08/20/2005: I have never been a fan of President Clinton. I didn’t vote for him in 1992. I didn’t vote for him in 1996. I won’t vote for his wife in 2008. I supported his impeachment. With the exception of his support of free trade agreements–one of which, NAFTA, was negotiated by Reagan and Bush–almost nothing he did was good for America. While I wish him a nice recovery from his bypass surgery, I hope he and his wife never enter the White House (in an elected capacity) again.
That said, I’m not about to blame him for September 11, even if key policies that led to it were formulated by people in his cabinet.
Why do I say this? It’s simple: there is no way any President–Republican, Democrat, or anyone in between–has any idea what micro-level policy decisions are made on a day to day basis by people who are in an operational capacity. The only gripe I have with him on that front was his choice of Attorney General: Janet Reno was arguably the most inept AG in history. She made Ed “Sleaze Factor” Meese look like an Eagle Scout. Even the Miami Herald–hardly a stalwart of conservative causes–couldn’t stand her.
Because Reno was inept, she relied on her key deputies–such as Jamie Gorelick–to make policy. Unfortunately, Gorelick was also helping to formulate DoD policies regarding intelligence sharing. (This was an egregious conflict of interest.) As a result, we were left with The Wall, to which AG Ashcroft referred in his testimony before the special 9/11 Commission.
Quite frankly, The Wall killed us. While many critics rightly blasted our intelligence networks–who are struggling to fight elusive and mutating threats with a Cold War infrastructure–our intelligence prior to September 11 was actually good. A special military intelligence unit–Able Danger (which brings shades of Tom Clancy’s Op Center)–had tagged Mohammed Atta and Marwan al-Shehhi, the WTC suicide pilots, one year before September 11. As flawed as our intel agencies were, they actually did their job.
Unfortunately, the policy wonks let us down badly. The information was there, but there were too many legal blockades that prevented the timely dissemination of critical information. If there is a legitimate national security threat, then there is no Constitutional reason to forbid the left hand from knowing the affairs of the right hand. (Besides, when Jesus issued that command, He was referring to almsgiving in public, not national security policy.) With proper intel policies, 9/11 was very preventable.
Even worse, the September 11 Comission let us down. From day one, it was a forum for political grandstanding, with Commissioners releasing a report that focused on political neutrality and ignored key facts. Each member of that Commission–Democrat and Republican alike–should be prosecuted. They tried to cover up the fact that they were briefed by the Able Danger team.
Jamie Gorelick had no business serving on that commission; she should have been a witness. That same Commission went to great lengths to get Condoleeza Rice–who had been on the job eight months prior to 9/11–but failed to depose Gorelick, who was a key policymaker for eight years prior to September 11.
While Able Danger showed us how high technology–such as data mining–can help identify terrorists, our human intelligence (assets on the ground collecting information from direct sources) is terribly lacking. It is appropriate to question President Bush and CIA Director Porter Goss what they are doing to (a) bolster our human intelligence assets in hostile arenas and (b) ensure that critical information–such as that obtained by Able Danger–does not fall victim to policy bottlenecks.
This is not simply about hiring more CIA agents and training them to speak Arabic. This is about playing the dirty, bloody game of intelligence gathering: recruiting people with blood on their hands, who have abused the rights of others in the past, but who have–and know who has–critical information. In the intelligence community, there is no such thing as peacetime.
Similarly, intel policy is not simply about passing an executive order declaring The Wall null and void: Bush needs to promote a culture of teamwork and openness among agencies. If somoene has reliable, credible, actionable intelligence, then it needs to be fast-tracked. We cannot afford to have committees spending months deliberating over a credible threat, or a two-star General telling an intelligence operative to shut up.
Of course, data mining success brings up the reality and effectiveness of profiling. The Israelis have used it effectively for decades; in the course of tracking down potential terrorists, it is a perfectly reasonable function of government. It is one thing for a cop to pull somoene over simply for being black; it is another matter for inteligence analysts to focus on people with Middle Eastern names (such as myself). I have no problem with the latter.
Surely the Left, which has extrapolated Constitutional provisions for confiscating and redistributing wealth where no such provisions exist, can see a Constitutional provision for threat profiling. After all, the key word in the 4th Amendment is unreasonable.
It is reasonable to search Arabs (or even Arab-Americans) named Mohammed and Abdullah. It is far short of reasonable to seach 80-year-old Aunt Matilda from Tulsa.