Poor grades from ex-9/11 panel

U.S. handling of terror threat deserves more F's, D's than A's, it concludes



WASHINGTON --The members of the former Sept. 11 commission gave dismal grades to the Bush administration and Congress yesterday in measuring the government's recent efforts to prevent terrorist attacks on U.S. soil, concluding that the government deserved many more F's and D's than A's.

They awarded the grades in a privately financed "report card" that found that, four years after the Sept. 11 attacks, the nation remained alarmingly vulnerable to terrorist strikes, including attacks by terrorists with chemical, biological or nuclear weapons.

"While the terrorists are learning and adapting, our government is still moving at a crawl," said Thomas H. Kean, the commission's chairman and a former Republican governor of New Jersey. "Many obvious steps that the American people assume have been completed, have not been. Our leadership is distracted."

The new report by the 9/11 Public Discourse Project, a private group established by the Sept. 11 commission's five Republicans and five Democrats when the panel formally went out of business last year, graded the government's response to the 41 recommendations made in the commission's final report 17 months ago.

There were 17 F's or D's, including an F to Congress for its failure to allocate the domestic anti-terrorism budget on the basis of risk and a D for the government's effort to track down and secure nuclear material that could be used by terrorists. There was one A, an A-minus awarded for the government's efforts to stem the financing of terrorist networks.

With release of the report, the commissioners announced that they were shutting down the 9/11 Public Discourse Project, which had represented an unusual private effort by members of a federal commission to retain some political viability and lobby for their recommendations.

The White House, which often tangled with the Sept. 11 commission during its official investigation, defended its performance in dealing with terrorist threats, insisting it had acted on most of the recommendations.

"We have taken significant steps to better protect the American people at home," said White House spokesman Scott McClellan. "There is more to do. This is the president's highest responsibility."

But to the White House's likely disappointment, the panel's Republicans issued some of the harshest criticism of the administration and Congress heard yesterday at a news conference to release the report.

"The American people ought to demand answers," said James R. Thompson, a former Republican governor of Illinois. "Why aren't our tax dollars being spent to protect our lives? What's the rationale? What's the excuse? There is no excuse."

Thompson joined with other members in offering special criticism of Congress for having failed to ensure that the billions of dollars distributed by the federal government each year in domestic security funds are divided up on the basis of risk, instead of pork-barrel politics that often sends money to remote areas where there is little danger of terrorist attack.

The new report noted that Congress and the administration had enacted the commission's centerpiece recommendation last year, the creation of the job of director of national intelligence to force the government's spy agencies to work closely together.

"The framework for the DNI and his authorities are in place," the report found, giving an overall grade of B to Director John D. Negroponte's performance and to the government's effort to support him.

The new report gave a failing grade to the administration's development of common policies for treatment of terrorist suspects held abroad.

"U.S. treatment of detainees had elicited broad criticism and makes it harder to build the necessary alliances to cooperate effectively with partners in a global war on terror," the report said.

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