It's truly a shame that the panelists on the 9-11 commission
were such self-important windbags their 41 recommendations, they never
fail to remind, were (all bow) "unanimous and bipartisan" that they blew
their chance to make this country safer.
Don't' get me wrong. Washington has been unconscionably slow in
doing the practical things needed such as providing a radio spectrum for
emergency first-responders to make America more secure. The panel also
was right to criticize the Senate for larding a homeland security spending
bill with pork.
That said, the panel's hodgepodge recommendations the radio
spectrum was the panel's 27th recommendation, yet it magically moved to the
top of the list in the commission's devastating report card allowed the
good stuff to get lost. It didn't help that Congress and the Bush
administration were better at acting on the panels' many meaningless or
wrong-headed recommendations than practical reforms.
What do I mean by meaningless? Try: The panel refused to take a
stand on the Patriot Act. Instead, it recommended that the executive branch
make a case for "retaining a particular governmental power" and suggested
there be a "full and informed debate."
And here's wrong-headed: As Judge Richard A. Posner, a judge on
the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago, noted in his new book,
"Preventing Surprise Attacks, Intelligence Reform in the Wake of 9/11," the
panel was wrong to push for more centralized intelligence and Washington was
wrong to heed that call. As Posner noted over the phone yesterday, "Whenever
you take a bunch of agencies and pretend to turn them into one agency,"
there is a loss of momentum as employees worry about their jobs and work at
re-establishing a chain of command. "These reorganizations generally do more
harm than good."
Another problem with "blame commissions," as Posner called this
panel: "One unfortunate consequence is that the people who get blamed for an
undesired outcome are the people who were doing their best and their best
may have been very good to prevent it from happening," Posner wrote. So,
as America was clamoring for better intelligence, the panel issued
recommendations designed to "weaken the CIA."
I prefer Posner's recommendations to those of the 9-11
commission: Detailed evacuation plans for major buildings, biometric
screening by U.S. Customs officers at ports of entry, inspecting incoming
freight, better airline passenger screening, training more Americans in
Arabic, Farsi and other languages, more spies, diverting money from the "war
on drugs" to counterterrorism and creating "a domestic security agency on
the model of England's M15."
It would help if Americans and the media got real about
how you fight terror. They demand better intelligence, but are hostile to
the CIA. Critics want the government to discover domestic terrorist plots,
but oppose the Patriot Act.
It's time for the American media to stop expecting perfection.
There seems to be a crusade for a war without setbacks and for
intelligence-gathering that doesn't invade anyone's privacy. That's simply
and utterly unrealistic.
There is also an odd hubris in expecting any set of
recommendations to prevent, "surprise" attacks. Acting on panel
recommendations, Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, boasted that "just as the
National Security Act of 1947 (which established the CIA) was passed to
prevent another Pearl Harbor, the Intelligence Reform Act" which she
authored "will help us prevent another 9-11." As Posner noted, "She
overlooked the fact that 9-11 was another Pearl Harbor."
And, let me add, Collins is the chairwoman of the Senate
Homeland Security Committee, which produced a pork-heavy homeland security
bill earlier this year.
Posner observed, "Our government has somehow gotten into a
position where it's extremely difficult to accomplish anything."
I'd say that it's nearly impossible. What Americans don't need,
they get pronto. A top-heavy intelligence apparatus has already made it
through Congress: Washington can overload a bureaucracy in record time. But
the radio spectrum for first responders is simply too practical to be
Too many of the same people who demanded the 9-11 commission to
protect against future attacks also have been ready to kick intelligence
workers for their every mistake. That's simply not intelligent.