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The Project on National Security Reform Commemorates 9/11 With a Renewed call for Systemic Reform

September 11, 2009

Today the Project on National Security Reform (PNSR) commemorates the eighth anniversary of the most devastating attack on the United States since Pearl Harbor.  We remember the victims and their families, and honor the heroism of the fire fighters, police officers, emergency workers and everyday Americans who rushed to help those in need after the unprecedented attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

Over the past eight years, the United States has reacted to the tragedy by making progress towards strengthening our nation’s security.  In 2007, with bipartisan support, Congress enacted legislation to implement the recommendations of the 9/11 Commission, in both its domestic and foreign-policy dimensions.  By so doing, Congress addressed major vulnerabilities in the system and improved our homeland security across the board.  But there is much more work to be done.

It is widely understood that the security environment of the 21st century differs significantly from that which the national security system was created to address following World War II.  Regrettably, the system is still organized to combat the last challenge, not those that lie before it.  Despite the shock of 9/11, we have failed to keep pace with the rapidity and scope of change in the world.  While the U.S. government has made incremental modifications, it has failed to produce an integrated, agile, and anticipatory system that can adequately meet today’s challenges.

One of the basic problems that led to 9/11 and plagues us still is that the system does not know what it knows. Information is not shared between agencies, knowledge is neither captured nor leveraged, and collaboration across the interagency is close to impossible.  For example, according to the 9/11 Commission report, “NSA information that would have helped identify Nawaf Al Hamzi [one of the hijackers of the plane flown into the Pentagon] in January 2000” was not properly shared with relevant agencies.  Although the information was accessible, someone would have had to ask for it first before it could have been widely disseminated.  Quoting the report again, “Agencies uphold a ‘need-to-know’ culture of information protection rather than promoting a ‘need-to-share’ culture of integration.”  Eight years after the attacks and five since the landmark report was published, this still remains the case.

These problems are more a reflection of prevailing mindsets and outdated processes than technological challenges.  The technology exists in the private-sector; government needs to adapt that technology to its needs, and shift to the information-sharing culture that current generation technology enables.  PNSR is currently involved in creating an on-line, real-time, national security collaboration environment that will be the foundation for making information-sharing a reality.

Improved information sharing is part of the bold, carefully crafted plan of comprehensive reform the United States needs in order to institute a national security system that can manage and overcome the challenges of our time.  In its 2008 report, Forging a New Shield, PNSR laid out recommendations that begin to resolve the problems affecting the current system.  If implemented, PNSR’s recommendations would constitute the most far-reaching governmental design innovation in national security since the passage of the National Security Act in 1947.  PNSR has a singular focus:  to be a valuable resource for holistic reform of the national security system so that the nation can successfully address 21st-century challenges and opportunities.

Perhaps the victims of that horrific day in 2001 can best be honored by transforming the system to ensure such an event never occurs again.  PNSR stands ready to help.

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