Jewish World Review Oct. 19, 2004 / 4 Mar-Cheshvan 5765
Frank J. Gaffney, Jr.
DON'T DO IT!
At this writing, there is reason to fear the U.S. Congress will capitulate before the election to the demands of a high-powered and politically connected "special interest" group. Interestingly, if Congress does so in this case, there is likely to be none of the populist demagoguery that usually accompanies legislators' complying with such parochial demands (for example, that heard recently when an array of election-eve tax breaks were given to "Chinese ceiling fan importers" and other corporate types).
To the contrary, in this case, there will probably be public condemnation only if Congress does the right thing, namely by declining to cobble together under duress and in great haste the most far-reaching changes in the American intelligence community in nearly sixty years. Should that happen, the special interest in question the 9/11 Commission and vocal relatives of those lost in the attack of September 2001 threaten to raise Cain and exact revenge at the polls.
This sort of pressure goes, as they say, with Congress' territory. That those wielding it are, respectively, a bipartisan group of skilled political operatives and grieving kin, does not alter the fact, however, that what the 9/11 special interests are engaged in amounts to blackmail. Neither does it mitigate an ominous reality: The consequences of their threats could, ironically, be greatly to compound the problems afflicting the Nation's intelligence community, in time of war no less.
This danger exists even if the legislation sent to the President resembles the relatively benign version of the so-called intelligence reform bill adopted by the House of Representatives at the direction of its Republican leadership. Matters will be infinitely worse, though, if as the 9/11 special interests insist the final statute more closely tracks with the Senate-passed version.
For example, both bills fall prey to the classic Beltway proclivity: For any problem, there is a bureaucratic solution. If the intelligence community did not perform as it should have in the run-up to September 11th, the Commission dictated that a new level of management and a staff to coordinate counterterrorism activities was the answer. While the House-preferred approach would be less dysfunctional (for example, ultimate responsibility for defense-related intelligence agencies' personnel and budget decisions would remain with the Secretary of Defense), even its version of a National Intelligence Director and National Counterterrorism Center seems doomed to diminish competitive analysis the one proven antidote to the sort of perilous intelligence "group-think" we are supposed to be trying to avoid.
The Senate reform would greatly compound the counterproductiveness of this exercise by subjecting intelligence agencies to even more insidious bureaucratic layering: yet another oversight board and officers in eight (and possibly all federal) agencies whose job will be to promote privacy and civil liberties.
It is predictable that this back-door effort to appease critics of the Patriot Act will have a particularly chilling effect on those responsible for collecting, analyzing and rendering judgments about U.S. intelligence. They will find themselves constrained by fears of being subjected to criticism if not actual punishment for being unduly attentive to the ever-hostile civil liberties community. Our monitoring and understanding of the threat will surely suffer as a result.
The 9/11 special interests are no less adamant that the intelligence reform bill not contain highly desirable language crafted by the House leadership to provide additional law enforcement and immigration tools. Here the argument seems less about the merits of these additions than a pride of authorship. While the authorization of such new weapons in the war on terror would be consistent with the thrust of the Commission's findings, some in the Senate and among their principally left-wing constituencies insist these provisions be stripped from the bill. Such opposition reinforces concerns that the effect of this legislation will be less a strengthening of the hand of those waging the war on terror than a shackling of it.
The 9/11 Commission is owed a debt of gratitude for its thorough reconstruction of the events, and missteps, that led to the worst single episodes of foreign attacks on our soil in the Nation's history. Those who lost loved ones in those attacks are due our sympathy and consideration. Neither, however, is entitled to ride roughshod over deliberative legislative processes in a way that threatens to make highly consequential and long-duration alterations in what is, at the moment, one of the government's most indispensable functions: identifying and countering the threat posed by Islamofascist terrorists.
Despite the pressure being brought to bear by the 9/11 special interests to finish the intelligence reform conference and recall Congress to adopt its report before November 2nd, it behooves President Bush and the congressional leadership to allow the larger, national interest to determine when action will be completed on intelligence reform and the contents of such legislation. The old expression "You want it bad, you'll get it bad" applies in spades to this most sensitive of governmental activities.
To those who insist that no reform will occur if the leverage of an election is squandered, the response should be, if the changes being sought are needed and appropriate, there is every reason to expect that they will pass muster in a more deliberative environment. The only ones who have something to fear from a postponement that will enable such deliberation are those who know their "reforms" will conduce to less timely, accurate and useable intelligence. And to them, the answer should be a resounding "Thanks, but no thanks."
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JWR contributor Frank J. Gaffney, Jr. heads the Center for Security Policy. Send your comments to him by clicking here.
© 2004, Frank J. Gaffney, Jr.