December 8, 2005
9/11 Commission Blew Their Chance
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.
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.
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
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."
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."
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."
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."
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.
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
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
me add, Collins is the chairwoman of the Senate Homeland Security
Committee, which produced a pork-heavy homeland security bill
earlier this year.
"Our government has somehow gotten into a position where
it's extremely difficult to accomplish anything."
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 urgent.
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.
2005 Creators Syndicate