The 9/11 Commission Report: Discussion and Analysis, Essay Example

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Essay

The September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States resulted in a national debate that is ongoing, and examines how best to protect the nation from future attacks by its enemies. The 9-11 Commission was charged with investigating fully the events leading up to that catastrophic day in an effort to understand how intelligence and institutional failures contributed to the disaster. In addition, they were charged with determining how to prevent such events from occurring in the future. This paper will discuss the report that was issued by the Commission, and how its findings have impacted foreign and domestic policy regarding national security.

Since the attacks on September 11, the United States government has committed a tremendous number of resources towards the cause of national security as well is to identify, prevent, and thwart terrorist activities. The event informed the country that threats to the United States did not exist merely inside the country, but outside of its borders. The attacks of September 11 have demonstrated  that terrorism against American interests “over there” should be regarded in exactly the same ways as those in which terrorism against America “over here” is viewed (The 9/11 Commission Report, Section 12, 2004.) In essence, the threats to the American homeland have become those confronting the entire planet.

The Commission addressed the issue of the significance of the international community’s responsibility in preventing terrorism. According to the report, it would be crucial for the United States to involve other nations in developing a comprehensive coalition strategy to combat Islamist terrorism. The most significant policies for accomplishing such goals would be discussed and coordinated in a flexible contact group of leading coalition governments (The 9/11 Commission Report, 2004.) The Commission believed that this would provide a perfect opportunity to establish mutual goals for focusing on terrorist travel as well is to develop a joint plan for taking action in the places where terrorists have been able to find sanctuary. In addition, the Report emphasized the importance of the United States engaging its allies in creating a mutual approach to detaining and treating prisoners in a humane fashion. These strategies would be based on Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions regarding the law of armed conflict. They set forth minimum standards for the treatment of prisoners of war that are generally adopted globally and viewed as some of the basic tenets of international law. The Commission’s report emphasized that the United States government would not be able to meet its own obligations to its citizens to protect them without a significant attempt to collaborate with other governments; this made it imperative to include exchanging information about terrorists with allies. In addition, international cooperation would be needed to enforce American and global border crossing standards over the long-term.

The Commission investigated how al Qaeda was able to successfully plan and carry out the 9/11 attacks. One focus of their investigation involved looking at the finances needed to carry out such an extensive and devastating operation. In order to do so, the 9/11 hijackers invested between $400,000 and $500,000, the bulk of which was given to them by al Qaeda (Terrorist Financing Staff Monograph.) It is unclear from where these funds originated, but it has been established that the plotters and their financial backers utilized the anonymity extended by the huge international and domestic financial system to transfer and keep their money through a variety of seemingly innocuous transactions (Terrorist Financing Staff Monograph.) Until that point, the tools that would have prevented the abuse of the financial system were not created to identify or disrupt transactions like those which supported 9/11.

In addition, the hijackers were able to escape detection by easily blending in with other foreign students in large cities in the West, making their detection so difficult that even on the occasions when police were conducting surveillance on them, they were indistinguishable from other Middle Eastern students (Tagliabue, 2001.) They lived in Hamburg, Germany, as well as various American cities such as Los Angeles, and despite the fact that they were being trailed by American intelligence agents, they did not come draw any significant attention until after the disaster. However, the reasons that the 9/11 plot was able to be successfully carried out probably says less about the hijackers themselves than about the failures of the United States to prevent the attack from happening. Because the hijackers had lived in the United States for some time, they were able to study and identify weaknesses in the airport security system and the immigration service’s inadequacies in granting and renewing visas.

            The success of the 9/11 attacks was contingent on many factors. These included: the leaders of al-Qaeda being able to evaluate, approve, and supervise the planning and direction of a major operation; their development of a personnel operation that was able to recruit members, indoctrinate them, and train them; and their ability to develop communications that were sufficient to allow planning and managing their operations using those who were willing to help them. In addition, they also benefited from their ability to wage an intelligence effort to succeed at obtaining relevant data that would allow them to develop evaluations of strengths and weaknesses in the United States, their willingness to move people to faraway places to accomplish their ends, and the ability to raise and transfer the type of funds needed to support such an operation (The 9/11 Commission Report, 2004.)

The attack was also successful due to the ability of the plotters to secure visas as well as pass an immigration and customs inspection before entering the United States. Additionally, the hijackers needed to remain in the country without detection while they were simultaneously ironing out the details of the assault. They would not have been successful in their plot if they had been either refused visas or had not passed the immigration and customs inspection. The group of hijackers was easily able to infiltrate the borders of the United States. In addition, the United States missed an opportunity to identify the hijackers when one of them attended flight school in Arizona, and came to the attention of the FAA because of his lack of English and poor flying skills (The Associated Press, 2002.) Ultimately, the FAA made the determination that no action was necessary.

Perhaps the greatest factor that contributed to the success of the devastating attack on 9/11 was the failure of American intelligence to coordinate, collect, and share information regarding security threats that might have made a difference. For example, in August, 2001, President George Bush received a security brief that revealed a memo entitled “Bin Laden Determined to Attack within the United States” (The 9/11 Commission Report, 2004.) Instead of taking the memo as the clear threat to security that hindsight revealed it to be, the President left Washington for one month on his annual summer vacation. Other memos that were translated after September 11 also turned up, and which contained hints of a wide-scale imminent attack. Unfortunately, even though Osama bin Laden had been clearly identified as an enemy of the United States who was determined to create large-scale harm to its interests, Presidents Clinton and Bush did not take preemptive measures that might have averted the attack.

There were many significant failures of the United States government leading to the attacks of September 11. Some of the most egregious include: the failure to understand the gravity of the threat that al-Qaeda posed; the failure of the FAA to adequately screen the passengers who ultimately boarded the flights and hijacked the airlines; the failure to act on concerns that were clearly raised by Islamic extremists who had given blatant indications about their intentions to kill Americans in large numbers (9/11 Inquiry Blames US Failure, 2004); and a lack of coordination between various key departments such as the Department of Defense, The Central Intelligence Agency, the National Transportation and Safety Board, and the FAA. The Commission’s Report found that there were other government failures, including one of imagination involving the gravity of the threat, national policy that did not place a strong enough emphasis on combating terrorism, minimal capabilities to address the al-Qaeda problem because the government was stuck in a Cold War mindset, and a pervasive inability to adapt to the types of terrorist threats of the 21st century.

The 9/11 Commission Report closed with a variety of recommendations designed to identify the problems that had allowed such an attack to occur, and to prevent another such incident in the future. These included: destroying terrorist networks and their territories, promising to punish nations that granted these groups sanctuary; acting to prevent the spread and intensity of Islamic terrorism; developing methods to protect and prevent future terrorist attacks by developing security strategies on every level including travel, finances, and surveillance; and organizing the government in ways that would provide adequate security for the American people. These methods were to include coordinating strategic intelligence and operational planning by establishing a National Counterterrorism Center as well as combining the intelligence community agencies under a new Director of National Intelligence. In addition, the report recommended that an information sharing system between and among governmental agencies be established in order to streamline intelligence information and threats. Further, the panel recommended that congressional oversight of national security agencies would enhance the quality of coordinated efforts as well as accountability and finally, there was a recommendation that the FBI and other defenders of the United States security system work to strengthen their procedures and operations.

References:

9/11 Inquiry Blames US Failure. (2004, July 22). Retrieved February 2, 2013, from BBC: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/americas/3916885.stm

Tagliabue, J. (2001, November 18). Retracing a Trail to September 11 Plot. Retrieved February 2, 2013, from The New York Times: http://www.nytimes.com/2001/11/18/international/europe/18HAMB.html

Terrorist Financing Staff Monograph. (n.d.). Retrieved February 2, 2013, from Government Information Library: http://govinfo.library.unt.edu/911/staff_statements/911_TerrFin_App.pdf

The 9/11 Commission Report, Section 12. (2004). Retrieved February 2, 2013, from Federation of American Scientists: http://www.fas.org/irp/offdocs/911comm-sec12.pdf

The 9/11 Commission. (2004). The 9/11 Commission Report. Washington DC: National Commission on Terrorist Attacks upon the United States.

The Associated Press. (2002, May 10). FAA Probe Cleared September 11 Hijacker in Early 2001. Retrieved February 2, 2013, from Fox News: http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,52408,00.html

 

 

 

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