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US Terror Commission Warns Momentum to Prevent Attacks Slipping - 2003-12-15

A special U.S. government commission on terrorism is warning that the effort to prevent future attacks inside the United States appears to be waning. The warning is part of a final report submitted to Congress and the public by a special commission set up four years ago to help make the nation safe from future terrorist attacks.

Former Virginia Governor Jim Gilmore is the commission chairman. He says the momentum to make the country safer after the 2001 terrorist attacks appears to be slipping.

"The focus is elsewhere," he said. "There is a tendency, according to the commission's thinking, that there is a break in momentum, that there has to be a continuing effort to put together an entire framework and that that framework must include state and local people."

The commission was set up by Congress following the 1998 terrorist attacks on the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. The panel consists of federal, state, and local officials who are involved in preventing and responding to terrorist attacks.

The commission was scheduled to disband two years ago, but was extended following the September 11 attacks on New York and Washington.

The report released Monday is the commission's final summation and also includes a caution that any attempt to make the country more secure from terrorism should not come at the expense of curtailing civil liberties.

"Freedom and security must coexist equally," Mr. Gilmore said. "There must be both elements that go side by side and hand in hand and not fall into the pattern of a tradeoff in the name of security."

The terrorism commission says state and local officials should be full partners with the federal government in implementing a detailed plan to defend against and respond to terrorist attacks.

But the 17 member panel also says there is a need for better coordination of homeland security efforts. Former Governor Gilmore says that direction must come from the White House.

"There has to be someone with authority to coordinate all these pieces into a national strategy," he said. "Our recommendation is that function be done by the Homeland Security Council located in the White House."

The commission also suggests revising the color-coded system for issuing terrorism alerts so that local communities can be notified about specific threats in their area.

Mr. Gilmore says the government has adopted 125 of the 144 recommendations made by the commission since it was established in 1999.