Cliff May

In 1996, Vice President Al Gore was named by President Bill Clinton to chair the White House Commission on Aviation Safety. Over the months that followed, he and an impressive list of commissioners -- including senior law enforcement and military officers, government officials and academics -- conducted "an intensive inquiry into civil aviation safety, security and air traffic control modernization." In early 1997, they issued a final report, including a set of recommendations which, Vice President Gore stated confidently, "will serve to enhance and ensure the continued safety and security of our air transportation system." I suspect you know where I'm heading. Despite such acts of terrorism as the 1993 World Trade Center attack, and despite Osama bin Laden's "Declaration of War" against the United States (published in August 1996, in Al Quds Al Arabi, a London-based newspaper), Gore's inquiry did not recognize that terrorism was more pressing than "air traffic control modernization" or the other issues under examination. Terrorism was covered in Chapter Three, titled "Improving Security for Travelers." It began with this quote from President Clinton: "We know we can't make the world risk-free, but we can reduce the risks we face and we have to take the fight to the terrorists."

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The Gore commission added: "There must be a concerted national will to fight terrorism. There must be a willingness to apply sustained economic, political and commercial pressure on countries sponsoring terrorists. There must be an unwavering commitment to pursuing terrorists and bringing them to justice. There must be the resolve to punish those who would violate sanctions imposed against terrorist states."

Of course, there was to be none of that, not in any serious sense, over the next few years, the years leading up to 2001. As for the commissioners' specific recommendations, those included the "development of profiling programs," but they added that all passengers should be "subject to the same level of scrutiny," and that "no profile should contain or be based on" such criteria as "national origin" or "religious or gender characteristics."

In other words, had any airport officials on 9/11/01 been suspicious about Muslim men of Saudi or other Middle Eastern origin boarding passenger planes, and had they suggested subjecting those young men to additional scrutiny -- that would have been impermissible under the Gore commission guidelines.

Cliff May

Clifford D. May is the President of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies.