Gauging Our Nation's Defenses

There is still a huge stumbling block when it comes to first responders being able to communicate with each other.

Last month we observed the tenth anniversary of the horrific events that occurred on Sept 11, 2001. That day was a wakeup call for the U.S. Heretofore we assumed no country had the temerity to attack us on our own soil. We were wrong . . . very wrong. The enemy took out 3,000 innocent civilians in the blink of an eye with a well-coordinated three pronged attack. We vowed something like that would never occur again, and set about strengthening our law enforcement assets to ensure we were better prepared. How have we done? Have we made our nation a hard target, or just paid lip service to recommendations from experts in the field?

Let’s look at the FBI. According to its own website,, the Bureau claims to have made 249 arrests over the past ten years in the area of counterintelligence, 46 of those related to spying. The FBI is the lead agency in that area, domestically, while the CIA has international responsibility.  After 9/11 the wall that existed between the FBI and CIA was noted to be a key factor in the lack of shared information that could have alerted us to an attack. To some extent that wall has become more porous, yet there is still a parochial mindset on behalf of both agencies.

In the area of counterterrorism, the number of Joint Terrorist Task Forces (JTTF) stands at 104, up from 35 in 2001. The JTTFs include 41 member agencies and nearly 4,500 personnel. Newly created FBI “Fly Teams,” respond to incidents and threats around the world, most recently in Saudi Arabia, Indonesia, Pakistan, England and Spain. The Bureau has teams of agents in Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as 60 legats in offices world-wide.

In Northern Virginia, a central repository for intelligence has been created. The National Counter Terrorism Center (NCTC) collects and analyzes intel from the FBI, CIA, Capitol Police, DOD and Homeland Security. NCTC serves as a knowledge bank, sharing information on known and suspected terrorists and international terror groups.

In an effort to bolster our defenses, the 9/11 Commission was created in 2002, and then disbanded after making its recommendations in 2004. Last month, a member of that group, Lee Hamilton, remarked on the Commission’s recommendations ten years later. Hamilton advised the U.S. remains vulnerable to cyber-attacks on utilities, banks and other civilian institutions, as well as physical attacks from lone-wolf and home grown radicals.

Additionally, former U.S. Representative Tim Roemer recommended intelligence agencies have oversight by one or two congressional committees. That apparently went in one ear and out the other. We now have at least 108 Congressional committees and subcommittees overseeing our intelligence agencies. This kind of bureaucracy negates the ability to allow for secrecy and for quick decision making.

Among the recommendations made by the 9/11 Commission was to institute an Entry/Exit system that would track visitors to our country. By using a biometric technological entry-and-exit system, authorities could easily determine those who have overstayed their welcome. The country does have an entry system that cross-references fingerprints and other data against terrorist databases, but lacks any system that checks people when they exit the country.

Another recommendation of the Commission was the establishment of a Director of National Intelligence. That has come to fruition but is problematic in that the office oversees 17 spy agencies. That many agencies means inherent turf battles and budget problems, particularly when the budget is controlled by Congress. In addition, the office has seen four different Directors in the last six years. Translation: a problem exists within the structure that’s only apparent once a new leader is allowed to view the inner-workings.

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