9/11 Commission: Airlines key weakness to U.S. security

August 31, 2011 (CHICAGO)

The bipartisan commission says basic improvements still need to be made to better protect the country and airlines remain a key weakness for security.

A report card out of Washington, written by the by members of the original National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States (9/11 Commission), revealed Wednesday that U.S. security scored very few A's; several C's and incompletes; and at least two significant F's due to unfulfilled recommendations on security from the days after the attacks. Read The 9/11 Commission Report (PDF)

Ten years later, American policymakers charged with evaluating how the nation has improved its security stance since are not too pleased with the progress.

"Political parties and all levels of government should renew their focus on completing the implementation of the 9/11 Commission recommendations," said Lee Hamilton, chairman of the 9/11 Commission.

Overall, the commission says American security is better now than before because intelligence agencies such as the FBI and the CIA are sharing information more efficiently. But there are still huge gaps. For instance, first responders still lack a dedicated radio frequency at emergencies that would allow them to talk to each other in real time -- a shortcoming that led to many deaths on September 11, 2011

"Get it done. Ten years [and] we still can't talk to each other when disaster strikes," Governor James Thompson, 9/11 Commission member, said.

When it comes to aviation, the commission noted billions have been spent on airport screening and the likelihood of bringing down a major airliner has been reduced. But with passengers enduring the inconveniences of elaborate searches and technology, terror can still happen in the skies.

"Unfortunately the explosives detection technology lacks reliability and lags in its capability to automatically identify concealed weapons and explosives," Hamilton said.

In Chicago, where airline passengers are often subjected to enormous wait times due to security, there is a note of resignation from many passengers.

DePaul University Professor Tom Mikloutasis says those kinds of views are to be expected a decade after 9/11.

"Some of these things are not so much mistakes as decisions. You've got to weigh the freedom of individuals versus the safety and well-being of a community," said Professor Mikloutasis.

For civil libertarians, the 9/11 Commission's report card speaks to the fallacy of the tradeoff that many Americans figured had to be made in the days after 9/11: giving up some freedoms for the sake of security.

"We're going to see even more proposals for more security measures, but we ought to have the confidence as a country to be able to ask hard questions about whether or not these proposals are actually effective," Ed Yohnke, ACLU, said.

Chicago's Office of Emergency Management says it supports the report and that a lot needs to be done, especially the idea that a block of the radio spectrum -- the D-band -- be set aside for emergency responders.

There are bills in Congress that the president supports to do this, and it was mentioned in the last state of the union address, but apparently at this point there are not enough votes to get the job done.

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