Jewish World Review April 14, 2004 / 24 Nissan, 5764
Shame on the 9/11 Commission
After the Pearl Harbor disaster, there were some in the Republican Party who
wanted to blame it on President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Their reason for
thinking so was because the United States military had broken the Japanese
diplomatic code, and about six hours before the attack began had decoded a
message that made it plain a Japanese strike was imminent. This information
was not passed on in a timely fashion to commanders in the Pacific.
A joint committee of Congress in 1946 found the blame lay with bureaucratic
impediments and errors of judgment within the Army and Navy departments, and
made 25 recommendations for ameliorating the problems identified.
The broad outlines of and some of the conspirators in the Sept. 11th plot
probably could have been identified beforehand if the agencies responsible
for our security had not been so dysfunctional.
Some of the dysfunction was politically imposed. For reasons which seemed
good to them at the time, many politicians (most of them Democrats) thought
it wise to prevent the CIA from keeping track of the contacts international
terror suspects made with people in the United States. Attorney General
Janet Reno forbade FBI agents working on criminal cases from sharing
information with FBI intelligence analysts. She even banned library
searches for information on terror suspects. John Deutch, President
Clinton's second CIA director, ordered the CIA not to recruit members of
terror groups as agents. Budgets for intelligence, both domestic and
foreign, were trimmed in the 1990s.
More of the dysfunction was a product of long standing bureaucratic rivalries and inertia. The CIA and the FBI were reluctant to share information with each other. The FBI tended to keep what intelligence it had out of the hands of other domestic law enforcement agencies. The FBI was even lousy at sharing information within the FBI. Agents in Phoenix, Oklahoma City and Minneapolis separately uncovered information that Islamic extremists were taking flying lessons, but agents in each of these cities was unaware of what the others had found, and no one at FBI headquarters was putting this information together. The INS in the 1990s all but abandoned its law enforcement duties.
Were the 9/11 commission doing a serious investigation of the nature, extent
and causes of the dysfunction, and making sober recommendations for reform
as did the Congressional committee that investigated Pearl Harbor it
would be performing a valuable service.
But the 9/11 commissioners have other priorities. They have been making the
rounds of the television talk shows, which is as wildly inappropriate as if
a judge and jurors were making running commentary on a trial in progress.
The transcript of the public hearing at which National Security Adviser
Condoleeza Rice testified last week indicates that about 60 percent of the
talking was done by the commissioners. This suggests they were more
interested in preening for the cameras than in eliciting information.
Some Democrats are trying to make an August 6, 2001 briefing the CIA gave
President Bush the functional equivalent of the "East. Wind. Rain." Pearl
Harbor intercept. But this is thin gruel. The briefing said Osama bin
Laden would like to attack the United States; that he was attempting to
recruit Arabs in the U.S. for that purpose, and that the FBI had reports of
"suspicious activity consistent with hijackings or other types of attacks,
including recent surveillance of federal buildings in New York." From this,
the president was supposed to deduce that al Qaida was about to fly
airliners into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon?
The descent of the commission into cheesy partisan finger-pointing was
foreordained by the nature of its membership, and by its reporting date.
Of the 10 commissioners, only 3 former Rep. Lee Hamilton, longtime
chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee; former Sen. Bob Kerrey, and
former Navy Secretary John Lehman have the professional qualifications to
pass judgment on the performance of our intelligence and law enforcement
The fact that the commission will make its report in the midst of an election year, rather than next January, indicates that its purpose is to influence the election, not to guide policy. Shame upon them.
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