The passage of time since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks has made the United States "distracted and complacent," said former Rep. Lee Hamilton, D-Ind., who served as vice chairman of the 9/11 Commission. Former New Jersey Republican Gov. Tom Kean, who chaired the commission, said progress on homeland security has been made but has been "difficult" and "very slow."
Speaking at a press conference, Kean and Hamilton praised a new law to implement unfulfilled recommendations of their panel. Hamilton said "about 80 percent" of the commission's recommendations have now been adopted completely or in part.
Kean said Congress needs to provide funding for states to implement the so-called REAL ID Act, which requires them to begin issuing secure, standardized driver's licenses. Both Kean and Hamilton said the Bush administration also has not done enough to develop technology that would detect a nuclear bomb inside the United States.
"There is nothing that comes anywhere near close to this threat, and therefore it should be the absolute highest priority," Hamilton said.
Both leaders also agreed that Congress needs to further consolidate and improve its oversight of the Homeland Security Department and intelligence community. Hamilton added that the intelligence community needs to improve its human intelligence capabilities, which means recruiting and retaining spies.
"We're still hung up on technology, and we think technology is going to answer all our questions," he said.
Kean and Hamilton decried a lack of emphasis on privacy and civil liberties protections inside the Bush administration. Hamilton said that for the last six years, security measures have trumped privacy and civil rights protections within policy debates. He said Congress and the courts are now pushing back.
"Somebody has to be watching it and saying how does this proposal impact the civil liberties and the privacy of Americans, and they have to push hard on that question," he said.
Kean and Hamilton both expressed hope that the administration's privacy and civil liberties oversight board will become more forceful.
Kean noted that the threat of terrorism is expected to last for generations. "We cannot just let our civil liberties go for that period of time," he said. "We have to establish a framework."
The Bush administration, meanwhile, used the 9/11 anniversary to tout its anti-terrorism efforts of the past six years. A fact sheet released by the White House listed the creation of the Homeland Security Department and the position of National Intelligence Director as major achievements. The administration also noted the passage of the USA PATRIOT Act and last month's update of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.
But the White House urged lawmakers to make permanent the FISA changes they authorized this summer. The revised law make it easier for intelligence officials to authorize spying, but the White House said "meaningful liability protection" for telecommunications companies that assist such efforts is still needed.