"The most important failure was one of imagination," wrote the members of the commission. "We do not believe leaders understood the gravity of the threat… Al Qaeda's new brand of terrorism presented challenges to U.S. governmental institutions that they were not well-designed to meet."
The commission proposed a three-prong strategy to protect the country against further attacks: attack terrorists and their organizations; prevent the continued growth of Islamist terrorism; and protect against and prepare for terrorist attacks.
The commission suggested rooting out terrorist sanctuaries, strengthening relationships with allies in the Middle East, offering "an agenda of opportunity that includes support for public education and economic openness" and devoting maximum effort to the task of countering the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.
The commission made a number of recommendations related to emergency preparedness, including:
- Targeting terrorist travel
- Addressing the problem of screening people with biometric identifiers across agencies and governments
- Completing a biometric entry-exit screening system
- Setting standards for the issuance of birth certificates and other sources of identification
- Improving checkpoint screening at airports and continue with development of "no fly" and "automatic selectee" lists
- Determining guidelines for gathering and sharing information in the new security systems
- Basing federal funding for emergency preparedness solely on risks and vulnerabilities, putting New York and Washington, D.C., at the top of the current list.
- Making homeland security funding contingent on the adoption of an incident command system to strengthen teamwork in a crisis, including a regional approach. Allocate more radio spectrum and improve connectivity for public safety communications, and encourage widespread adoption of newly developed standards for private-sector emergency preparedness, since the private sector controls 85 percent of the nation's critical infrastructure.
"The 911 Commission Report is a wake up call for Americans," Chief P. Michael Freeman, chair of the IAFC Terrorism and Homeland Security Committee. "Despite all that has been accomplished since September 11, more needs to be done. Better focused and coordinated efforts at all levels of government are essential for National readiness in prevention and preparedness for acts of terrorism."
President George W. Bush has already announced plans to adopt some of the commission's suggestions, including creating the position of a national intelligence director and calling on Congress to improve its oversight of national intelligence to improve quality and accountability.