The Sept. 11 commission's report is dominating the news [front page, July 23] and every discussion regarding the reform of our intelligence community before a new attack. Yet the House and Senate are recessing until after Labor Day. The American people should be screaming from the rooftops to keep Congress in session until this work is done.
In the executive summary of the Sept. 11 panel's report, one sentence jumps out: "The day began with the 19 hijackers getting through a security checkpoint system that they had evidently analyzed and knew how to defeat." In fact, the hijackers did not "defeat" the security checkpoint system and had no need to do so, because the edged weapons they carried onboard the aircraft were not prohibited at that time. No one expected that such devices could be used to take control of an aircraft; previous hijackers used firearms or explosives.
The Sept. 11 commission has the right answer about how this disaster could have been prevented: "hardening aircraft cockpit doors." The airport security checkpoint system was not a factor.
As a scientist who worked closely with intelligence information as it was interpreted by the CIA, the National Security Agency, the Defense Intelligence Agency, the State Department and the military intelligence communities, I believe that putting a single person or organization in charge of intelligence would be a serious mistake [editorial, July 23].
First, intelligence information is rarely perfect; it has nuances that often change over time, and it requires interpretation normally done by analysts who have different backgrounds, different perspectives and different organizational masters. Discussions among these analysts, who try to reach consensus about the validity, value and importance of the information and how it may affect both current and coming events, are critical to the analysis process as it works itself up to government policymakers. Properly done, the result can be presented to policymakers, along with differences and caveats in interpretation. Policymakers need those discussions to avoid mistakes and make proper decisions.
Second, in any single government hierarchy it is sometimes possible for a senior policymaker to subtly or more directly change the results of an analysis done by his staff. A broad cross-agency analysis serves to minimize that possibility.
Third, in an imperfect world, while a senior policymaker may view intelligence information through private filters or preconceptions, broad, cross-agency analysis serves to lessen that possibility.
In the presence of usually imperfect intelligence, a single intelligence czar would not serve America's best interests.
WILLIAM E. HOWARD III
It is absolutely despicable that the House is wasting its time with the Marriage Protection Act [news story, July 23] when the Sept. 11 commission makes it very clear that America is not safe from terrorist threats. I know of no American who has been killed by gay marriage, but 3,000 of us were murdered by terrorists on Sept. 11, 2001.
Congress, particularly the Republican leadership, must get its priorities straight and begin debate on the commission's recommendations. Anything else is an outrage.
Yesterday's paper highlights the Sept. 11 commission and how unprepared we were for this "new" type of attack on the United States. In the Letters to the Editor column the same day, the president of the Association of American Railroads, responding to a column by Marc Fisher about possible terrorist attacks on railroad cars containing hazardous chemicals, discounts concerns about the vulnerability of railroads to terrorist attacks and says "rail is the safest way to ship most hazardous materials."
Until Sept. 11, no one thought the airport security system was vulnerable to people who would hijack airplanes and crash them into buildings, either. Another writer, vice president of the American Chemistry Council, says "chlorine is neither flammable nor explosive."
But a bomb placed under a train would be flammable and explosive and could spread the hazardous chlorine over a wide area, possibly killing or injuring hundreds or thousands.
It really seems as if businesses and government are still conducting business as usual and routing hazardous materials through high-density areas. The terrorists will be looking for weaknesses in our procedures to exploit, and we shouldn't wait for them to attack again before we change how we protect our rail and other infrastructure.