Terrorism Threat ‘Will Never Go Away’

Richard A. Falkenrath
Richard A. Falkenrath Senior Fellow, Foreign Policy Studies, The Brookings Institution

December 5, 2005

The former 9/11 commission issued a report Monday that faulted the government’s progress in implementing the reforms the panel suggested last year.

To better understand the commission’s concerns, CNN anchor Daryn Kagan discussed the commission’s final report Monday with Richard Falkenrath, a fellow at the Brookings Institution and a CNN security analyst.

KAGAN: [Former 9/11 commission Chairman Thomas Kean] said that pretty much everybody who’s in this business believes there will be another attack on U.S. soil. Do you agree with that?

FALKENRATH: I do agree. And it is true that virtually everyone in the business agrees with that. It’s the right planning assumption for our national security apparatus. We hope it doesn’t happen, and we’re going to do everything we can to prevent it from happening, but we should assume that it will.

KAGAN: What about the criticism of the funding formula, saying that it needs to be done based on different cities and areas of their risk, not on geography and politics?

FALKENRATH: … I think everyone who studied this issue closely recognizes that the money should be allocated based on vulnerability and threat. There is a problem in the Senate, which they directly addressed. The Senate has so far declined to pass legislation that would allow the money to be distributed based on vulnerability and risk. And the reason is that the smaller states and the rural states would end up getting less money.

KAGAN: So what’s it going to take?

FALKENRATH: Well, on that particular issue, I think what the 9/11 commissioners are doing is very helpful. It’s sort of shaming the people that are standing in the way of a risk-based allocation of the money. And hopefully over time they will be beaten back, and the proponents of risk-based allocations will win out.

But that’s a—that’s really political arm wrestling. And it happens in the backrooms of the Congress. And there’s no magic bullet; there’s no single thing that will prevail in that situation.

KAGAN:What if I put you up there on that podium today, and you had a chance to talk about what worries you most now more than four years after 9/11? What would you say?

FALKENRATH: Well, there’s a very long list of things to worry [about]. And I think they hit many of the important ones. Not all of them.

There’s a particular vulnerability with our critical infrastructure. Our chemical facilities have not yet been secured adequately. That’s a mass casualty vulnerability.

In the area of domestic intelligence, which they spoke out strongly on, and information sharing, I was disappointed that they didn’t address the issue of the Patriot Act. Sixteen provisions of the Patriot Act are going to expire at the end of this month unless Congress re-authorizes them. And they basically ignored that issue.

KAGAN: And you would like to see them not expire?

FALKENRATH: Well, they certainly should not be—they should not expire. Almost nobody thinks that all 16 provisions should expire. Congress has just a few days left to pass the legislation that will allow them to continue. And given the timing of this final report, they really should have addressed that directly.

KAGAN: Thomas Kean also said that he believes the terrorists are watching and they’re learning, they’re evolving. Clearly, it looks like the U.S. and its government is not doing the same. What is it going to take?

FALKENRATH: Well, it takes continual attention and hard work by the leaders [in Congress and the executive branch]. And I think the commissioners are right. It requires continual outside engagement and watching and calls for action of the sort that they gave us today.

This will—this problem will never go away. It’s one that we just have to keep working at tirelessly. And they are right that the terrorists are still out there, and they are adaptive and they are learning. And we should assume that they will strike again.

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