Safer, but not safe

Safer, but not safe

The day after the 9/11 Commission released its much-anticipated report, The New York Times featured two front-page articles - the first as the main story on the commission report, and the second discussing just how difficult it may be for Congress to achieve consensus on adopting the commission's recommendations.

That second article, "Threats and Responses: News Analysis; The Next Hard Step," cited "partisan wrangling of a presidential election and the capital's entrenched resistance to change." It said those traditional challenges could easily keep any implementation of the commission's recommendations to a frustrating "business as usual" pace in Washington.

The commission's chairman, former New Jersey Gov. Thomas Kean, said, "We're in danger of just letting things slide. Time is not on our side."

The article and the frustrating issues that it raised caught the immediate attention of NBC's Today show, where a live interview with Sen. Joseph Biden, D-Del., was conducted by Katie Couric. Couric asked how lawmakers, given the tremendous importance of the commission's work to the future security of our country, could allow even the slightest hint of politics to present any delays in implementing the commission's recommendations, let alone take a month-long vacation.

To my astonishment, Sen. Biden responded in typical political fashion by first recalling that the day before Sept. 11, he had made a speech saying that the U.S. wasn't focused on terrorism, and that "we're doing the same thing again." He then proceeded with the incredible statement that, "We're going to look at this report. We're not going to implement these findings, at least I don't think we're going to do it any time soon."

Excuse me?

Even Couric appeared to do a double-take. And when she pressed him further, Biden was unable to offer a single, concrete suggestion on how he - as a ranking U.S. senator - would attempt to overcome these hurdles. Instead, he cited party opposition to a security-related bill he had introduced, and even his inability to get adequate press coverage, as excuses. That's it?

I'm sorry, senator, but that simply won't do. You, sir, represent the very authority that we the American people have elected and empowered to resolve these difficult issues. In these extraordinary times, we need extraordinary leadership and accountability. The American people want results, not another commission. Just as in the days immediately following the Sept. 11 attacks, politics must be set aside and the title of "American" must come before that of "Republican" or "Democrat."

Fortunately, other members of Congress from both sides of the aisle stepped up to create a groundswell of activity in the weeks immediately following Biden's interview. There were at least six congressional committees that held more than 15 hearings on the 9/11 Commission's report during Congress's August recess, as well as the organization of a bi-partisan caucus. But the point is, why did it take a public outcry to fully mobilize our Congress, particularly with the chilling conclusion from the 9/11 Commission that, "another attack of even greater magnitude is not only possible but probable?"

Unfortunately, as this month marks the three-year anniversary of the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, we continue to hear of breakdowns in our own security efforts, or holes that continue to make us vulnerable. There is still plenty of buzzing over the 14 Syrians on Northwest Flight 327 who recently entered the U.S. illegally on expired visas. And concern, as I was writing this column, over the dual suicide airplane bombings in Russia, where the terrorists allegedly had plastic explosives on their bodies that would not have been detected by our current screening techniques either.

There is a prominent logistics company that incorporates the slogan "99 percent = 0." The slogan instills the fact that even a high degree of effort is simply wasted time, effort and money if the objective is not met. In our war against terrorism, while we may never be able to realistically achieve 100 percent deterrence against such a radical mindset, it nonetheless demands that every security-related person, process and technology must be capable of yielding maximum effort and effectiveness. Nothing less will do.

We are safer, but not safe - and time is not on our side.

William G. "Jerry" Peck is president and founder of Global Trade Management Solutions. He can be reached at (815) 462-1732, or via e-mail at wgpeck@global-trade-ms.com.