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