Jewish World Review July 28, 2004 /10 Menachem-Av, 5764
Edward I. Koch
If everyone is deemed responsible, no one is responsible
According to the Pew Research Center, the 9/11 Commission Report is approved by the public 61 percent to 24 percent. Significantly, Pew indicates that the approval and disapproval numbers are statistically the same for both Republicans and Democrats.
In contrast, the Warren Commission Report on the Kennedy assassination, has never been accepted by the American public. Today, more than forty years later, it is still mocked in articles with many people still fixated on the grassy knoll and a host of conspiracy theories.
The 9/11 Commission's chairman, former New Jersey governor Tom Kean, was exactly the kind of person who could achieve the notable victory and unexpected outcome of a unanimous report. When I was mayor, he was governor and over the years we became good friends. His patrician speech pattern often referred to as Locust Valley lockjaw, a style of speech that rich kids seem to absorb by osmosis sounds quaint and folksy. His vice chairman, Lee Hamilton, a Democrat, is someone I served with in the Congress from 1969 to 1977, with whom I also became good friends. What both of these men have is integrity, and integrity trumps politics and ideology every time. Another example of that phenomenon is Senator John McCain. Although he is one of the most conservative U.S. Senators, flaming liberals would vote for him for President based on his impeccable integrity and Vietnam War hero and prisoner of war status. Another war hero, John Kerry, does not seem to elicit a similar response.
Despite the 9/11 Report's general acceptance by the public, some problems remain. The Commission failed to fix responsibility directly by name on those in positions of authority who failed in their responsibility to protect the public. The tried and true refrain applies if everyone is deemed responsible, no one is responsible.
The Commission decided that the report's detailed descriptions of what agencies and people in charge did or failed to do without naming them as responsible would be just as effective and preserve the unanimity required for wide acceptance of the Commission's report and findings. While I believe in my heart of hearts that the two public officials overwhelmingly responsible are Louis Freeh, Director of the F.B.I, and George Tenet, Director of the C.I.A. I agree with the Commission's decision. It is quite possible that had the F.B.I. and C.I.A. been performing at their best, we would have been warned of a possible attack by al Qaeda. However, we still might have suffered the catastrophe of 9/11, or if that were somehow avoided, some other major attack exacting a great price in lives and damage. If terrorists are prepared to give their own lives while seeking to take ours, tragedies are not only difficult but probably impossible to prevent. During World War II, Japanese "kamikaze" suicide pilots inflicted horrendous losses on U.S. Navy ships, despite our technical and material superiority. Nevertheless, we must pursue every means to make such attacks less effective and as costly as possible for the terrorists.
On Meet the Press last Sunday, Lee Hamilton said, "It's very clear these people want to kill us." The people he is referring to are the followers of militant Islam, who believe that every Christian, Jew, Hindu and adherent of any other religion that does not recognize the supremacy of Islam must die. Yes, they want to kill us, and we have to be proactive in protecting ourselves. That can only be effectively done by infiltrating terrorist cells and promoting the sharing of information by our security agencies with one another. Those security agencies led by the C.I.A. and the F.B.I. failed miserably to collect intelligence and to share what information they did collect. The 9/11 Commission has made a number of recommendations, including the following key proposals.
1. Unify the intelligence community with a new intelligence director who would be in charge of all security agencies. Currently, there are more than a dozen such agencies with an aggregate budget of approximately $40 billion. The new director would have the power to hire and fire deputies who would be security agency heads.
2. Create a "National Counter-terrorism Center" that would become "the authoritative knowledge bank," performing joint operational planning. It would not be a policy-making body. Policy would remain the prerogative of the president and the National Security Council.
3. Unify and strengthen congressional oversight to improve quality and accountability. This would require either one oversight committee in each House, or one joint committee for both House and Senate.
The House, Senate and President are on vacation and with the exception of some minor actions that appear an effort to mollify the public and make it seem that our federal legislators have not forgotten we are literally at war there is no sense of urgency. The President should call both Houses back into session to deal with the 9/11 Commission recommendations, which are approximately forty in number. Immediate hearings on all of the proposals should be scheduled. If, G-d forbid, a catastrophic terrorist attack occurs between now and when the Congress is scheduled to return, those members who did not protest the vacation recess should be thrown out of their jobs.
Finally, the President should consider appointing Tom Kean as the new overall director of the intelligence community, and Lee Hamilton as his deputy or as head of the new National Counter-Terrorism Center.
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© 2002, Edward I. Koch