved the people on that plane.
Lee Hamilton, a co-chairman of the Sept. 11 commission, says it's probably a combination of hard work and good luck that's kept the U.S. from experiencing another all-out terrorist attack. But he worries that success is breeding complacency.
"The lack of urgency concerns me," Hamilton says. "The likelihood is that sometime in the future, we will be attacked again."
A look at some of the 9/11 commission's recommendations, and the results:
RECOMMENDATION: Tighter security checks on all airline passengers. The Transportation Security Administration and Congress "must give priority attention to improving the ability of screening checkpoints to detect explosives on passengers."
RESULT: There have been awkward moments as the government searches for a system that will protect passengers without infuriating them: A gravely ill 95-year-old woman had to remove her wet diaper before she could get through security in Florida in June. Video of a 6-year-old girl getting frisked in Louisiana in March went viral. "Don't touch my junk," became a national rallying cry.
The TSA was created soon after the attacks, underscoring the priority placed on securing the sky. Since then, the U.S. has poured $50 billion into aviation security. The commission suggested specific actions for the agency: check travelers against terrorist watch lists and screen every passenger who warrants extra security for explosives. Both are now being done. But airport security procedures continue to evolve as the threat mutates. Those intrusive pat-downs began after Abdulmutallab boarded that flight for Detroit.
Would you like to contribute to this story? Join the discussion.