Jewish World Review April 14, 2004 / 24 Nissan, 5764

Jack Kelly

Jack Kelly
JWR's Pundits
World Editorial
Cartoon Showcase

Mallard Fillmore

Michael Barone
Mona Charen
Linda Chavez
Ann Coulter
Greg Crosby
Larry Elder
Don Feder
Suzanne Fields
James Glassman
Paul Greenberg
Bob Greene
Betsy Hart
Nat Hentoff
David Horowitz
Marianne Jennings
Michael Kelly
Mort Kondracke
Ch. Krauthammer
Lawrence Kudlow
Dr. Laura
John Leo
Michelle Malkin
Jackie Mason
Chris Matthews
Michael Medved
Kathleen Parker
Wes Pruden
Sam Schulman
Amity Shlaes
Roger Simon
Tony Snow
Thomas Sowell
Cal Thomas
Jonathan S. Tobin
Ben Wattenberg
George Will
Bruce Williams
Walter Williams
Mort Zuckerman

Consumer Reports

Shame on the 9/11 Commission | After the Pearl Harbor disaster, there were some in the Republican Party who wanted to blame it on President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Their reason for thinking so was because the United States military had broken the Japanese diplomatic code, and about six hours before the attack began had decoded a message that made it plain a Japanese strike was imminent. This information was not passed on in a timely fashion to commanders in the Pacific.

A joint committee of Congress in 1946 found the blame lay with bureaucratic impediments and errors of judgment within the Army and Navy departments, and made 25 recommendations for ameliorating the problems identified.

The broad outlines of and some of the conspirators in the Sept. 11th plot probably could have been identified beforehand if the agencies responsible for our security had not been so dysfunctional.

Some of the dysfunction was politically imposed. For reasons which seemed good to them at the time, many politicians (most of them Democrats) thought it wise to prevent the CIA from keeping track of the contacts international terror suspects made with people in the United States. Attorney General Janet Reno forbade FBI agents working on criminal cases from sharing information with FBI intelligence analysts. She even banned library searches for information on terror suspects. John Deutch, President Clinton's second CIA director, ordered the CIA not to recruit members of terror groups as agents. Budgets for intelligence, both domestic and foreign, were trimmed in the 1990s.

More of the dysfunction was a product of long standing bureaucratic rivalries and inertia. The CIA and the FBI were reluctant to share information with each other. The FBI tended to keep what intelligence it had out of the hands of other domestic law enforcement agencies. The FBI was even lousy at sharing information within the FBI. Agents in Phoenix, Oklahoma City and Minneapolis separately uncovered information that Islamic extremists were taking flying lessons, but agents in each of these cities was unaware of what the others had found, and no one at FBI headquarters was putting this information together. The INS in the 1990s all but abandoned its law enforcement duties.

Donate to JWR

Were the 9/11 commission doing a serious investigation of the nature, extent and causes of the dysfunction, and making sober recommendations for reform — as did the Congressional committee that investigated Pearl Harbor — it would be performing a valuable service.

But the 9/11 commissioners have other priorities. They have been making the rounds of the television talk shows, which is as wildly inappropriate as if a judge and jurors were making running commentary on a trial in progress.

The transcript of the public hearing at which National Security Adviser Condoleeza Rice testified last week indicates that about 60 percent of the talking was done by the commissioners. This suggests they were more interested in preening for the cameras than in eliciting information.

Some Democrats are trying to make an August 6, 2001 briefing the CIA gave President Bush the functional equivalent of the "East. Wind. Rain." Pearl Harbor intercept. But this is thin gruel. The briefing said Osama bin Laden would like to attack the United States; that he was attempting to recruit Arabs in the U.S. for that purpose, and that the FBI had reports of "suspicious activity consistent with hijackings or other types of attacks, including recent surveillance of federal buildings in New York." From this, the president was supposed to deduce that al Qaida was about to fly airliners into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon?

The descent of the commission into cheesy partisan finger-pointing was foreordained by the nature of its membership, and by its reporting date.

Of the 10 commissioners, only 3 — former Rep. Lee Hamilton, longtime chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee; former Sen. Bob Kerrey, and former Navy Secretary John Lehman — have the professional qualifications to pass judgment on the performance of our intelligence and law enforcement agencies.

The fact that the commission will make its report in the midst of an election year, rather than next January, indicates that its purpose is to influence the election, not to guide policy. Shame upon them.

Every weekday publishes what many in Washington and in the media consider "must reading." Sign up for the daily JWR update. It's free. Just click here.

JWR contributor Jack Kelly, a former Marine and Green Beret, was a deputy assistant secretary of the Air Force in the Reagan administration. Comment by clicking here.

Jack Kelly Archives

© 2003, Jack Kelly