An interesting news report today suggests that the recommendations issued by the 9/11 Commission to increase the nation’s security to prevent another terrorist attack aren’t that much different from the suggestions made in 1990 by the Flight 103 Commission, which investigated the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland at the request of President George H.W. Bush.
The 9/11 report suggests a “failure of imagination” to recognize the threat of terror. The Flight 103 report issued a similar warning:
“Officials must think ahead to counter the next generation of terrorist weapons before they are used to kill innocent people.”
The 9/11 Commission’s call for even tougher screening for explosives of passengers, luggage and cargo was mirrored by similar points in the Flight 103 report.
The 9/11 Commission wants better procedures for intelligence sharing among agencies. So did the Flight 103 report.
The 9/11 Commission calls for a National Counter Terror Center to analyze terror threats. The Flight 103 report suggested a specific unit to focus on terrorism.
The 9/11 Commission calls for better human intelligence gathering overseas. The same demand was made 14 years ago.
Even the 9/11 Commission’s call for a National Intelligence Director to oversee all intelligence is similar to a call from the Flight 103 report for an assistant secretary with authority to oversee aviation security and intelligence.
What happened to all of those changes? According to Bert Ammerman, a brother of one of the victims of Flight 103 and the former head of the group “Victims of Flight 103,” “From 1990 until the Twin Towers wend down, there was no change.”
Three years after that report, on December 20, 1993, to commemorate the fifth anniversary of the Flight 103 tragedy, President Clinton issued the following proclamation (Emphasis is mine):
“This holiday season, while we gather with loved ones, it is important to remember those innocents who can no longer celebrate with their families because of a cruel and senseless act of terrorism. Four days before Christmas in 1988, a bomb exploded aboard Pan American Airways Flight 103, killing its 259 passengers and crew, along with 11 people onthe ground in Lockerbie, Scotland. Among the passengers from 21 different nations were 189 Americans who were never to see their families again. Today, those responsible for this heinous act are still at large.
“We dare not forget the unsuspecting victims of Flight 103. Their tragedy reminds us that while our world is abounding with opportunities for peace and democracy, it is also filled with danger and uncertainty. The threat of terrorism, both at home and abroad, continues to loom as wars and instances of ethnic and religious turmoil imperil our vision for a safer world.
We must remain ever vigilant if we are to combat merciless brutality and ensure the security of all of our citizens. My Administration is closely monitoring the terrorist threat in order to make the changes needed to create a secure future and to avert the kind of murderous tragedy that occurred in the skies over Scotland. In this holiday season, our hearts go out to all who lost loved ones in the bombing of Flight 103 — for them, the loss is incalculable. We pledge to remember the victims of this outrage and to recommit ourselves to bringing the perpetrators to justice, so that we may truly create a safer, more peaceful world.”
Did we forget those lessons we seemed to understand in 1993? Apparently. And we had another chance to learn the lessons over again in 1996, after the Crash of TWA Flight 800 which is believed to have been shot down, though the official cause remains in doubt. But even John Kerry, on Larry King Live on September 11, 2001, suggested that TWA Flight 800 was brought down by a terrorist act.
On July 25, 1996, Clinton asked Vice President Al Gore to chair the Aviation Safety and Security Commission. The commission’s intent was threefold: the review of airline and airport security; oversight of aviation safety; and modernization of the air traffic control system.
That commission’s findings were similar again, including calls for more screening equipment, more intelligence agents, tougher security standards and screener training, and more funding for anti-terrorism programs.
The failure to implement the security measures recommended were attributed in part on years of bickering between the government and the airline industry. What were they bickering about? No surprise here, either: the cost.
Victoria Cummock, a widow of a Pan Am Flight 103 passenger whom President Clinton asked to join the Flight 800 Commission was quoted about reaction to the report: “Within 10 days, the whole (airline) industry jumped all over Al Gore.” Some sources accuse the airline industry of launching a massive lobbying campaign targeting the White House to quiet the call for security measures it couldn’t afford. Whether that’s true or not, most of these recommendations again were swept under the rug.
So where are we today? We have the 9/11 Commission’s suggestions designed to improve our security. We have the general public demanding action and accusing the government of dragging its feet. Finally, our leaders seem to be starting to take the matter seriously, but the bureaucratic process is already taking its toll: Secretary of Homeland Security Tom Ridge and his top deputies, according to NBC News, have testified at 290 hearings in the past year and a half, and have received more than 4,000 letters from Congress requesting information.
The Homeland Security Department answers to 88 congressional committees and subcommittees. The 9/11 Commission has called on Congress to radically streamline this process. If we’re “all talk and no action” at this point, it is most likely because with all the hearings, there’s no time to get any action accomplished.
This country knew about the threat of terror long before September 11, 2001. The bombing of Flight 103 in 1988 brought that point home. The report on that bombing exposed specific weaknesses in 1990 that terrorists would take advantage of eleven years later at the expense of 3,000 lives.
Only since that day have we begun seeing some of these suggestions being considered and implemented.
I have never said that Bush — or any other politician — has no blame in the failures in our homeland security that allowed 9/11 to happen. I have only tried to suggest that it is extraordinarily unfair to claim that Bush is the only person responsible. My point here, in case it has gotten lost in the last two posts, has not changed, and I will try to address it in as clear a way as I can now:
If you believe that George W. Bush has failed because he has not done enough since the terror attacks, and his actions do not warrant a second term, then vote for John Kerry in November.
If you believe that no matter how Bush has performed since the terror attacks, Kerry will be able to accomplish more in terms of protecting this country and passing other programs that match your own political feelings, then vote for John Kerry in November.
If you believe that Bush alone is responsible for 9/11 because he failed to correct in first eight months of his presidency the security weaknesses that had existed for eleven years prior…weaknesses that the country had already known about…and that no one else but Bush could be held accountable, you are deluding yourself with an argument that history has already proven false.
The public — not just our leaders — knew about the threats before the current president ever announced his intention to run. Two presidents before him failed to do what they should have done when they had the chance. (And if you really want to judge by the numbers, the first Bush had two years after the report was issued and Clinton had eight. That adds up to a decade, folks!)
It’s time to stop trying to crucify Bush as some kind of “sole assassin” and focus on what we’re doing to prevent the next commission from issuing the same recommendations after the next terror attack.