Here's a Reuters headline from New Year's Day: "CIA May Need Decade To Rebuild Clandestine Service."
A decade, huh? Circa 2016, you mean? The last time I checked the job-completion estimates was back in spring 2004, when the agency's then-director, George Tenet, told the 9/11 Commission that it would take another half-decade to rebuild the clandestine service. In other words, three years after 9/11, he was saying he needed another five years. As I wrote at the time, "Imagine if, after Pearl Harbor, Franklin Roosevelt had turned to Tenet to start up the OSS, the CIA's Second World War predecessor. In 1942, he'd have told the president not to worry, he'd have it up and running by 1950."
But CIA reform is like the budget for Boston's Big Dig or the 2012 London Olympics. Think of a number, triple it and update your excuses. Four years after 9/11, it may take 10 years to rebuild the clandestine service. So Tenet would be telling FDR not to worry, we'll have the World War II intelligence operation up and running in time for the 1956 Soviet invasion of Hungary. OK, make that the Cuban missile crisis. But definitely by the fall of the Berlin Wall.
The latest estimate came from Gary Berntsen, who was the CIA's man on the ground during the hunt for bin Laden in Tora Bora in late 2001. That's what most folks think the agency does, just as "clandestine service" is assumed to be the core activity all the super top-secret undercover stuff you see whenever the CIA turns up in movies like ''Syriana,'' in which the sinister spooks subvert a Middle Eastern government. Oh, if only. Away from the glamorous adventuring of the silver screen, alas, the only government they're any good at subverting is the United States'.
It's very hard to fight a terrorist war without intelligence. By definition, you can only win battles against terrorists pre-emptively that's to say, you find out what they're planning to do next Thursday and you stop it cold on Wednesday. Capturing them on Friday while you're still pulling your dead from the rubble is poor consolation. For example, in 1988, a British SAS unit shot dead three IRA members on the streets of Gibraltar. The United Kingdom's Joint Intelligence Committee were acting on information that the cell was planning to blow up the changing-of-the-guard ceremony on the Rock. The two men and a woman were subsequently found to be ''unarmed,'' and as a result various civil liberties groups protested and critical TV documentaries were made. But there was no dispute that they were IRA members and that they had bomb-making materials in their car. If the state cannot take action until its sworn enemy uses those materials, it had better be prepared to lose the war.
It shouldn't be necessary to point out the obvious. But, unmoored from reality, wafting happily into fantasy land safe in the hermetically sealed Democrat-media bubble, Sen. Barbara Boxer and her colleagues are apparently considering impeaching the president for eavesdropping on al Qaida calls made to U.S. phone numbers. Surely, even Karl Rove can't get that lucky.
By the way, I'd love to see the witness list for that trial: Muhammad al-Jihad testifying that a week before he blows up a Bali nightclub he always makes a perfectly innocent call to his cousin in Milwaukee to ask how the kids are; Abu Musad al-Zarqawi testifying that he only called Howard Dean to issue a formal complaint about congressional Democrats stealing his rationalizations. Etc.
The Democrats and the media want to upgrade every terrorist into O.J. Simpson, insulated by legalisms and entitled to his own dream team. (Their figleaf, the court set up by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which previously denied not a single request, has turned down hundreds in the years since 9/11.) The practical effect of the Dems' approach is to extend the protections of the U.S. Constitution to any dodgy character anywhere on the planet who has a U.S. telephone number in his Rolodex. Indeed, given that perfectly ordinary cell phones can be used almost anywhere this week, I spoke to an American in London by dialing his Washington cell number if the Democrats have their way, all terrorist cells in Europe or Pakistan would have to do to put themselves beyond the reach of U.S. intelligence is get a New Jersey-based associate to place a bulk order for Verizon cell phones.
This isn't a hypothetical situation. Consider Iyman Faris, a naturalized American citizen also known as Mohammad Rauf and nailed by U.S. intelligence through the interception of foreign-U.S. communications. He was convicted in 2003 for doing the legwork on an al Qaida scheme to blow up the Brooklyn Bridge. A "hardworking truck driver," he was introduced to Osama bin Laden while enjoying a well-earned vacation at a terrorist training camp in Afghanistan in 2000. At the request of bin Laden's aides, he researched the terrorist possibilities of "ultralight" aircraft. In 2002, he was commissioned by al Qaida to return to America and procure the materials for severing suspension-bridge cables and derailing trains.
Do you want Iyman Faris in jail? Or do you think he should have the run of the planet until he's actually destroyed the bridge and killed hundreds of people? Say, the Golden Gate Bridge just as you're driving across after voting for Barbara Boxer and congratulating yourself on your moral superiority.
But, if you want Iyman Faris in jail, you better consider how you're going to get him there because, as a rule, the only way you find out details of a terrorist plot is by intercepting communications. And these days that means electronic communications, like telephones. If Iyman Faris was sporting enough to communicate with his handlers in Pakistan through sealed parchment delivered by steam packet via the Cape of Good Hope, no doubt the Democrats and media would be happy to consider allowing surreptitious unsealing in international waters provided you got a warrant from the Hague.
So that's where we stand four years after Sept. 11. The arthritic $44 billion intelligence bureaucracy is insisting it still needs another five to 10 years to have a clandestine service capable of infiltrating al Qaida operations in the field, but, while we're waiting, don't think of using that $44 billion to keep tabs on their phone calls, because the Dems will impeach you.
According to a Rasmussen poll, 64 percent of Americans believe the National Security Agency should be allowed to intercept telephone conversations between terrorist cells overseas and persons living in the United States; 23 percent disagree. What is it the Democrats and media don't get about this?