Before releasing its findings in 2004, the 9/11 Commission's panel interviewed over 1,200 people and studied more than 2.5 million pages of documents.
The report's analysis included an in-depth study of film footage as the hijackers passed through airport security, and it immediately concluded the obvious: The attacks wouldn't have occurred if the hijackers didn't have driver's licenses since there would be no way they could board planes without them.
The Commission also found that 18 of the 19 hijackers obtained 17 driver's licenses and 13 state IDs from Arizona, California, Florida Virginia and Maryland. Many were duplicates, with some states issuing the same hijacker multiple licenses within a several-month period. Hijackers also used at least 346 aliases, so it is possible that even more fraudulent licenses were handed out. Six of those IDs were used to board planes.
The hijackers relied on driver's licenses as their key ID to avoid showing their passports, which may have had terrorist indicators that would have aroused suspicion with airport security personnel.
Enter the 2005 Real ID Act written to prevent illegal United States residents from getting a driver's license. REAL ID was enacted in direct response to the 9/11 Commission's recommendations that the federal government set secure standards for driver's licenses which are America's de facto national identity card.
REAL ID evolved from the 2004 American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators findings which urged that license applicants must verify their identification by providing valid confirmation of their birth date, social security number, passport information and legal status. These are among the 18 socalled benchmark provisions mandatory for eventual compliance. Others include facial capture, and retention and verification of principle residency.
The path to adopting REAL ID has been bumpy. According to a Center for Immigration Studies' report by Janice Kephart, in 2006 special-interest groups lobbied against the act by claiming that the costs, which they estimated at $11 billion, were a prohibitive unfunded mandate and the background information required invasive.
Although the Congressional Budget Office estimated that the costs would total only $3 billion, compliance deadlines were set back to May 2011 with actual REAL ID driver's licenses to be issued to legal residents in 2017. Based on current state budgets, the total one-time cost may be as low as $350 million and no higher than $750 million.
REAL ID also requires states to share drivers' databases, including the information printed on the license and any traffic violations. Besides helping protect America against terrorism, REAL ID will dramatically cut down on identity theft, one of the nation's largest growing crimes.
Kephart found that to date, 11 states, including California, have already fulfilled the first stage of REAL ID compliance, meaning they have met all 18 security benchmarks before the May 2011 deadline. The second stage requires all those who have reached the age of 50 or older by December 2014 be issued a license that complies with the 18 benchmarks. The third and final stage requires all eligible individuals to be enrolled with REAL ID-compliant licenses in December 2017.
California's new drivers licenses will feature a raised signature, photos that are only visible by UV light, and an image of the brown bear that can only been seen with a flashlight from behind. Those changes will, added DMV spokesman Steve Haskins, make it harder to forge California licenses.
By December 2017, more than 16 long years will have elapsed since the 9/11 tragedy. For so many years to pass before making America less vulnerable through the relatively simple tool of a secure driver's license is unforgivable. Had REAL ID been in effect in 2001, then 2,997 lives would have been saved.
Joe Guzzardi, who retired from the Lodi Unified School District, is a Senior Writing Fellow for Californians for Population Stabilization. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.