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The 9/11 Commission Report
T.J. Newton

The 9/11 Commission's report is one of the most comprehensive and compelling documents produced by the United States government regarding the events surrounding 9/11. It is over 500 pages long, and responding to it is a project in itself. There are many arguments made in the report that I want to address, but I have narrowed my list to five topics that most closely relate to the information I have already written about.


The 9/11 report talks a lot about "imagination." It is something I remember the president mentioning after 9/11, and it is related to how the executive branch interpreted the Patriot Act. One of the problems with "imagination" not mentioned in the report is the idea that the worst scenarios "imaginable" should be treated as "terrorist" threats, and acted upon according to the USA-PATRIOT and Homeland Security Acts. While the report does not appear to sanction tapping someone's phone for criticizing the president in a bar, the arguments made in the report may not prevent such abuse. After reading the report, I am hopeful that the ultimate outcome will produce a solution to these problems.

The report treats the Patriot Act in a way familiar to many of us who have even a little experience following politics, particularly politics related to national security. While it addresses many intellectual's concerns about civil liberties, it seems to sort of paper over the warnings of abuse made by thousands of people. The report mentions the problems related to labeling someone a "terrorist," but those problems are not directly linked to the Patriot Act. The "library provision" and other sunset provisions are addressed as problems, but the remaining problems with the Act - particularly those related to defining "terrorism" - are linked to the executive branch's interpretation, which is an argument I have heard before. Certainly, the executive branch has contributed to many of the problems with the Patriot Act, but the lessons learned from such "scenarios" are not addressed in the way many of us argued they should be. However, if the best possible outcome is aided by the report, or by its arguments, I for one do not mind how the report treats the efforts of concerned intellectuals, although it does not exactly leave me feeling uplifted. I imagine the executive branch feels the same way, although I imagine they will react differently than I have. Once everyone's feelings are put aside, the Patriot Act (and the Homeland Security Act) are still dangerous, and in need of more serious attention and revision.


In a few instances, the report mentions "pragmatism" briefly. I've been hearing a lot about "pragmatism," "reality," and "ideology" recently, and I think the discussion is healthy. Anyone who knows me knows that I spend a lot of time - probably too much time - thinking about that stuff. "Pragmatism" is a term I have addressed in only one essay, and I mentioned that it is a term that has been interpreted in various ways by different people. One interpretation is connected to philosophical ideas that I oppose, so I sometimes recoil when I hear the word. But the report does not seem to indicate that the term is interpreted in a way that has a substantial connection to those ideas. Additionally, the use of "pragmatism" carries important lessons about which I understand.

Economic Policy

There is significant time devoted to economic policy in the report, specifically the development of economic policies to be promoted in the Middle East, as well as elsewhere. The wording closely resembles the National Security Strategy of the United States, which argues that such policies should be implemented or enforced using military invasion.

While I am not opposed to certain economic policies, there are some policies I favor more than others. I am opposed to the use of military force in decisions surrounding the implementation or enforcement of such policies in countries the military would have to invade according to any "strategy" containing arguments about something as widely disputed as economic policy.

There are many educated Westerners that are just as stubborn and unreasonable as the "terrorists," but we do not generally invade their countries when we disagree with their economic policies. On the other hand, I understand that certain ideologies can be difficult to handle, particularly when violence or oppression is involved. The report does seem to make progress toward handling stubborn or difficult ideologies, reducing violence and oppression, and preventing terrorism. I do agree that the United States could do a better job of serving as a model for other nations, and that our current political climate hampers that effort.

Screening Systems

Whoever is in charge of them (hopefully not the military), screening systems pose a number of problems. The report argues in favor of certain screening systems, and I understand the argument. But it seems that one very threatening aspect of any sort of screening or identification system is that once such a system is in place, the individuals it targets may still be selected according to how the government determines whether such an individual is a "terrorist," or has "aided a terrorist," or is a "terrorist threat," and the report admits problems with such labels. Another concern is that such a system will be used to monitor people in ways that do not involve crossing an international border. For those reasons, as well as a number of others (especially design-related reasons), many people oppose the implementation of such systems.

It will be extremely difficult to convince those concerned about the protection of civil liberties that abuse will not occur, especially considering some of the more obviously abusive systems that have been proposed. Although I am highly skeptical, a debate about civil liberties and the USA-PATRIOT Act may provide encouraging developments in this area. It is also encouraging that the report mentions problems with the interpretation of the word "terrorist." It comes down to specifics, and I have not so far seen any evidence that indicates policymakers are willing to even think about the specifics of such a system.

Intelligence Restructuring

Finally, the last argument I want to address is the report's call for intelligence restructuring. This is not an area about which I have extensively commented, and it is not an area that I really want to add to my list of topics, but it is related. I do agree that there are very, very serious problems, and that much of the assessment appears thorough. I also agree with many of the recommendations. However, I am not sure that the plan presented, taken as a whole, provides the most complete or comprehensive solution, and it may not be intended to do so. I really don't know... If it were up to me, I would shut down the FBI, CIA, NSA, NGA, DIA, intelligence entities of the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marines, INR, and all of the others. I would fire all the spies, "retrain" them as medical technicians, and start over.

Actually, I don't think "retraining" is a good solution to the global job crisis, but it doesn't matter because I doubt anything will be shut down. It probably isn't realistic since "they" have all those weapons. I'm also not sure I would trust "them" to provide medical care if "they" were retrained as medical technicians.

More seriously, I am most interested in technicalities that are not likely to be accounted for in any legislation, and in the possible impact of such legislation, such as the examples given closer to the beginning of the report detailing misinterpretations and other reactions to past restructuring efforts, some of which resulted in failures that may have contributed to 9/11. That seems an extremely important and difficult part of any restructuring, and if such a discussion or debate is possible, it may or may not result in a full implementation of the recommendations. The tone of the report in this area was refreshing, and I hope it can contribute to any such discussion or debate. Clearly, something must be done, and I agree that the creation of a domestic intelligence agency is not necessary. But again, this is really not an area about which I want to comment extensively, and I am only casually informed about many of the topics.

Selected Works Cited:

Newton, T.J. (2004). FBI To Invesitgate Buyers of Fuel-Efficient Cars? http://www.HomelandInsecurity.org/cars.htm, 24 July 2004.

---. (2003). Government Hackers Invade Your Privacy. http://www.HomelandInsecurity.org/tia.htm, 24 July 2004.

---. (2004). neoNewtonian Philosophy. http://www.neonewton.com/, 24 July 2004.

---. (2003). Officially Terrifying America: The Rhetoric of Homeland Security. http://www.HomelandInsecurity.org/terrified.htm, 24 July 2004.

---. (2003). "Patriot II" Reveals Secret Plans to Destroy Freedom. http://www.HomelandInsecurity.org/patriot2.htm, 24 July 2004.

---. (2004). Stealing Democracy: Election Scandals, Illegal Ballots, & Political Corruption. http://www.HomelandInsecurity.org/butterfly.htm, 24 July 2004.

---. (2004). The War Against Freedom. http://www.HomelandInsecurity.org/pre-empt.htm, 24 July 2004.

---. (2004). Why Should You Care if the Government Spies on You? http://www.HomelandInsecurity.org/whycare.htm, 24 July 2004.

United States (2004). 9/11 Commission. The 9/11 Commission Report. http://www.9-11commission.gov, July 24, 2004.

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