9/11 Commission report authors warn nation of cyberattack threats

The authors of the 9/11 Commission report say that a decade after completing their seminal look at the rise of al-Qaeda, the threat of terrorism has not waned and the country can ill afford to let its guard down again.

“The threat remains grave, and the trend lines in many parts of the world are pointing in the wrong direction,” former commission members wrote in “Reflections on the Tenth Anniversary of The 9/11 Commission Report,” which is being released Tuesday.

The reflections echo many of the concerns voiced in recent years in the intelligence community, particularly in relation to the growing strength of al-Qaeda affiliates in Yemen, Syria and Iraq.

The authors also describe the threat of a cyberattack as a significant concern, likening it to the threat of terrorism before the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. They describe the “cyber domain as the battlefield of the future” and say the country needs to take further steps to prevent the cyber equivalent of 9/11.

“We must not repeat that mistake in the cyber realm,” wrote the authors, including Thomas H. Kean and Lee H. Hamilton, who together chaired the 9/11 Commission.

The new report is critical of Congress and urges lawmakers to make “structural changes in oversight and appropriations for homeland security and intelligence.”

The former commission members note that in 2004 the Department of Homeland Security, which was created after 9/11, answered to 88 committees and subcommittees of Congress. Today, that number has increased to 92.

“Fragmented congressional oversight” is counterproductive to national security goals, the authors say they were told by DHS senior managers.

As in their previous report, the former commission members make a series of recommendations.

They urge Congress to pass cybersecurity legislation to let private companies work with the government to counter threats, despite concerns about privacy provisions. In addition, the authors say more transparency is needed to help a skeptical public understand the threat.

“Platitudes will not persuade the public,” they wrote.

The authors also urge the government to declassify materials related to the commission’s previous work. Those records include interview summaries and other documents held by the National Archives and Records Administration.

“Ten years after the Commission closed its doors, scholars and the general public should be given broad access to these documents, absent a compelling national security justification for withholding a given record,” the authors wrote.

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