9/11 Commission Report Authors Outline an Approach to Counterterrorism without War

Earlier this week, former members of the 2004 9/11 Commission issued a follow up report, reflecting on their original recommendations and analyzing the current terrorist threat. While some have focused on the new report’s discussion of public fatigue over the “war on terror” and the threat of “al Qaeda-affiliated groups,” yesterday’s House Homeland Security Hearing with two of the authors had a different emphasis.

Tom Kean and Jamie Gorelick, the Former Chair and Former Commissioner of 9/11 Commission, focused on two issues where Congress must take the lead: preparing for the threat of cyber attacks, and improving congressional oversight of the Department of Homeland Security.

In their joint written statement, Kean and Gorelick said that the national security experts they consulted saw the “cyber domain as the battlefield of the future.” One expert said, “We are at September 10th levels in terms of cyber preparedness.” Echoing the new report’s concern over “Congress’s failure to enact comprehensive cybersecurity legislation,” Gorelick said that data programs were fundamental to the safety of the United States and that while the government is doing a good job of protecting itself, protection for the private sector—where most of the country’s data lies—is urgently needed.

The new report says the failure to institute streamlined congressional oversight of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is “the most important unfulfilled recommendation of the 9/11 Commission.” Not only is this recommendation unfulfilled but DHS oversight has become even more fragmented since 2004, with the number of congressional committees and subcommittees it reports to rising from 88 to 92. Both the witnesses and representatives called this process “dysfunctional” and agreed that it made Americans less safe.

Witnesses also discussed the threat posed by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), which recently seized territory Western Iraq, and similar groups, such as al Shabaab. The witnesses agreed that right now they are only regional threats but that their hatred of the United States could lead them to target this country.

But more war does not equal less hate. When asked how to best protect the United States from ISIS and similar groups, Gorelick responded that intelligence was our greatest asset. Kean also discussed the importance of Congress’ role in authorizing military force, stating that it “should never give up that role. It should fight for it.” Indeed, Gorelick said that if Congress debated this issue, this could have the much-needed result of better engaging the American people.

Prioritizing strategies away from the battlefield, improving oversight, better explaining to Americans what the threat is and what it is not: these are smart counterterrorism strategies that respond to Americans’ war-weariness. Congress would reap both security and political benefits from using them.

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Published on July 24, 2014

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