WASHINGTON – The vice chairman of the Sept. 11 commission (search) gave the federal government a "mixed grade" Friday on its performance in following through on recommendations the panel made to improve America's security.
"We're getting better at this," said commission co-chairman Lee Hamilton (search), a former congressman from Indiana. "But we still haven't proved we are safe."
Hamilton, a Democrat, said the series of terrorist attacks in London on July 7, followed by less-serious bombings this week, demonstrated that in the war on terrorism, "the enemy is patient, they are skillful. Sometimes they make mistakes. They're very good at exploiting our vulnerabilities."
Hamilton and Fred Fielding, a former White House counsel who served on the 9/11 commission, said the violence in Britain has heightened their concerns about Bush administation efforts to implement a host of recommendations that their panel made a year ago.
"A lot of things have not been done," said Hamilton, appearing with Fielding on NBC's "Today" show. "We still do not have a single watch list (for terrorist suspects) ... that law enforcement can check on. That's been years that we've been working on it. I feel, I think some of the commissioners feel, a sense of frustration."
Among the principal recommendations the panel made in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks in New York and Washington was that there be wholesale changes in how intelligence is coordinated and how the Congress oversees the intelligence committee.
Congress passed and President Bush signed into law legislation creating a new position of director of national intelligence, and former Ambassador John Negroponte (search) is on the job. But Hamilton said Friday that not enough has been done.
"I think it's a mixed record," he said. "We always have to keep in mind that to keep rearranging the boxes doesn't necessarily mean you have an effective counterterrorism record."
Hamilton said there have been disappointments as well as successes in terms of the follow-up to the 9/11 report issued in July 2004.
But he said there must be "even greater urgency in implementing the recommendations. The Congress has not made the changes to enable it to have very robust oversight of the intelligence community."
"We still don't have a law on the books to permit the first responders to talk to one another" when they get to the scene of an attack, Hamilton said.
Said Fielding: "We'd like to think that people just haven't gotten to it. ... It wasn't put out as a Chinese menu."
He said that in its report and recommendations, the 9/11 commission "identified the areas that we thought must be discussed, must be analyzed. If it's about money, it's not a wise choice, because the money ... has to be spent.