Norman R. Augustine
A Bill to Establish the National Commission on Terrorist
Upon the United States
Committee on Governmental Affairs
United States Senate
February 7, 2002
Mr. Chairman and Members of the Committee, thank you
for the invitation to appear before you to share my views on
“S.1867, a Bill to Establish a National Commission on
Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States.”
I should emphasize at the outset that the comments I
will offer are entirely my own and that I am in no way
representing any of the organizations with which I am
Needless to say, the issue addressed by S.1867 is of
the utmost national importance.
It was my privilege to serve for several years on the
Hart/Rudman Commission and having done so it unfortunately
came as no great surprise that America would be subjected to
attacks of the nature suffered on September 11, 2001.
I say this not because of any specific evidence of
impending tragedy, but rather as a derived conclusion from
three general considerations. The first of these is that it has long been evident that a
number of individuals and groups on this planet hold America
in utter contempt and have been quite vocal in stating their
hatred for all which we hold dear.
Second, with the end of the Cold War, America’s
military’s capability is such that it would seemingly be
futile for such enemies to attack America’s forces in a
conventional battle on the land, on the sea, in the air or
even in space. Third,
in recent decades we have witnessed a fundamental change,
largely brought about by unintended consequences of
advancements in science and technology, whereby for the first
time in history individuals or small groups can profoundly
impact far larger groups in a very adverse manner.
It is not possible for the former to exert control in
this fashion . . . but it is possible for them to severely
disrupt the stability enjoyed by the larger group.
In short, for individuals or groups seeking to distort
or physically harm America by far the most evident avenue
today is through terrorist actions . . . and some groups
clearly have and are further obtaining means for conducting
I have in the past suggested that a consequence of
these considerations is to pose two major challenges to
America and its government as it carries out its
responsibilities to the American people in the twenty-first
first of these is the challenge of balancing our admirable unwillingness
to stand idly by while others on our planet suffer at the
hands of bullies . . . while on the other hand avoiding simply
becoming “911 America,” on call to solve the world’s
second of these challenges is to defend America’s homeland
itself against attacks which now have the potential to produce
enormous casualties, a concern that has not enjoyed high
priority throughout most of our nation’s history due to our
geographical location, our military capability, the
limitations of our enemies and our national policies.
Among the concerns now confronting us as a nation is
that, after a series of such events as we witnessed on
September 11th, our citizenry might be prepared to
forego many of the freedoms that we hold so dear. We of course have already been required to give up certain of
the freedoms in our lifestyles, but to bow to terrorists in
any extended manner would merely be to grant them victory.
Yet, it may well be required that we sacrifice more in
this regard than we would wish if we are to avoid repeated
instances of major terrorist acts.
A near-worst case, and unfortunately not an impossible
case, would be one wherein our citizenry eventually is forced
to become sufficiently inured to terrorist actions that the
latter are viewed much as are the 40,000 deaths suffered in
automobile accidents in America each year—a seeming price of
living in society, a price which we tacitly accept as we go
about our lives.
Clearly we have much to learn--and even more to do--if
we are to thwart terrorism and its consequences.
The proposal contained in S.1867 to learn from the
events of September 11th, appears to be a logical
the final assessment, however, its usefulness will in large
part depend upon the quality and judgment of the people and
staff involved in the endeavor and the perspective they elect
to embrace as they pursue their task.
Specifically, there would seem to be little to be
gained simply by revisiting history for history’s sake--and
in fact, such an undertaking could be counter-productive and
even divisive. Furthermore,
it would be important that the Commission not unduly burden
those who bear the heavy responsibility of recovering from
past terrorist attacks and preventing future ones.
On the other hand, if those involved in the
Commission’s work are able to take a forward-looking
perspective coupled with a broad view of lessons to be learned
which can impact our future security, then they will have made
a significant contribution. It is apparent from the wording of the legislation that its
drafters were well aware of these considerations.
I would like to make two specific comments in regard
to the proposed legislation itself.
The first is that as written it appears to exclude the
events associated with the Anthrax attacks of the past Fall,
yet these attacks also offer important lessons.
This exclusion presumably was elected for good reason,
namely the events of September 11th and the attacks
involving the postal system appear to be independent at least
in so far as their excursion is concerned.
But the relatively limited Anthrax attacks may well
have provided an extremely important wake-up call to America
to a threat perhaps much greater even than that of the type
witnessed on September 11th.
I refer to the use of biological and chemical agents
and nuclear devices by terrorists. It therefore needs to be clear what is the intent of S.1867
with regard to threats beyond those specifically observed on
Second, the proposed legislation does not make clear
how much of the Commission’s work is to be conducted in full
public view. America
prides itself in pursuing the affairs of government under a
spotlight and this is of course to our credit.
At the same time, many of the topics the Commission
will presumably wish to discuss are topics to which one would
just as soon our enemies not be privy.
Here I particularly address those issues that do not
fall under the formal statutes governing national security but
rather involve information that in today’s world may
nonetheless deserve protection.
In summary, I believe that a Commission of the type
which has been proposed could indeed be beneficial, but only
if conducted in a highly sensitive and responsible fashion.
Clearly, we live in a new world.
Thomas Jefferson’s reminder that “the price of
liberty is eternal vigilance” has never been more true.
Thank you for opportunity to appear before you today.