In its voluminous report on the 2001 attacks, the Sept. 11 commission recommends a platform of sweeping change to everything from the conduct of U.S. foreign policy to the plans followed by U.S. rescue teams.
While early attention has focused on the panel's call for an overhaul of the U.S. intelligence community, the host of other proposals by the commission could be just as challenging.
Citing failures across the federal government going back a number of years, the panel's final report(.pdf, 7MB) warned Americans that while post-Sept. 11 reforms have made the country safer, "We are not safe"
"Every expert with whom we spoke told us an attack of even greater magnitude is now possible and even probable," commission chairman Tom Kean said. "We do not have the luxury of time."
The report, released Thursday, did not blame any individuals, but did say Mr. Bush and Mr. Clinton both failed to make anti-terrorism a top priority.
The panel recommended the creation of a national counterterrorism center and a Cabinet-level national intelligence director to centralize efforts now spread over 15 agencies in six Cabinet departments, including the CIA.
The administration will address the recommendations of the Sept. 11 commission, but it is unclear "what reforms will be made and when," national security adviser Condoleezza Rice said Friday.
Rice told the CBS News Early Show that President Bush would "take a little time to examine these proposals."
Panelists vowed to make their unanimously backed reforms an election-year issue. Some family members have vowed to fight for the proposals to become policy. But Congressional leaders — some of them skeptical of the intelligence reform proposals — have said the panel's recommendations are not likely to see legislative action this year.
The same probably goes for the long list of other policy recommendations by the panel.
These range from strengthening efforts to prevent former weapons material from falling into terrorists' hands to supporting libraries in the Arab and Muslim world.
"The U.S. government must identify and prioritize actual or potential terrorist sanctuaries," the report recommends.
It singles out Pakistan, Afghanistan and Saudi Arabia: The U.S. must make a commitment to Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf if he stands steadfast against militants, "help the Afghan government extend its authority over the country," and deepen the U.S.-Saudi relationship to be about more than oil.
"The United States has to help defeat an ideology, not just a group of people," the report finds. "We should offer an example of moral leadership in the world, committed to treat people humanely, abide by the rule of law, and be generous and caring to our neighbors."
That means cutting ties to repressive states even if they are allies, broadcasting positive messages to the Arab and Muslim viewers, and rebuilding "scholarship, exchange, and library programs."
Also needed are "economic policies that encourage development, more open societies, and opportunities for people to improve the lives of their families."
The panel also recommends that the U.S.:
Coming less than four months before the presidential election, the report could be trouble for Mr. Bush, who has made his handling of terrorism the centerpiece of his campaign and has insisted he fully understood the threat.
Mr. Bush welcomed the commission's recommendations as "very constructive" although his administration has reacted coolly toward a key proposal to establish a Cabinet-level national intelligence director. He said that "where government needs to act, we will."
Democrat John Kerry, campaigning for president in Detroit, said disputes within the Bush administration had delayed the commission's work and improvements to the nation's security.
"Nearly three years after terrorists have attacked our shores and murdered our loved ones, this report carries a very simple message for all of America about the security of all Americans — we can do better," Kerry said.
Democratic commissioner Jamie Gorelick said she believed the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, which killed nearly 3,000 people when 19 Arab hijackers flew airliners into New York City's World Trade Center, the Pentagon and the Pennsylvania countryside, represented a "tectonic moment" in history that would force speedy changes.
"There are bad consequences to being in the middle of a political season and there are also good ones, because everyone who is running for office can be asked, 'Do you support these recommendations?'" she told reporters.
Relatives of Sept. 11 victims said they too would lobby.
"We're going to hold these people's feet to the fire," said Debra Burlingame, whose brother Charles was the pilot of the hijacked plane that struck the Pentagon.
The commission identified nine "specific points of vulnerability" in the Sept. 11 plot that might have led to its disruption had the government been better organized and more watchful. Despite these opportunities, "we cannot know whether any single step or series of steps would have defeated" the hijackers, the report concluded.
While there were "friendly contacts" between Iraq and al Qaeda and a common hatred of the United States, none of these contacts "ever developed into a collaborative relationship," the report said. Nor did Iran or Saudi Arabia have knowledge of the plot.
The Sept. 11 commission also concluded that passengers aboardfought back against the hijackers but never actually made it into the cockpit.
While sweeping in its proposals, the commission acknowledges the limits of any effort to thwart killers.
"No president can promise that a catastrophic attack like that of 9/11 will not happen again," it warns. "History has shown that even the most vigilant and expert agencies cannot always prevent determined, suicidal attackers from reaching a target."