9/11 and Election 2004
It is no secret that the events of 9/11 are increasingly taking center stage in the 2004 campaign, beyond cheers or jeers the controversial Michael Moore film FAHRENHEIT 9/11. In fact, the GOP trumpeted President Bush's leadership after 9/11 as the major theme of the Republican Convention in late August. In recent days the rhetoric has become more pointed. On September 7, Vice President Cheney raised the specter of another 9/11 saying: "It's absolutely essential that eight weeks from today, on Nov. 2, we make the right choice, because if we make the wrong choice, then the danger is that we'll get hit again, and we'll be hit in a way that will be devastating from the standpoint of the United States, and it will fall back into the pre-9/11 mindset, if you will, that in fact, these terrorist attacks are just criminal acts and that we're not really at war."
Vice Presidential candidate John Edwards immediately fought back, calling for Cheney to renounce the statement and stating "Dick Cheney's scare tactics crossed the line." Edwards continued, "What he said to the American people was that if you go to the polls in November and elect anyone other than us, and another terrorist attack occurs, then it's your fault. This is un-American. The truth is that it proves once again that they will do anything and say anything to keep their jobs."
There is also less politically charged discussion of the events leading to the 9/11 attacks thanks to the release of the 9/11 Commission's massive report. Senator Kerry has had a copy at hand in several recent interviews, and Vice President Cheney has held the large book in while making campaign stops in the West. Both sides in the campaign have made statements in favor of implementing the recommendations of the Commission.
The 1000-plus page report contains a number of detailed recommendations. The most talked-about is a major reorganization of U.S. intelligence services and the creation of a "NID" National Intelligence Director. This position would replace the Director of the Central Intelligence Agency and hold much greater authority and budgetary power. Ideally the NID would oversee and coordinate the information which now comes from fifteen different intelligence agencies. The position would be modeled on the unified command structure of the military and report directly to the President but would not be a cabinet position. The report did not endorse creating a new domestic intelligence (agency along the lines of Great Britain's MI5); it found the reforms underway in the embattled FBI were sufficient.
The report called for better cooperation between the U.S. and its allies in creating a global strategy to battle terror. And, on the homefront, recommendations were made on everything from establishing new port security measures to using biometric identifiers to screen travelers to instituting national criteria for obtaining driver's licenses. (Read all the recommendations.)
Who is in the best position to capitalize on the report's release remains to be seen. As the BBC noted in its roundup of Commission coverage, both the Clinton and Bush administrations came in their share of criticism, but President Clinton isn't running for reelection.
After the release of the report candidate Kerry stated that he would implement all the recommendations of the Commission if he were to win the White House. Kerry spoke out on the campaign trail, "Now that the 9/11 commission has done its job, we need to do our job. Leadership requires that we act now."
President Bush first asked his White House Chief of Staff, Andrew Card, to head up a group to study the report and the recommendations. After charging Card with the task the President stated that he hoped to begin implementation of some of the recommendations through Executive Order "within weeks." The White House, while endorsing the establishment of the new NID position, was wary of stating that the officeholder would have the extensive power called for in the report. Some Commission members, as well as some members in Congress and the Kerry campaign criticized the Bush approach approach as too slow. Whether or not he was responding to such criticism, the President announced on September 7, 2004 that he would indeed give the National Intelligence Director the very strong budgetary authority recommended by the Commission.
Some in Congress have not been slow to take up the report's suggestions. Members of both houses have introduced bipartisan legislation which would implement nearly all the recommendations, including the creation of a National Intelligence Director and a Counter-Terrorism Center. The co-sponsors in the Senate of the 9/11 Commission Report Implementation Act, Democrat Joseph Lieberman and Republican John McCain, plan to have the bill in "mark-up" by the third week in September and hope the measure will pass before Congress adjourns for the year in early October. This speed may serve as a subtle rebuke to others in Congress who hoped to hold off making substantive changes until after the November elections. Track the 9/11 Commission Report Implementation Act online.
But McCain and Lieberman's bill isn't the only one under consideration. Kansas Republican Pat Roberts, Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, has called for more sweeping reforms of the intelligence community. His proposal, which would divide the CIA into three new agencies, John E. McLaughlin, the acting Director of Central Intelligence, has been the plan a "step backward."
Read more about Roberts' 9/11 National Security Protection Act
On the Ground Change
Meanwhile, the many agencies affected by the report's recommendations are assessing what the report means for them. The National Association of Fire Chiefs plans a full practical review by the end of the month. James W. Swigert, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for International Organization Affairs, addressed the House International Relations Committee in August 19, 2004 about lessons learned about international intelligence cooperation:
We recognize that mobilizing global responses against terrorism through organizations like the UN significantly enhances our effectiveness. We, therefore, welcome the 9/11 Commissionís calls for greater international cooperation and coordination against terrorism.
Undoubtedly many more intricate changes on all levels of government will follow.
Sources: National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States; BBC News; U.S. Department of State; THE NEW YORK TIMES; THE WASHINGTON POST; Firechief.com