US No Safer Now Than on 9/11, Richard Clarke Claims

By Alison Espach | July 7, 2008 | 8:23 PM EDT

( - Richard Clarke, former presidential adviser on counter-terrorism and author of a book in 2004 that blasted the Bush and Clinton administrations for their handling of the war on terror, asserted Thursday that "We are no more secure than we were five years ago."

Clarke gained national attention two years ago, not only for the book titled "Against All Enemies," but also for his testimony before the 9/11 Commission investigating the worst terrorist attacks in U.S. history.

Thursday, he was in Washington promoting a task force report titled "The Forgotten Homeland." Clarke co-chaired the task force, which was sponsored by The Century Foundation think tank. The report issues 128 recommendations, including the removal of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) from the authority of the Department of Homeland Security.

"By reestablishing FEMA as an independent agency, the United States can rebuild its image as a world leader in disaster management," the report states.

Clarke said FEMA is currently missing the type of leadership it had during the 1990s when it responded to major flooding in the Midwest in 1993, the Northridge, Calif., earthquake in 1994 and the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995.

If even half of the 128 suggestions in his report are followed, Clarke said the U.S. will become a much safer nation. If not, he warned that the country was headed for another major disaster like the 9/11 terrorist attacks or Hurricane Katrina.

"We are in for that second wave of terrorism," Clarke said, adding that Americans should take no solace in the fact that the U.S. homeland has not been attacked since 9/11. "The next 9/11 committee will ask, "Alright, why did we do so little?/rquote"

However, Russ Knocke, spokesman for the Department of Homeland Security, said Clarke''s claims and suggestions are "not only outrageous but unjustifiable."

"We have made substantial investments and advanced in our security in virtually every facet of our society since 9/11," said Knocke.

Aviation security improvements are a good example, he said.

"Today, which you did not have on 9/11, you have 100 percent passenger baggage screening, a vast federal air marshal service, hardened cockpit doors, behavioral pattern recognition and detection devices," said Knocke. These additions "contribute to a vastly improved aviation security system in our country."

Knocke also spoke of port security improvements and said there are U.S. personnel at roughly 45 of the world''s largest shipping ports screening cargo before it arrives in America.

He added that 98 percent of the cargo that is shipped internationally arrives on vessels that are part of the Customs-Trade Partnership Against Terrorism (C-TPAT) program, which allows for international port cooperation and better border security.

"We get a significant amount of visibility into what they''re shipping, where it came from, and where it''s going. You didn''t have that on 9/11," Knocke said.

Removing FEMA from the Department of Homeland Security would be a bad move by the government, he said. "It''s time to quit rearranging the deck chairs and really focus on completing the job of integration of this department," said Knocke.

During the rescue efforts in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, FEMA and the U.S. Coast Guard saved 40,000 people in the first week, as a result of department integration, Knocke said. FEMA, he added, now "actually has more resources, not only in terms of personnel, but in terms of funding."

"We saw in the first week of Katrina what happened with the lone ranger mentality," he said, referring to former FEMA Administrator Michael Brown who was "working around the department and not with the department," according to Knocke.

"That being said, we are the first to say there is more work to be done. We are as impatient as anyone at wanting to raise the country''s baseline for security preparedness," said Knocke.

Make media inquiries or request an interview with Alison Espach.

Subscribe to the free daily E-brief.

E-mail a comment or news tip to Alison Espach.

Send a Letter to the Editor about this article.