Jewish World Review June 10, 2002 / 1 Tamuz, 5762
http://www.NewsAndOpinion.com | Which lying, incompetent, rear-covering bureaucracy do you think ought to have primary responsibility for protecting us from terror? The FBI? Or the CIA?
After Special Agent Coleen Rowley's scathing memorandum accusing her superiors of frustrating the efforts of agents in Minneapolis to search the computer of Zacarious Moussaoui, there was speculation over how soon Ms. Rowley would be punished for telling truth to power.
In a sane world, we'd be speculating about how soon FBI Director Robert Mueller would be fired, and how many others in FBI headquarters would be fired with him.
On Sept. 11, Mueller had been on the job barely a week, and thus could not have contributed to whatever negligence of which the FBI may be guilty. But he misled Congress about what the FBI knew beforehand, and he promoted the guy who Rowley said blocked the search of Moussaoui's computer.
The FBI's dissembler in chief has been James T. Caruso, deputy assistant director for counterterrorism. The FBI had seized Moussaoui's computer, Caruso told the House Intelligence Committee last October, without mentioning they hadn't looked inside it. The FBI had contacted foreign officials about Moussaoui, Caruso said, without mentioning that it was the agents in Minneapolis who took this initiative, and FBI headquarters had reprimanded them for doing so.
Newsweek magazine reports that in 2000, the CIA tracked two of the Sept. 11 hijackers from an al Qaeda summit meeting in Malaysia to San Diego, where their tail was dropped because the CIA is forbidden to conduct surveillance in the United States. The CIA has to obey the law even when it's stupid. But the CIA never bothered to tell the FBI or the INS these guys were in the country.
The most dismaying revelations have been the more mundane. FBI computers are outdated and can't talk to each other, because FBI managers kept spending the money allocated to upgrade them on other things. A stack of documents on al Qaeda is gathering dust because the FBI has almost no one who can read Arabic.
Language capabilities in the CIA aren't so great, either. Bob Baer recalls that when he was the CIA station chief in Tajikstan in the mid-1990s, he asked headquarters for officers who could speak Dari or Pashtun, so they could interview some of the thousands of refugees pouring across the border. No linguists were available, Langley told him. But headquarters would be happy to send out a briefing team on sexual harrassment.
Muslim extremists have been killing Americans for years. It ought not to have been difficult for the FBI and CIA to figure out that it would be a good idea to develop some linguists, and collect some intel. But on Sept. 11, the FBI knew as little about the Muslim community in Paterson, N.J. as the CIA knew about the Taliban in Afghanistan.
The reforms Mueller announced will ameliorate a bad situation. But I'm leery of giving the FBI exclusivity in domestic intelligence gathering, for two reasons:
The FBI is a police agency. The job of cops is to catch people who've committed crimes. It's an important job, but it's different from the job of an intelligence agency, which is to find out what's going on.
Letting FBI agents surf the web or attend public meetings doesn't mean the end of freedom as we know it. But we should be a little chary of marrying expanded intelligence collection with police powers.
If the government is spying on you, there are basically two bad things that can happen: You can be arrested for something that isn't a crime. Or if it becomes publicly known your government thinks you are a traitor, you could suffer embarrassment. But if you're being spied upon by an agency that doesn't have powers of arrest, and the surveillance is kept secret, where's the harm?
Legal restrictions on domestic surveillance by the CIA should be relaxed. Or we could create, as former CIA Director James Woolsey recommends, a domestic intelligence agency like Britain's MI5. Perhaps such an agency will become part of the new Department of Homeland Security.
But no bureaucratic reshuffling will work unless there is accountability. Those who have done good work should be rewarded. Those who have been negligent should be disciplined. Some heads need to roll. First on the tumbrel should be Caruso's.
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06/04/02: A new draft for the 'war on terror'?