9/11 Commissioners Warn: Don't Lose Focus on Terrorism

By Nathan Burchfiel | July 7, 2008 | 8:23 PM EDT

(CNSNews.com) - The chairman and vice chairman of the 9/11 Commission encouraged elected officials to stay focused on securing the nation against terrorist threats, saying Monday that it is the most important issue before the country.

On the fifth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, former New Jersey Gov. Tom Kean and former U.S. Rep. Lee Hamilton -- the men who led the congressionally mandated investigation into the 2001 attacks -- spoke about the progress made since then and the steps that still need to be taken to make America safer.

"Five years later, although we've done a lot of good things, ... there is still so much left undone," Kean said at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. He criticized Congress for not enacting more of the 41 recommendations the commission made in its July 2004 report, the result of nearly two years of hearings and investigations.

"We've got a congressional election this year, and I can't find a candidate in either party who would say, 'I'm not for your 41 recommendations,'" Kean, a Republican, stated.

He said it "just doesn't make sense to us" that more of the recommendations have not been taken seriously. Kean specifically mentioned homeland security funding -- which he said should favor areas of higher risk like New York City and Washington, D.C. -- and the ability of local and federal emergency response teams to communicate with one another.

Hamilton, a Democrat, echoed Kean's criticism of Congress for not acting on the commission's recommendations, adding that the legislature is weighed down by partisanship.

He said the commission, which was made up of five Republicans and five Democrats, was able to overcome ideological differences and come together to form a consensus. Hamilton said partisanship is "our single greatest obstacle" but added the commission is evidence that it can be overcome.

Hamilton said that "a number of the steps we've taken have been helpful" in preventing subsequent attacks, including increased security at airports, locking cockpit doors and a more visible police presence in high-risk areas.

But he said the fact that there haven't been any attacks on U.S. soil since 9/11 could make elected officials and the American public complacent, which he said would be a "big mistake."

"Complacency would be the worst step," Hamilton said. "There is nothing more important ... than to make the people of this country more secure."

"I just want to see a sense of urgency brought to all of this," he added.

Kean said a major problem the commission found with the Clinton and George W. Bush administrations was that terrorism "wasn't the top priority or even close to it" until the attacks.

"What our worry is," he said, "is that we see that sort of starting to happen again. We're losing some of that focus."

Make media inquiries or request an interview with Nathan Burchfiel.

Subscribe to the free CNSNews.com daily E-brief.

E-mail a comment or news tip to Nathan Burchfiel.

Send a Letter to the Editor about this article.