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Terror Prevention Efforts Faulted

A U.S. government commission says the effort to protect Americans from terrorism "appears to have waned" more than two years after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

In a report Monday, the advisory panel led by James Gilmore, a former Virginia governor and Republican national chairman, said federal, state and local officials and the private sector need to look at innovative ways to protect the United States from terrorism rather than simply just reacting to Sept. 11.

The panel said state and local officials should play a fuller role in drafting a U.S. defense strategy.

"The momentum appears to have waned as people, businesses, and governments react to the uncertainties in combating terrorism and to the challenge of creating a unified enterprise," the report said.

And the panel said government should balance the threat of terrorism with protections for civil liberties.

"There will never be a 100 percent guarantee of security for our people, the economy and our society," Gilmore said in a cover letter accompanying the report. "We must resist the urge to seek total security. It is not achievable and drains our attention from those things that can be accomplished."

An independent, bipartisan board should be created to oversee homeland security efforts that could impede civil liberties, the report said. New technology that is being used to monitor activities in an attempt to prevent any terrorist attacks could also harm Americans' First Amendment rights, the report said.

The commission suggested that new anti-terrorism strategies be developed by a White House-level agency that "must have some clear authority over the homeland security budgets and programs throughout the federal government."

The existing Homeland Security Council should be the agency to develop strategies to be carried out by the new Homeland Security Department as well as other federal, state and local agencies, plus private groups, the report said.

The commission also called on the Homeland Security Department to revise the color-coded alert system so that individual localities could be made better aware of any specific threats.

On civil liberties, the panel sought greater oversight of any use of U.S. spy satellites on targets in the United States.

A panel should be convened to study such issues, and should include both Republicans and Democrats, as well as academics and officials from the private sector, it said.

The terrorism commission, composed of federal, state and local officials, was created after the 1998 bombings of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. Its formal name is the Advisory Panel to Assess Domestic Response Capabilities for Terrorism Involving Weapons of Mass Destruction. The document released Monday is its final report, and the commission will disband early next year.

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