Jewish World Review Nov. 29, 2004 / 16 Kislev, 5765

Rich Lowry

JWR's Pundits
World Editorial
Cartoon Showcase

Mallard Fillmore

Michael Barone
Mona Charen
Linda Chavez
Ann Coulter
Greg Crosby
Larry Elder
Don Feder
Suzanne Fields
Paul Greenberg
Bob Greene
Betsy Hart
Nat Hentoff
David Horowitz
Marianne Jennings
Michael Kelly
Mort Kondracke
Ch. Krauthammer
Lawrence Kudlow
Dr. Laura
John Leo
David Limbaugh
Michelle Malkin
Chris Matthews
Michael Medved
Kathleen Parker
Wes Pruden
Sam Schulman
Amity Shlaes
Tony Snow
Thomas Sowell
Cal Thomas
Jonathan S. Tobin
Ben Wattenberg
George Will
Bruce Williams
Walter Williams
Mort Zuckerman

Consumer Reports

Intelligence reform absurdity | "Intelligence reform" is, as they used to say of the Moral Majority, neither. The intelligence-reform bill that has at least temporarily been scuttled on Capitol Hill despite its endorsement by all the great and good of Washington — from Democratic congressional leaders to President Bush — is neither intelligent nor is it real reform. It is a meaningless, and perhaps even counterproductive, bureaucratic reshuffling that has garnered such across-the-board praise exactly because it is such an empty gesture.

The idea behind the reform bill — pushed primarily by the 9/11 Commission — is that what ails U.S. intelligence can be fixed by the creation of a national intelligence director, centralizing vast powers over the intelligence community's budgets, policies and procedures. This is supposedly a bureaucratic magic bullet. Of course, if the bill passes and if — God forbid — there's another major terror attack a few years hence, the complaint will immediately go up that U.S. intelligence is "too centralized."

The fact is that measures to make us safer usually aren't uncontroversial — for instance, taking the fight to the enemy overseas as aggressively as possible, or offending the civil-liberties lobby by implementing the Patriot Act. Since many Democrats don't endorse these steps (in fact, routinely howl about them), they are always looking to get onboard window-dressing tough-on-terror measures, which is what makes the intelligence-reform bill a perfect cause for them.

If only U.S. intelligence could actually be cured by fiddling with its bureaucratic structure. Among other failings, we have been beset by an inability to penetrate either rogue regimes, such as Iraq or Iran, or pan-national terrorist organizations, such as al-Qaida. Largely owing to legal constraints and the CIA's risk-averse culture, U.S. covert-action capability has atrophied throughout the decades — and the intelligence-reform bill will do nothing to fix it. (Bush, on the other hand, has just issued an executive order to beef up the covert service, which is a step in the right direction.)

Donate to JWR

On top of the meaningless, the reform bill piles the potentially harmful: transferring most of the military's intelligence-gathering assets to the CIA. Never mind that that agency has always performed poorly when analyzing military issues, whether it was the size of the Soviet ICBM force, Chinese military modernization or Iraq's weapons-of-mass-destruction stockpiles. And the nation's military leadership understandably worries about its ability to get real-time intelligence to the troops being disrupted by this utterly unnecessary "fix."

There has been one bright spot in the debate about the bill. House Republicans, lead by Judiciary Committee Chairman James Sensenbrenner, have pushed for provisions to tighten up the U.S. immigration system that was so readily exploited by the 9/11 terrorists. This, together with a dispute about the military-intelligence changes, is what has derailed the bill: No one else wants to close the immigration loopholes. Even though the immigration proposals — from tightening the standards around driver's licenses and other identification documents to expediting deportation procedures — were all endorsed in the 9/11 Commission's work.

Amazingly, the 9/11 commissioners themselves now oppose making their own immigration proposals into law, since they are "too controversial." Well, they would be less controversial if the commissioners actually stood by them. And if these commissioners are so brave and independent, shouldn't they be willing to fight for the "controversial"? Alas, no. Who knew the commissioners would become even more absurd in their post-commission iteration than they were when they were an active commission providing a bandbox for Richard Clarke's diatribes?

Desperate efforts are now being undertaken to save the intelligence-reform bill. Abuse is being hurled at House Republicans and Secretary of Defense Don Rumsfeld, who, in the absurd imaginings of his critics, secretly engineered the Capitol Hill doings that undid the bill while he was away at a summit in Latin America. This is Washington at its worst. The intelligence-reform bill should stay dead, so Congress can — one can always hope, at least — better occupy itself elsewhere.

Every weekday publishes what many in Washington and the media consider must-reading. Sign up for our daily update. It's free. Just click here.

Comment by clicking here.

11/23/04: Bush reaches out
11/19/04: Home-alone America
11/16/04: The changing black vote
11/15/04: A grass-roots army
11/09/04: The brewing immigration backlash
11/05/04: The values election
11/02/04: The Kerry recovery
10/29/04: The Ohio insurance policy
10/26/04: The provisional-vote scam
10/22/04: The Florida lie
10/19/04: How government created the vaccine crisis
10/15/04: Kerry's strange respect
10/12/04: Senator, you're no Reagan
10/11/04: Tora Bora bull
10/05/04: The debate that wasn't
09/29/04: Momma gets tough
09/24/04: The GOP's demographic problem
09/21/04: Kerry's Iraq gambit
09/20/04: Questions for Dan Rather
09/14/04: John Kerry, explained
09/10/04: The unfathomable human toll
09/08/04: W the Bold
09/03/04: Loud and proud
09/03/04: The candidate of change?
08/27/04: The McCain myth
08/24/04: Kerry refuses to admit that he burst onto the national scene by telling a shameful falsehood about American servicemen
08/20/04: The war on obstetrics
08/17/04: And now it's ‘Tommy Franks lied’?

© 2004, King Features Syndicate