Missing the Obvious? Some Comments on the 9/11 Commission Report

In the past 17 years the U.S. Government has conducted one task force on terrorism

Given the number of times former Clinton Terrorism Czar Richard Clarke's name is mentioned in some sections of the Commission's Report, one could easily subtitle it as the "Richard Clarke Report." Nothing derogatory is intended here against Mr. Clarke but reading the Report one wonders what would have happened if his numerous warnings had been heeded both from what was once viewed as the Chicken Little "The Sky is Falling" viewpoint of terrorism to his well founded recognition of the dysfunctions within and between the U.S. Government's domestic and international law enforcement and intelligence agencies.

As we are left contemplating these puzzling events, we are now told that the 9/11 Commission plans on issuing additional staff reports. This announcement adds fuel to the previous suspicions and once again calls the competence and integrity of the Commission into question. Are the additional Staff Reports being issued because the 9/11 Report was incomplete and was hurried into publication because of the Democratic Political Convention, or are the additional staff reports being issued because the Report is truly cursory and lacking in depth, or both?

As we see these political events played-out we are reminded that that our aviation security system is the subject of a number of political pressures that have degraded the effectiveness of the system. These political pressures are frequently quite subtle but they are there nonetheless. The overpowering influence of the U.S. airline industry had a direct negative impact on the effectiveness of the aviation security system that was in-place on September 11, 2001. Unfortunately the FAA, and now the TSA, is the subject of a continuing set of industry influences over which these agencies have little power to resist.3 Certainly not a pretty picture but a relevant one nevertheless.

Computer Assisted Passenger Prescreening System (CAPPS)

I was pleasantly surprised to see the Commission address the failure of the FAA's follow-on security measures for the CAPPS which was "designed to identify passengers whose profile suggested they might pose more than a minimal risk to aircraft,"4 and "a computerized prescreening system ... created to identify passengers who should be subject to special security measures."5

The Commission's Report noted that "Although the algorithm (CAPPS) included hijacker profile data, at that time only passengers checking bags were eligible to be selected by CAPPS for additional scrutiny."6 The Commission's Report mentions CAPPS on pages 1, 2, 3, 4, 84, 352, 386 (indirectly), 392, 393 and in some footnotes but in none of these instances does the Report delve deeply into the details of this abject failure of the U.S. aviation security system.

Accountability is at issue here and had the Commission really completed its job it would have addressed the origin of this failure by the FAA and U.S. airlines to implement proper and thorough security measures to carefully examine all CAPPS selectees and their carry-on articles. Accountability for this gross failure is necessary to understand what has to be done to prevent a recurrence of this failure. The 9/11 Commission did not fully address this system failure, leaving one wondering in puzzlement as to ?why'? Was it because of the time constraints placed on the Commission to complete its report, or was the failure more sinister, e.g. a deliberate act to ignore the fact that the inadequate CAPPS follow-on security measures could be traced back to political concerns of the 1996/97 Gore Commission? Or, did the staff or the Commissioners fail to realize the significance of the underlying reasons for the CAPPS inadequate follow-on security measures?

Given the discussion in the Report on this subject in Chapter 11 Foresight-and Hindsight and in Chapter 12 What to do? A Global Strategy and the associated recommendations, it appears that the 9/11 Commission Staff (Commissioners also?) addressing the CAPPS follow-on security measures were well aware of its significance. The Commission's Report notes that "The FAA's capabilities to take aggressive, anticipatory security measures were especially weak. Any serious policy examination of a suicide hijacking scenario, critiquing each of the layers of the security system, could have suggested changes to fix glaring vulnerabilities --?searching passengers identified by the CAPPS screening system?.7"