No. 1 on the New York Times paperback nonfiction best-seller list, and the fifth best-selling book on Amazon, the verbose, yet meticulous, 9/11 Commission Report reads like a history textbook without the occasional color pictures.
The report is a product of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks upon the United States, commonly known as the 9/11 Commission. Led by former New Jersey governor Thomas Kean, the members consist of high profile senators, lawyers and university presidents who are about the same age as our grandparents.
According to the report, all airlines currently refer to a “no-fly” list to determine if their passengers are terrorists. The list contains an unknown amount of people, which the government somehow deemed as suspicious. Now the commission wants to convert their “no-fly” list into a “no-transport” list, recommending trains and ships to check their passengers.
Precautions about rail safety have risen after the bombings of passenger trains in Spain earlier this year, and last week the commission urged Amtrak to check passengers. But if a control system is going to be implemented, it should be a system that will produce results.
Many of Amtrak’s 60,000 daily passengers do not buy their tickets well in advance. It is impractical to check every passenger, especially when a person buys a ticket minutes before departure. Compared to foreign visitors who fly into the country, who must all go through biometric screening, including fingerprints and photographs, the process would simply be too time-consuming for Amtrak officials to perform on a daily basis.
Both the 9/11 Commission and the Coast Guard identify cruise ships as vulnerable to attacks. While cruises are booked well in advance, there are no guarantees a person will use their real identity. Likewise, incoming Marine vessels are generally not inspected because there aren’t enough Coast Guard members to examine the millions of watercraft that enter American ports each year.
Improved transportation security is necessary. However, the current watch list is not an efficient means of doing so. Before a “no-transport” list is implemented, improvements must be made to the “no-fly” list. For example, Senator Ted Kennedy was stopped five times at airports in Washington and Boston since his name appeared on the list. This is despite the fact that the 72-year old senator has been flying between Washington and Boston every week for 42 years.
You’d think the airlines would recognize his face by now. It took Kennedy three weeks to get his name removed. Imagine how long it would take for an average person to have theirs taken off the list.
The Bush administration admits there is no such thing as perfect security, yet the 9/11 Commission was created so the public would have that illusion. Congressional legislation required the commission to exist for no more than 18 months from its founding date in 2002. It no longer exists as a government unit, but as an independent, bipartisan group.
One of the goals of the commission is to provide recommendations to help protect the country from future attacks. But implementing drastic security measures infringes on our constitutional rights against unreasonable search and seizures. The billions of dollars allocated to search random people who happen to have the same name as a “suspicious” person would be better spent elsewhere. That being said, I hope my name doesn’t end up on the list.
Stephanie Young can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.