Jewish World Review Nov. 25, 2004 / 12 Kislev, 5765

Jack Kelly

Jack Kelly
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Washington pols need to learn that act in haste, repent at leisure | What Congress does in an election year to give the appearance of doing something is often worse than doing nothing at all.

The monster bill to reorganize the U.S. intelligence community has been derailed in the lame duck session of Congress by the objections of Reps. Duncan Hunter (R-Ca), chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, and James Sensenbrenner (R-Wis), chairman of the Judiciary Committee.

The bill would create an intelligence "czar" who would have budgetary control over all 15 agencies in the U.S. intelligence community. It closely follows the highly publicized recommendations of the highly politicized 9/11 Commission.

The intelligence community consists of the CIA, the FBI, eight agencies in the Department of Defense, and intelligence bureaus in the Coast Guard and in the State, Treasury, Energy, and Homeland Security departments. Most disputes in Washington are about money. This is no different. Hunter objects to taking away from the Department of Defense control over the budgets of the National Security Agency, which eavesdrops on radio, telephone and email conversations; the National Geo-Spatial Intelligence Agency, which is to imagery intelligence what NSA is to communications intelligence; and the National Reconnaissance Office, which designs and builds spy satellites.

Hunter has a point. The Sept. 11th attacks succeeded because of egregious failures by the CIA and (especially) the FBI. These failures are well documented by investigative reporters Bill Gertz (Breakdown), Gerald Posner (Why America Slept), Peter Lance (1,000 Years for Revenge), John Miller, Michael Stone and Chris Mitchell (The Cell), and Mark Riebling (Wedge). See also memoirs by former CIA officers Melissa Boyle Mahle (Denial and Deception), Robert Baer (See No Evil), and Reuel Marc Gerecht.

The CIA had precious little information about al Qaida. This was in part because John Deutch, Clinton's second CIA director, forbade the operations directorate from recruiting as agents people with unseemly (criminal or terrorist) backgrounds; in larger part because the CIA did not encourage case officers to work under non-official cover, and because Agency bigwigs paid little attention to those Middle East operatives who were willing to risk their lives. And the CIA was unwilling to share what precious little information it had with the FBI, and with other law enforcement agencies. But the sins of the CIA, though legion, were mild compared with those of the FBI.

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The FBI ought to have known al Qaida was planning to use airliners as weapons. The architect of the first World Trade Center bombing, Ramzi Youssef, and Abdul Hakim Murad, were arrested after a 1995 plot to plant bombs on airliners in the Pacific went awry. Murad told FBI interrogators that Youssef had talked about flying a hijacked airliner into CIA headquarters.

Agents in Phoenix, Minneapolis and Oklahoma City reported that radical Muslims were attending flight schools in their communities. But the big FBI cheeses in Washington didn't put two and two together, and didn't share this information with other agents in the field.

The FBI left untranslated incriminating documents that contained critical details of the plot, said former FBI translator Sibel Edmonds.

The Justice Department refused to permit FBI agents who were working on criminal cases from sharing information with agents who were gathering intelligence.

These are all big problems which have to be addressed if we are to avoid another 9/11. But the intelligence reform bill does zero, zip, squat, squiff, nada to remedy any of the defects in the FBI and the CIA that led to the surprise attack, save for information sharing, which would be improved by establishing a counter-terrorism center for the entire intelligence community.

The intelligence reform bill won't fix what's broken. But it might break what's fixed. There is no public evidence to lay any of the blame for the intelligence failures that led to 9/11 on the doorsteps of the NSA, the NRO, or the National Geo-Spatial Intelligence Agency. Taking these agencies away from the Department of Defense doesn't fix a thing in the FBI or the CIA. But it could screw up their primary mission of gathering military intelligence.

There is too much at stake in intelligence reform to race into it in the heat of a political moment. More careful deliberation in the next Congress almost certainly will produce a better bill.

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JWR contributor Jack Kelly, a former Marine and Green Beret, was a deputy assistant secretary of the Air Force in the Reagan administration. Comment by clicking here.

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