Panel: Much to be done to fight terrorism

By TOM BRUNE
Newsday
March 31, 2011

WASHINGTON -- Nearly 10 years after the Sept. 11 attacks, America has made "significant progress" in defending against terrorism, but "a lot of heavy lifting remains to be done," the 9/11 Commission leaders said Wednesday.

Complicating the task is the changing nature of the terrorist threat, from sophisticated al-Qaida plots to homegrown attacks by radicalized Americans, said and former New Jersey Gov. Tom Kean, chairman, and former Rep. Lee Hamilton (D-Ind.), vice chairman.

"A devastating 9/11 attack is less likely," Kean told the Senate Homeland Security Committee Wednesday. "There is a high risk of attacks, but they will likely be smaller."

In a 10-year review of the response to terrorism, the chairmen said, "Our country is undoubtedly safer and more secure." But they said unfulfilled commission recommendations "require urgent attention." Hamilton said failure to act on two of the top three priorities is "really distressing" because they're "no-brainers."

One is for cities and towns to agree to put one person in charge at the site of a terror attack. "If you have confusion of command at that locale, you lose lives," he said.

New York City has addressed the issue by putting police in charge, he said.

Nassau and Suffolk officials said they have plans for one agency to lead or for a coordinated command with other governments.

The second recommendation, Hamilton said, is to finally make it possible for first responders to be able to communicate with each other, which was "a critical failure on 9/11." Police, fire and other agencies use different radios and frequencies, making communicating with each other difficult.

Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford) has proposed legislation to set aside an additional section of radio spectrum for police, firefighters and public safety uses.

King, chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, Wednesday held a separate hearing on the bill, which has bipartisan support.

Nassau and Suffolk officials said they've given radios to town and village police, firefighters and others that make it possible to talk to each other.

The third priority faces an uphill battle, Hamilton conceded, because of political considerations and members' refusal to give up authority over an agency: getting Congress to create one committee to oversee the Department of Homeland Security.

Instead, Kean said, at least 90 committees or subcommittees oversee DHS. "Oversight of homeland security is fragmented," Hamilton said. That, he and Kean said, "is a recipe for confusion."