While evidence mounts that Al Quaeda is coalescing and gathering its strength for another attack, Washington is busy consolidating 22 agencies and at least 170,000 employees into one monster bureaucracy -- as if putting them all together under the same roof will somehow assure they'll work together and perform better. Left out of the mix, of course, are the CIA, FBI and the National Security Agency, the three agencies that actually share some culpability for September 11 because each one had information they failed to act upon.
On almost every front from which the US is vulnerable, our nation's leaders have failed to even acknowledge, much less address, the problems that actually led to September 11.
We may have won the ground war in Afghanistan, but we lost our intelligence battle with Al Quaeda. According to national and international news reports, between 3,000 and 10,000 Al Quaeda fighters crossed the border into Pakistan or are taking refuge in other Middle Eastern countries. Last week, the Washington Post reported that two of Al Quaeda's most important leaders are now operating full tilt out of Iran, allegedly planning Al Quaeda terrorist operations despite the Pentagon's announcement in January that one of them had been killed in Afghanistan. The government's progress in tracking and freezing terrorist assets has proved far more difficult than anyone imagined and progress has ground nearly to a halt. Our efforts to locate and root out additional terrorist cells in this country have failed.
And still, despite all this, our most vulnerable fronts of attack, while more bureaucratized, remain almost comically vulnerable. Unless we plan to somehow defend ourselves from terrorists with bureaucratic organization charts, another attack on our soil will be as unstoppable as it is inevitable.
Longtime federal air marshals recently told USA Today they're considering a class action lawsuit over working conditions they fear are putting travelers at risk. In order to quickly put more federal air marshals on planes, hiring standards for applicants have been dramatically lowered. The difficult marksmanship test that simulates conditions a marshal might face on a jet was eliminated because too many applicants were failing it. In many cases, the new and supposedly improved federal airport screeners got little more training than the marshals did. Perhaps that's why they continue to fail to detect things like weapons and lead lined bags like those the New York Daily News and CBS recently managed to sneak by them an average of 70 percent of the time.
Our nuclear plants, the most volatile of our vulnerable fronts, remain virtually unprotected from the air, their most vulnerable point of attack. High-level studies indicating our nation's nuclear evacuation plans are inadequate have been virtually ignored.
Most of the holes in the system that allowed 19 hijackers to enter this country have yet to be closed. There remain dozens of easy ways to cross the 7,500 miles of borders around this country, as 330 million foreigners did last year when they entered at checkpoints from coast to coast.
Meanwhile, visas, which can be issued for up to 10 years, were used 35 million times to enter and leave this country last year. Another 17 million people needed only a passport to enter this country because they came from visa-waiver countries like France and Canada. The problem with that is that, like Canada, many of these countries don't require folks from Saudi Arabia to obtain visas to enter their country. That's why terrorists like Zacarias Moussaoui, who was traveling with a French passport, can easily enter this country because they fall under the visa-waiver system and their identities wouldn't be cross-checked.
Of course, obtaining a visa isn't that difficult, even for a terrorist. According to a congressional report released last month, around 300 Bureau of Consular Affairs officers process between 9 million and 10 million visa applications a year -- that's 30,000 per officer -- and approve about 70 percent of them.
Despite the fact that 15 of the 19 September 11 hijackers were from Saudi Arabia, the State Department stubbornly continued to grant visas to more than 4,300 Saudis and 2,100 citizens of other countries living in Saudi Arabia in the months after September 11. Even after the department promised to reform its visa operations, foreign service officers who assess visa applicants still haven't received new security training.
The list of our government's homeland security failures goes on and on. And as new federal bureaucracies bloat and the bills stack up, somewhere in the world, maybe down your street or around the corner, they're watching, waiting, plotting ...and probably laughing.