9/11 and the Presidential Election

How quickly we forget.

Today, John McCain and Barack Obama shared a “We are the World” moment at Ground Zero to remember the 7th anniversary of 9/11. What they didn’t do was say how they intend to reform US intelligence to prevent the next attack.

In the 2004 presidential election, it was all intelligence reform, all the time. In July, the 9/11 Commission final report became an instant best-seller and CIA Director George Tenet resigned. In August, Congress took the brave and unusual step of actually holding hearings during (gasp!) the summer recess. And in the fall, the 9/11 families and 9/11 Commission members received more press coverage than the Iraq War. Instead of arguing about lipstick and pigs or hockey mom hooey, John Kerry and George Bush were trying to outdo each other on just how much they were going to reform U.S. intelligence agencies.

I’d be the first to say that “reform” hasn’t worked out so well. Just last week, the 9/11 Commission co-chairs gave the Bush administration a “C” grade and declared that the threat of WMD terrorist attack remains deadly real. But at least the presidential candidates in 2004 were trying. And the election got the slow, grinding, gears of Washington moving, however little, however late.

This year we get rose laying and moments of silence. But silence is the last thing Americans need on 9/11. What we need is action.

Author: Amy Zegart

Amy Zegart is a senior fellow at Stanford’s Hoover Institution. She is also a faculty affiliate at the Center for International Security and Cooperation and a professor of political economy at the Stanford Graduate School of Business (by courtesy). Her research examines national security agencies, American foreign policy, and anything scary. Academic publications include two award-winning books: Spying Blind, which examines intelligence adaptation failures before 9/11, and Flawed by Design, which chronicles the evolution of America’s national security architecture. She is currently working on a book about intelligence in the post-9/11 world. Zegart writes an intelligence column at foreignpolicy.com, and her pieces have also appeared in the Washington Post, New York Times, and Los Angeles Times. Previously, she taught at UCLA and worked at McKinsey & Company. A former Fulbright Scholar, she received an A.B. in East Asian Studies from Harvard and an M.A. and Ph.D. in Political Science from Stanford. A native Kentuckian, she loves to watch good college football and bad reality TV.