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Jewish World Review Oct. 4, 2001 /17 Tishrei, 5762

Michael Ledeen

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What do we not know? -- TOM RIDGE is up against one of the toughest problems a leader can face. How to defend a free and open society against enemies determined to destroy it? As he browses through the vast literature on the subject, he will find an endless litany of weaknesses. From our communications system to our electrical-power grids and generators, from our airports (as distinct from our airplanes) to our train stations, from our malls to our theaters, we are exposed to attack. Indeed, most modern technology was designed on the assumption that our country was not only free, but peaceful, and that assumption was false.

How far should we go? This is not, as it is usually presented, simply a matter of finding a balance point between freedom and security, between privacy and the government's freshly urgent need to discover nasty schemes before they are hatched. It is also a technical problem. Take the airports, for example. Most of our airports face access roads with vast expanses of glass. Terrorists in an automobile can pull up in front of the airport and start shooting and lobbing grenades, as they did at the Vienna Airport in the 80's. I don't know a single airport in America with armed guards standing outside, ready to respond. I don't know a single airport that slows down arriving cars and forces them to ride over or through some kind of detection system, or even to permit an alert, highly trained guard to look inside the cars before letting them enter the airport complex. Do we need such a system? Are we prepared to pay for it, in money and time and nuisance? And, if we create such a system, are we prepared to carefully watch the armed guards to make sure that THEY are not in cahoots with the terrorists, or are recruited to carry out terrorism themselves?

Ditto for shopping malls. Israelis routinely submit to handbag checks and metal detectors in their malls, and even that has proven imperfect. What about restaurants? Movies? Sports events?

It's a nightmare. That is why the best defense is a strong offense. We have to go after them, on all fronts. So Ridge's most urgent task is getting the law-enforcement and intelligence agencies to work more effectively, and to coordinate better with one another.

Both are easier said than done. People who took security seriously were sneered at by the Clintons. Bubba's White House was a security shambles, with East Wing summer interns - their Washington vacations too short to permit adequate background checks - having access to classified West Wing computer files. Even the Director of Central Intelligence, John Deutch, took his laptop home from work, loaded with details of U.S. clandestine operations, and logged onto the Net, exposing the nation's secrets to any hacker quick and good enough to strike. Meanwhile, over at State, Madeline Albright, who will go down in history as the first secretary of state to proudly dance with a dictator (in North Korea, yet), presided over one security debacle after another. Rooms were bugged, files and computers disappeared, perhaps into the same black hole as the Rose Law Firm records having to do with Ms. Hillary's billable hours.

All this takes a terrible toll on the system, and Ridge will not find it easy to instill a proper respect for proper secrecy, even in his own offices. It takes quite a while to stamp out corrupt habits of mind and action.

But the hardest task is the most urgent: Getting the various units to cooperate. The last great chief of the CIA, Bill Casey, saw the necessity of creating a counterterrorism center where all the information came into a central location and was analyzed in toto. He entrusted the task to Dewey Clarridge, also the last of a breed, and Clarridge cracked his very active whip over the analysts, greatly improving the quality of our intelligence, even with the now infamous restrictions put in place by presidents Ford and Clinton. So it can be done. But it requires a top guy with real power and total support from the president, and it requires men and women at the working level who not only have the resolve and the courage to do it - laying waste to dead wood as they go - but who know the system cold, know how the bureaucratic games are played, and know which walls have to be broken down.

That's asking a lot. In practice, it's unreasonable to expect this of a professional civil servant unless it is clear that there's an unbreakable mandate for the mission. There is only one way to demonstrate that: to remove the people who have failed in the past. Of late, we have begun to hear calls for the resignation of George Tenet, and certainly someone should be held accountable for the colossal intelligence failure that made life easy for the September 11th mass murderers. But it is important that President Bush not single out one or two individuals, and then pretend that a couple of new people can turn the whole thing around. He (or Ridge, on the president's authority) should ask for the resignations of the whole lot of them, from the (Clinton-appointed) FAA chief to the heads of the various counterterrorist units and the counterintelligence top guys as well. If Louis Freeh were still at FBI, he should go along with the others (hell, he should have gone once the Hanssen treason was discovered).

Yes, it's bloody, and yes, it runs counter to some of the early themes of compassionate conservatism. Some will urge the president to let these people redeem themselves, a process in which he strongly believes, having experienced it personally. But that is a doctrine for normal times, and he does not have the time to determine who can be redeemed, and who will simply fail again. This is time for the old motto, "kill them all, let G-d sort 'em out."

New times require new people with new standards. The situation requires it. The American people, who have responded magnificently to this horror, richly deserve it. The entire political world will understand it and applaud it. And it will give Tom Ridge a chance to succeed, and us to prevail.

JWR contributor Michael Ledeen is a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and author of Tocqueville on American Character . Comment by clicking here.


09/28/01: Machiavelli On Our War: Some advice for our leaders
09/25/01: No Room for the U.N.: Keeping Annan & co. out of the picture
09/21/01: Creative destruction
09/14/01: Who Killed Barbara Olson?
08/22/01: How Israel will win this war
08/15/01: Bracing for war
08/09/01: More Dithering Democrats
08/02/01: Delirious Dems
07/31/01: Consulting a legendary counterspy about Chandra and Condit, cont'd
07/19/01: Be careful what you wish for
07/17/01: Consulting a legendary counterspy about Chandra and Condit
07/05/01: Let Slobo Go
05/30/01: Anybody out there afraid of the Republicans?
05/09/01: The bad guys to the rescue
05/07/01: Bye-bye, Blumenthal
04/20/01: Handling China
04/11/01: EXAM TIME!
04/05/01: Chinese over-water torture
03/27/01: Fighting AIDS in Africa is a losing proposition
03/14/01: Big Bird, Oscar, and other threats
03/09/01: Time for a good, old-fashioned purge
03/06/01: Powell’s great (mis)adventure
02/26/01: The Clinton Sopranos
02/20/01: Unity Schmoonity: Sharon is defying the will of the people
01/30/01: The Rest of the Rich Story
01/22/01: Ashcroft the Jew
01/11/01: A fitting close to the Clinton years
12/26/00: Continuing Clinton's shameful legacy
12/21/00: Clinton’s gift for Bush

© 2001, Michael Ledeen