White House national security adviser James Jones says Americans will feel “a certain shock” when they read an account being released Thursday of the missed clues that could have prevented the alleged Christmas Day bomber from ever boarding the plane.
President Obama “is legitimately and correctly alarmed that things that were available, bits of information that were available, patterns of behavior that were available, were not acted on,” Jones said in an interview Wednesday with USA Today. [continued…]
Editor’s Comment — When historians have the leisure to assess the first year of Barack Obama’s presidency, it will be interesting to see to what extent they see it having been shaped more by his Chief of Staff, Rahm Emanuel, than by the president himself.
Emanuel is a little man driven to take on big fights — though he backs away from if it becomes apparent that he overestimated his strength. I have a feeling that we’re in for another round, but this time the administration’s target is one that may turn out to have the most vicious bite: the US intelligence community.
Intelligence is a field that seems to have a particular appeal to people possessed by a unique form of idealistic criminality: a conviction that the state’s most indispensable guardians are an elite of patriots who patrol the boundaries of law by exercising the freedom to step outside the law.
In the aftermath of the Christmas bomber, Emanuel (and of course I’m simply guessing in attributing this to him), recognizes that the president is acutely vulnerable to the right’s favorite charge — weak on terrorism — and so has pressed his boss to show no mercy in pointing out the extent of the intelligence failure. Objectively, this should be a perfectly reasonable response, but right now the community (and especially the CIA) must be in crisis.
With an airline almost brought down and a team of operatives getting blown up by an al Qaeda infiltrator, once again, the phrase “American intelligence” sounds like an oxymoron. I would expect that the CIA is currently a cauldron of anger, humiliation and confusion where self-protection is the dominant force.
When the community that feels threatened is also home to the masters of dirty tricks, the people who are nominally in charge of running this country may need to brace themselves for a few lessons on the limits of their own power.
Thomas H. Kean and John Farmer Jr., respectively, the co-chairman and senior counsel of the 9/11 commission, write in a New York Times op-ed:
Despite the best efforts of the 9/11 commission and other intelligence reformers, budgetary authority over intelligence remains unaligned with substantive responsibility. Turf battles persist among intelligence agencies. Power is sought while responsibility is deflected. The drift toward inertia continues.
Government agencies are most likely to succeed when structure matches mission. With its many jurisdictional boundaries and its persistent bureaucratic fault lines, our current system, although greatly improved since 9/11, affords too many opportunities to let information slip, too many occasions for human frailty to assert itself.
The attempted Christmas bombing carries an eerie echo of the failures that led to 9/11 because those fundamental flaws persist. The challenge for President Obama and Congress is to resist superficial sound-bite solutions and undertake the harder task of reinventing our national security system. As the president stated, “The margin for error is slim, and the consequences of failure can be catastrophic.”
If Obama was ready to take on the challenge of reinventing the US national security system — I doubt very much that he is — then he would need to go much further than the Bush administration did.
A good place to start would be with an acknowledgment that secrecy is the enemy of accountability and efficiency.
That the United States has 16 intelligence agencies is not a testament to the sophistication of its security structure but to the institutional greed out of which so many fiefdoms have been created.