Jewish World Review June 14, 2002 /4 Tamuz 5762
Bush's security plan leaves large gaps
Feel safer yet? A Gallup poll taken shortly after President Bush's televised announcement of plans for a new Cabinet-level homeland security department shows an impressive 72 percent approval rating for the plan, according to CNN. But a closer examination of this plan reveals some holes big enough to drive a truck bomb through.
Politically, Bush's address also had the desired effect of diverting attention from the riveting testimony of FBI whistle-blower Coleen Rowley on that very day in House-Senate intelligence hearings. She shook up Washington more than anyone else with her accounts of failures by FBI headquarters to "connect the dots" of critical information gathered before Sept. 11 by FBI field offices like the one in Minneapolis where she worked.
Bush's answer to this bureaucratic snarl is to layer on more bureaucracy. His new department will bring 46 agencies as varied as the Coast Guard and the Plum Island Animal Disease Center under a new Cabinet secretary.
But his plan offers nothing to reduce the inbred resistance of the FBI, CIA or supersecret National Security Agency to share any more information than they share now. Information sharing is how agencies gather the dots that analysts are supposed to connect. But Bush's plan leaves the CIA and FBI autonomous and largely untouched, along with their troublesome internal cultures that prevent them from talking to one another.
"This new department will review intelligence and law enforcement information from all agencies of government and produce a single daily picture of threats against our homeland," Bush said. "Analysts will be responsible for imagining the worst and planning to counter it. The reason to create this department is not to create the size of government, but to increase its focus and effectiveness."
Well, good luck with that, Mr. President.
Dedicated as our counterintelligence agents and analysts may be, they also are proud of what they do. In their cultures, where information is jealously gathered and guarded and sometimes bartered like currency, Bush's happy vision of agents sharing key information has its incentives backward, sort of like bureaucratic socialism - from each agent according to his or her ability to the new cabinet secretary according to his or her needs. Karl Marx would be delighted.
A retired FBI agent once explained interagency rivalry to me like this:
"Say you've been working on a big investigative story. You've just about got it nailed when your editor steps in and says you have to share your most important information with the competing newspaper across the street. How enthusiastic would you feel?"
It is instructive to remember how President Harry Truman hoped reorganizing the military services into the new Department of Defense after World War II would end their rivalries. Quite the opposite, we still see instances like Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's recent dispute over a new mobile cannon that the Army wants but his office does not. It is fortunate that our service branches are able to get together at least long enough to fight a war, now and then.
Bush considered bringing the FBI and CIA under the new department, which would have been a truly dramatic move, but decided to leave them where they are. Bush's Chief of Staff Andrew Card says Bush decided that move would have concentrated too much power in one agency, like the ministries of the interior around the world that allow totalitarian regimes to spy on their own citizens.
Instead, Bush has rearranged existing agencies into a cumbersome arrangement that Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., initially likened to "rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic."
Again, do you feel safer yet? Despite the president's dauntingly high approval ratings, Congress needs to examine Bush's plan critically in order to resolve the gaping questions it leaves unanswered.
A pretty good plan, hatched in the heat of spin control, isn't good enough. Government's big disadvantage in fighting terrorism, as former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher once observed, is that it must be "perfect" while the terrorists only have to be "lucky." Nobody's perfect, but, as the intended targets of terrorists, we Americans need to come as close as we can. We can't get by on luck.
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