' Frank J. Gaffney, Jr.
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Jewish World Review August 5, 2003 / 7 Menachem-Av, 5763

Frank J. Gaffney, Jr.

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The dot-connector

http://www.NewsAndOpinion.com | Nearly two years ago, in the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, official Washington was seized with The Question: Had there been prior warning of these devastating acts of terror? And, if so, could it have been acted upon so as to prevent the premeditated murder of thousands of Americans?

The recently released report of a joint congressional intelligence committee's investigation into this topic confirms what many experts had assumed: Of course, there were warnings of these attacks — both of a general and even of a somewhat specific nature. The problem was, as is usually the case, differentiating before the fact such salient information from what the intelligence professionals call the "noise" — the background clutter that is irrelevant or at least uninformative.

The investigation also confirmed that matters were made worse by various bureaucratic, regulatory and procedural arrangements that impeded such action as might have been taken to disrupt the hijackers' plot before it was perpetrated. In short, there were "dots" that might have been connected but built-in impediments made even more problematic the always difficult task of connecting such dots without the filtering benefit of hindsight.

Ever since September 11, 2001, the Bush Administration has recognized that, as important as the events and lessons of that day may be, there is an even-more-pressing task: Figuring out how to discern — and draw appropriate connections between — the pieces of information that suggest the nature and timing of possible future terrorist attacks. The absence to date of more deadly incidents in this country is, in part at least, a reflection of this focus (together with the President's offensive strategy aimed at disrupting enemy networks and making it harder for them to operate with impunity in our homeland).

As the Bush team sought to enhance the government's ability to connect the dots for counter-terrorism purposes, it was fortunate to secure a return to public service of one of the Nation's most formidable national security practitioners: Retired Navy admiral John Poindexter.

A top graduate of the Naval Academy, Adm. Poindexter had an exemplary career in his service and would likely have retired as one of its few four-stars but for his answering the call to help run the National Security Council under President Ronald Reagan. In the course of that assignment, he became embroiled in decisions aiding pro-U.S. Nicaraguan freedom fighters that the then-Democratic-controlled Congress was determined to abandon. For those who have had the privilege of knowing and working with him, the vitriolic, demeaning and career-terminating treatment to which this outstanding military officer was subsequently subjected was the real scandal, not what happened on his watch at the NSC.

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It was, therefore, highly gratifying that at a moment of national crisis, Donald Rumsfeld's Pentagon was able to enlist Adm. Poindexter once more in the service of his country. Drawing on his vast experience with defense, intelligence and information technologies, the Admiral was given a post at one of the most creative and productive organizations in the federal government, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). His assignment: Develop ways to improve our ability to connect the dots.

In this capacity, Adm. Poindexter has been a driving force behind two promising DARPA initiatives: the Total Information Awareness (TIA) project and the Policy Analysis Market (PAM). The former envisioned using commercially available data-mining techniques to discern and assimilate terrorism-relevant information from government and private sector sources. The latter proposed to utilize well-established market techniques to draw out and evaluate information about possible terrorist scenarios.

Critics have cast these two initiatives in a very different light. The TIA project has been portrayed as Big Brother incarnate, a wholly unaccountable means for government to collect and utilize private information without regard for Americans' civil rights. For its part, PAM precipitated a firestorm of criticism on Capitol Hill and in the press after it was caricatured as a government-sponsored "terrorism futures market." John Poindexter's association with these ideas was invariably used by their opponents to further their demands that the programs be terminated. One such critic, Senator Barbara Boxer, went so far as to say of PAM, Congress should "end the careers of whoever it was who thought that up."

Unfortunately, Sen. Boxer has gotten her wish. Adm. Poindexter announced last week that he will once again be leaving government service. This decision had to be all the more painful for it being accompanied by a truncation of his Information Awareness program, a smoking crater where the PAM project was to be and his reputation once again sullied by people who are unworthy to hold John Poindexter's coat.

Such people will doubtless be among the first to find fault the next time there is a terrorist attack and the dots that might have prevented the ensuing death and destruction were not connected. Should such an attack occur, however, the blame will likely lie at least in part with them for impeding effective use of tools that can and should be properly used to anticipate and address terrorist threats — and not with a patriot named John Poindexter who advanced them when, to his credit, he once again selflessly and creatively answered his Nation's call to service.

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JWR contributor Frank J. Gaffney, Jr. heads the Center for Security Policy. Send your comments to him by clicking here.


07/31/03: Wishful thinking about Islamist terror
07/22/03: Horatius Pipes
07/15/03: Making Saddam's day
05/20/03: Saudi terror watch 05/13/03: 'Transformation, part deux'
04/29/03: Shooting the messenger
04/15/03: Who's next?
04/08/03: Winning the peace
03/05/03: A friend in need
02/25/03: The plot thickens
02/18/03: Who's 'with' President Bush?
02/11/03: Islamists' White House gatekeeper
02/04/03: The Powell report
01/28/03: Bush's finest hour
01/14/03: North Korean scorecard
01/07/03: Nuclear meltdown
12/17/02: Serious about defending America
12/03/02: Defining 'regime change'
11/26/02: With friends like the Saudis...
11/19/02: The Jayna Davis files
11/12/02: Could Israel die of thirst?
11/04/02: Against us
10/22/02: Too clever by half?
10/17/02: 'Drain the swamps'
10/08/02: The temptations of George Bush
10/01/02: Return of the San Francisco Dems
09/24/02: The next crusader?
09/17/02: It is no accident that advocates of coercive inspections have opposed prez's goal of regime change
09/10/02: A model for Iraq
08/27/02: Beware 'consensus leadership'
08/20/02: To Iraq or not to Iraq?
08/13/02: Trading with the 'enemy'
07/30/02: Who's trashing Ashcroft?
07/23/02: Wall Street's 'poisoned apples'
07/16/02: Back on the China front
07/09/02: See no evil?
07/02/02: Rethinking peacekeeping
06/25/02: Political moment of truth on defense
06/19/02: Inviting losses on two fronts
06/12/02: Make missile defense happen
06/04/02: The next 'Day of Infamy'?
05/29/02: Bush's Russian gamble
05/21/02: The 'next war'
05/15/02: Ex-presidential misconduct
05/07/02: When 'what if' is no game
05/02/02: Careful what we wish for
04/24/02: The real 'root cause' of terror
04/02/02: First principles in the Mideast
03/26/02: 'Renounce this map'
03/20/02: The inconvenient ally
03/12/02: Adults address the 'unthinkable'
03/05/02: The Saudi scam
02/26/02: Rumsfeld's 'now hear this'
02/19/02: Where's the outrage?
02/12/02: Post-mortem on 'Pearl Harbor II'
02/05/02: Spinning on the 'Evil Axis'
01/29/02: A challenge for the history books
01/22/02: Who pulled the plug on the Chinese 'bugs'?
01/15/02: No 'need to know'
01/08/02: Sentenced to de-nuclearize?
12/18/01: Missile defense mismanagement?
12/11/01: Is the Cold War 'over'?
12/04/01: A moment for truth
11/29/01: Send in the marines -- with the planes they need
11/27/01: 'Now Hear This': Does the President Mean What He Says?
11/20/01: Mideast 'vision thing'
11/13/01: The leitmotif of the next three days
11/06/01: Bush's Reykjavik Moment
10/30/01: Say it ain't true, 'W.
10/23/01: Getting history, and the future, right
10/16/01: Farewell to arms control
10/05/01: A time to choose
09/25/01: Don't drink the 'lemonade'
09/11/01: Sudan envoy an exercise in futility?
09/05/01: Strategy of a thousand cuts
08/28/01: Rummy's back
08/21/01: Prepare for 'two wars'
08/14/01: Why does the Bush Administration make a moral equivalence between terrorist attacks and Israel's restrained defensive responses?
08/07/01: A New bipartisanship in security policy?
07/31/01: Don't go there
07/17/01: The 'end of the beginning'
07/10/01: Testing President Bush
07/03/01: Market transparency works
06/27/01: Which Bush will it be on missile defense?
06/19/01: Don't politicize military matters
06/05/01: It's called leadership
06/05/01: With friends like these ...
05/31/01: Which way on missile defense?
05/23/01: Pearl Harbor, all over again
05/15/01: A tale of two Horatios
05/08/01: The real debate about missile defense
04/24/01: Sell aegis ships to Taiwan
04/17/01: The 'hi-tech for China' bill
04/10/01: Deal on China's hostages -- then what?
04/03/01: Defense fire sale redux
03/28/01: The defense we need
03/21/01: Critical mass
03/13/01: The Bush doctrine
03/08/01: Self-Deterred from Defending America
02/27/01: Truth and consequences for Saddam
02/21/01: Defense fire sale
02/13/01: Dubya's Marshall Plan
02/05/01: Doing the right thing on an 'Arab-Arab dispute'
01/30/01: The missile defense decision
01/23/01: The Osprey as Phoenix
01/17/01: Clinton's Parting Shot at Religious Freedom
01/09/01: Wake-up call on space
01/02/01: Secretary Rumsfeld
12/27/00: Redefining our Ukraine policy
12/19/00: Deploy missile defense now
12/12/00: Sabotaging space power
12/05/00: Preempting Bush
11/28/00: What Clinton hath wrought
11/21/00: HE'S BAAAACK
11/14/00: The world won't wait

© 2001, Frank J. Gaffney, Jr.