Commentary Magazine


Topic: National Counterterrorism Center

Way to Go, Senator Feinstein!

Dennis Blair “resigned” — that is to say, was shoved overboard, finally. As the Wall Street Journal report points out, the shoving is long overdue:

From the outset, Mr. Blair, 63 years old, a retired U.S. Navy admiral, proved to be an uneasy fit for the job. He made a series of decisions and statements that angered the White House—from a controversial appointment for the nation’s top intelligence analyst to recent statements that a new terrorist interrogation team should have questioned the alleged Christmas Day bomber.

Yes, that appointment was Chas Freeman, who “immediately drew fire from critics who said he was too close to the Saudi Arabian and Chinese governments. After that public-relations debacle, Mr. Blair maintained a much lower profile, speaking infrequently in public.” And that was some time ago, yet Obama continued to entrust our entire national-security apparatus to a man who wasn’t allowed to speak in public.

So what was the final straw? As Politico notes:

Word of Blair’s departure comes just two days after the release of a harshly-critical Senate report which identified 14 failures that preceded the Christmas Day incident in which Nigerian Omar Abdulmutallab allegedly attempted to bring down a U.S. airliner outside Detroit. The report put particular blame for the failure to head off the attack on a coordination unit that is part of Blair’s office, the National Counterterrorism Center.

Maybe it’s just a coincidence, but it’s nice to know that when clear-eyed lawmakers (e.g., the Senate Intelligence Committee, the GOP senators blocking the nomination of  Obama’s ambassador to Syria) act with resolve, the White House can be forced to retreat. (Let’s hope John Brennan – who comes up with loony ideas like engaging Hezbollah and now refers to the eternal capital of the Jewish state as “Al Quds, Jerusalem” – isn’t the replacement.)  But someone should ask the president: given the two near-miss terror attacks, do you regret not canning Blair earlier?

As for Feinstein, could she now do a report on the Justice Department? (At 36 percent, Eric Holder has the lowest approval of anyone in the administration, so maybe the White House would welcome an excuse to shove him overboard as well.) Then State? And while she’s at it, could she do an assessment of the phony UN sanctions?

Dennis Blair “resigned” — that is to say, was shoved overboard, finally. As the Wall Street Journal report points out, the shoving is long overdue:

From the outset, Mr. Blair, 63 years old, a retired U.S. Navy admiral, proved to be an uneasy fit for the job. He made a series of decisions and statements that angered the White House—from a controversial appointment for the nation’s top intelligence analyst to recent statements that a new terrorist interrogation team should have questioned the alleged Christmas Day bomber.

Yes, that appointment was Chas Freeman, who “immediately drew fire from critics who said he was too close to the Saudi Arabian and Chinese governments. After that public-relations debacle, Mr. Blair maintained a much lower profile, speaking infrequently in public.” And that was some time ago, yet Obama continued to entrust our entire national-security apparatus to a man who wasn’t allowed to speak in public.

So what was the final straw? As Politico notes:

Word of Blair’s departure comes just two days after the release of a harshly-critical Senate report which identified 14 failures that preceded the Christmas Day incident in which Nigerian Omar Abdulmutallab allegedly attempted to bring down a U.S. airliner outside Detroit. The report put particular blame for the failure to head off the attack on a coordination unit that is part of Blair’s office, the National Counterterrorism Center.

Maybe it’s just a coincidence, but it’s nice to know that when clear-eyed lawmakers (e.g., the Senate Intelligence Committee, the GOP senators blocking the nomination of  Obama’s ambassador to Syria) act with resolve, the White House can be forced to retreat. (Let’s hope John Brennan – who comes up with loony ideas like engaging Hezbollah and now refers to the eternal capital of the Jewish state as “Al Quds, Jerusalem” – isn’t the replacement.)  But someone should ask the president: given the two near-miss terror attacks, do you regret not canning Blair earlier?

As for Feinstein, could she now do a report on the Justice Department? (At 36 percent, Eric Holder has the lowest approval of anyone in the administration, so maybe the White House would welcome an excuse to shove him overboard as well.) Then State? And while she’s at it, could she do an assessment of the phony UN sanctions?

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Was There a Fort Jackson Cover-Up?

I spoke with a source knowledgeable about the Army’s anti-terrorism training and the progress of the Fort Jackson investigation. He makes several key points. First, while Army spokesman Chris Gray pronounced that “there is no credible information to support the allegations” in the poisoning case, this is bellied by the fact that five individuals were arrested. So my source asks, “If that’s true, then this was a miscarriage of justice!”

Second, had the Fort Jackson incident come to light before release of the Fort Hood review, it would have been very difficult to give such short shrift to the jihadist motivation of Major Nadal Hasan. Nor would it be possible for the arrest of five Muslim individuals accused of poisoning fellow soldiers to have gone unnoticed at the “highest levels” of the Department of Defense. The only rational conclusion is that the Army worked furiously to keep the Ford Jackson incident under the media radar and to proceed with the Fort Hood whitewash. He says bluntly, “I think the DOD culpability and involvement at the highest levels is much more direct. I’m told they were directly keeping a lid on this to prevent derailing what they were doing with the Fort Hood report.” The source predicts that the Army will continue its “nothing to see here, move along” reaction to the Fort Jackson incident.

And finally, he reiterates that the Army still lacks a “template” — a profile, if you will — for identifying jihadist threats. Not so with gang members or neo-Nazis; the Army has a well-defined approach to identifying and removing them from the Army. Why is this? In Senate testimony, “National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC) Director Michael Leiter referenced efforts to engage with groups such as CAIR, as part of a ‘full-spectrum’ outreach strategy to engage with groups that disagree with U.S. policies.” So the problem may be that the Army has been consulting with the wrong people (conducting outreach to CAIR, for example) and insisting that diversity is its highest goal. On advice of other supposed gurus, the Army continues to engage groups that are in the business of decrying efforts to focus on and target Islamic fundamentalists.

Is it any surprise, then, that the Fort Hood and Fort Jackson incidents occurred? One wonders how many must die in the next incident before there’s a change in perspective.

I spoke with a source knowledgeable about the Army’s anti-terrorism training and the progress of the Fort Jackson investigation. He makes several key points. First, while Army spokesman Chris Gray pronounced that “there is no credible information to support the allegations” in the poisoning case, this is bellied by the fact that five individuals were arrested. So my source asks, “If that’s true, then this was a miscarriage of justice!”

Second, had the Fort Jackson incident come to light before release of the Fort Hood review, it would have been very difficult to give such short shrift to the jihadist motivation of Major Nadal Hasan. Nor would it be possible for the arrest of five Muslim individuals accused of poisoning fellow soldiers to have gone unnoticed at the “highest levels” of the Department of Defense. The only rational conclusion is that the Army worked furiously to keep the Ford Jackson incident under the media radar and to proceed with the Fort Hood whitewash. He says bluntly, “I think the DOD culpability and involvement at the highest levels is much more direct. I’m told they were directly keeping a lid on this to prevent derailing what they were doing with the Fort Hood report.” The source predicts that the Army will continue its “nothing to see here, move along” reaction to the Fort Jackson incident.

And finally, he reiterates that the Army still lacks a “template” — a profile, if you will — for identifying jihadist threats. Not so with gang members or neo-Nazis; the Army has a well-defined approach to identifying and removing them from the Army. Why is this? In Senate testimony, “National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC) Director Michael Leiter referenced efforts to engage with groups such as CAIR, as part of a ‘full-spectrum’ outreach strategy to engage with groups that disagree with U.S. policies.” So the problem may be that the Army has been consulting with the wrong people (conducting outreach to CAIR, for example) and insisting that diversity is its highest goal. On advice of other supposed gurus, the Army continues to engage groups that are in the business of decrying efforts to focus on and target Islamic fundamentalists.

Is it any surprise, then, that the Fort Hood and Fort Jackson incidents occurred? One wonders how many must die in the next incident before there’s a change in perspective.

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Undoing the Damage — We Hope

As Stephen Hayes details, the Christmas Day bomber is now talking and the Obami have changed their tune. For days and weeks we heard from Obama’s flacks and from leaks in mainstream news outlets that in Abdulmutallab’s 50-minute interview, FBI agents got out all that we needed. And then we were told that he stopped talking even before the Miranda warnings were given. The spin-athon was on to convince us that “nothing was lost” by allowing him to lawyer up and sit mutely for five weeks. Now he’s talking and we are hearing that intelligence officials are (finally) extracting valuable data. Well, the information we are eliciting might have been even more valuable five weeks ago. Hayes sums up the Keystone Kops display that we have witnessed:

Four top U.S. counterterrorism officials — including Mueller, Blair, Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano, and Director of the National Counterterrorism Center Michael Leiter — were not consulted about whether to handle Abdulmutallab as an enemy combatant or a criminal. Leiter went on vacation the day after the attack.  John Brennan, the top White House counterterrorism adviser, told him he could go. Three days after the attack, despite copious evidence that Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) was involved, President Obama declared the attempted bombing the work of “an isolated extremist.” Janet Napolitano, Secretary of Homeland Security, said that she was surprised by AQAP’s “determination” to attack the U.S. homeland and shocked to learn that they would send an individual, not a group, to carry out the deed. DNI Blair told Congress that an elite interrogation team should have questioned Abdulmutallab — only to amend his remarks hours later to acknowledge that the new unit does not exist.

The Obama team is straining to maintain credibility, to convince the public that their criminal-justice model really does make sense, and to assure us that they have not blundered by throwing overboard Bush-era anti-terrorism policies. But let’s get real here: the problem, as well as the spin, started when Abdulmutallab, with no input from intelligence officials, was treated like a common criminal and then clammed up. The last five weeks have been spent by the Obami trying to undue that damage. Let’s hope nothing was lost in the interim. Let’s hope the leads we get (if we get any) have not gone cold. And let’s hope we didn’t give Abdulmutallab a “deal” in order to get him to resume talking.

As Stephen Hayes details, the Christmas Day bomber is now talking and the Obami have changed their tune. For days and weeks we heard from Obama’s flacks and from leaks in mainstream news outlets that in Abdulmutallab’s 50-minute interview, FBI agents got out all that we needed. And then we were told that he stopped talking even before the Miranda warnings were given. The spin-athon was on to convince us that “nothing was lost” by allowing him to lawyer up and sit mutely for five weeks. Now he’s talking and we are hearing that intelligence officials are (finally) extracting valuable data. Well, the information we are eliciting might have been even more valuable five weeks ago. Hayes sums up the Keystone Kops display that we have witnessed:

Four top U.S. counterterrorism officials — including Mueller, Blair, Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano, and Director of the National Counterterrorism Center Michael Leiter — were not consulted about whether to handle Abdulmutallab as an enemy combatant or a criminal. Leiter went on vacation the day after the attack.  John Brennan, the top White House counterterrorism adviser, told him he could go. Three days after the attack, despite copious evidence that Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) was involved, President Obama declared the attempted bombing the work of “an isolated extremist.” Janet Napolitano, Secretary of Homeland Security, said that she was surprised by AQAP’s “determination” to attack the U.S. homeland and shocked to learn that they would send an individual, not a group, to carry out the deed. DNI Blair told Congress that an elite interrogation team should have questioned Abdulmutallab — only to amend his remarks hours later to acknowledge that the new unit does not exist.

The Obama team is straining to maintain credibility, to convince the public that their criminal-justice model really does make sense, and to assure us that they have not blundered by throwing overboard Bush-era anti-terrorism policies. But let’s get real here: the problem, as well as the spin, started when Abdulmutallab, with no input from intelligence officials, was treated like a common criminal and then clammed up. The last five weeks have been spent by the Obami trying to undue that damage. Let’s hope nothing was lost in the interim. Let’s hope the leads we get (if we get any) have not gone cold. And let’s hope we didn’t give Abdulmutallab a “deal” in order to get him to resume talking.

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It Isn’t Too Late to Interrogate Abdulmutallab

Dennis Blair, for reasons not entirely clear (a parting shot? a spasm of guilt for a job poorly done?), took a big swing at the Obami yesterday where they’re most vulnerable: their knee-jerk fixation on treating Islamic terrorists as common criminals. This report explains:

Director of National Intelligence Dennis C. Blair faulted the decision not to use the “High Value Interrogation Group” (HIG) to question alleged al-Qaeda operative Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab.

“That unit was created exactly for this purpose — to make a decision on whether a certain person who’s detained should be treated as a case for federal prosecution or for some of the other means,” Blair told the Senate homeland security committee.

The intelligence chief said the interrogation group was created by the White House last year to handle overseas cases but will be expanded now to domestic ones. “We did not invoke the HIG in this case; we should have,” he added.

Later in the day Blair was forced to walk it back with the “my words were misconstrued” lingo that is the telltale sign of being big-footed by an irate White House. Still, the damage had been done. Blair’s complaint is precisely the one that critics have been making since it was revealed that Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab chatted with the FBI for a bit and then clammed up, having been handed a full panoply of constitutional rights, including the right to remain silent. No more dot-connecting information will come from him unless he disregards his lawyer’s admonitions or, more likely, makes a plea deal.

It seems the Obami operate on cruise control — set the car in motion, hit the button, and never touch the controls again. The lack of thoughtful analysis or consideration is breathtaking. As the report notes, “Blair, FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III, National Counterterrorism Center Director Michael E. Leiter and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano told lawmakers that they were not consulted about the charging decision.” Well, with Eric Holder and the lefty lawyers in the Justice Department apparently running anti-terror policy, no one thought that those responsible for preventing future attacks and gathering critical intelligence data might want to weigh in on the matter.

But here’s the thing: it isn’t too late. We can still declare Abdulmutallab an enemy combatant and ship him off for questioning and a military tribunal. Sure we’ve lost time, and it was a grievous error not to have used all the tools at our disposal to extract information, but why compound the error by leaving him in the criminal justice process? Blair has admitted that the Obami erred, so someone should ask him why Mueller, Leiter, Napolitano, and maybe even the president (he is in charge, right?) aren’t now considering how to limit the damage done by the ill-advised and unthinking actions taken on Christmas Day.

Dennis Blair, for reasons not entirely clear (a parting shot? a spasm of guilt for a job poorly done?), took a big swing at the Obami yesterday where they’re most vulnerable: their knee-jerk fixation on treating Islamic terrorists as common criminals. This report explains:

Director of National Intelligence Dennis C. Blair faulted the decision not to use the “High Value Interrogation Group” (HIG) to question alleged al-Qaeda operative Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab.

“That unit was created exactly for this purpose — to make a decision on whether a certain person who’s detained should be treated as a case for federal prosecution or for some of the other means,” Blair told the Senate homeland security committee.

The intelligence chief said the interrogation group was created by the White House last year to handle overseas cases but will be expanded now to domestic ones. “We did not invoke the HIG in this case; we should have,” he added.

Later in the day Blair was forced to walk it back with the “my words were misconstrued” lingo that is the telltale sign of being big-footed by an irate White House. Still, the damage had been done. Blair’s complaint is precisely the one that critics have been making since it was revealed that Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab chatted with the FBI for a bit and then clammed up, having been handed a full panoply of constitutional rights, including the right to remain silent. No more dot-connecting information will come from him unless he disregards his lawyer’s admonitions or, more likely, makes a plea deal.

It seems the Obami operate on cruise control — set the car in motion, hit the button, and never touch the controls again. The lack of thoughtful analysis or consideration is breathtaking. As the report notes, “Blair, FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III, National Counterterrorism Center Director Michael E. Leiter and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano told lawmakers that they were not consulted about the charging decision.” Well, with Eric Holder and the lefty lawyers in the Justice Department apparently running anti-terror policy, no one thought that those responsible for preventing future attacks and gathering critical intelligence data might want to weigh in on the matter.

But here’s the thing: it isn’t too late. We can still declare Abdulmutallab an enemy combatant and ship him off for questioning and a military tribunal. Sure we’ve lost time, and it was a grievous error not to have used all the tools at our disposal to extract information, but why compound the error by leaving him in the criminal justice process? Blair has admitted that the Obami erred, so someone should ask him why Mueller, Leiter, Napolitano, and maybe even the president (he is in charge, right?) aren’t now considering how to limit the damage done by the ill-advised and unthinking actions taken on Christmas Day.

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When Did He Know?

When did the president learn that the Christmas Day plot was not an “isolated extremist?” On Monday, he told us that it was. Now we hear the excuse that the president only learned Monday night of “some linkage” between the bomber and al-Qaeda. The Washington Post gets this report on background (you wouldn’t want your name used either):

The official said the president and his top advisers are “increasingly confident” that Al Qaeda was involved in the attempted attacker’s plans.

Obama, in his remarks to reporters earlier in the day, said that if intelligence about the suspect had been handled differently he would have been blocked from boarding a plane for the United States. Senior officials said that was among the new details that the president learned in a conference call with top national security officials – National Security Adviser Jim Jones, his top counterterrorism expert John Brennan, and deputy National Security adviser Tom Donilon – on Tuesday morning.

So we are supposed to believe that the president went in front of the nation, that he declared something that the public (after paying attention to a plethora of news reports) was beginning to believe was not true (i.e. this was a lone wolf), and that he only learned of the al-Qaeda connection four days after the incident? I’m not sure which is worse — the possibility that the president was misinformed or uninformed for a number of  days, or that he knew better and for reasons not entirely clear decided to play down the al-Qaeda connection until it could no longer be ignored. This is, of course, a second scandal — the primary one being that we did not act on “information that was in possession of the government… that spoke to both where the suspect had been, what some of his thinking and plans were, what some of the plans of Al Qaeda were.”

As the Washington Post editors fume: “Now we want to shine a light on the stunning breakdown in communication among the State Department, the National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC) and the British government that allowed Mr. Abdulmutallab to buy a ticket in the first place.” And then we can find out why the president went before the public with incomplete and inaccurate information on Monday.

We seem to have an intelligence apparatus that cannot communicate effectively before a terror attack, and an administration that cannot communicate forthrightly and accurately with the public after one. Unlike those who coped with 9/11, the Obama administration had the experience of a massive domestic terror attack to guide and inform it. And yet this is the best that the Obama administration can do.

When did the president learn that the Christmas Day plot was not an “isolated extremist?” On Monday, he told us that it was. Now we hear the excuse that the president only learned Monday night of “some linkage” between the bomber and al-Qaeda. The Washington Post gets this report on background (you wouldn’t want your name used either):

The official said the president and his top advisers are “increasingly confident” that Al Qaeda was involved in the attempted attacker’s plans.

Obama, in his remarks to reporters earlier in the day, said that if intelligence about the suspect had been handled differently he would have been blocked from boarding a plane for the United States. Senior officials said that was among the new details that the president learned in a conference call with top national security officials – National Security Adviser Jim Jones, his top counterterrorism expert John Brennan, and deputy National Security adviser Tom Donilon – on Tuesday morning.

So we are supposed to believe that the president went in front of the nation, that he declared something that the public (after paying attention to a plethora of news reports) was beginning to believe was not true (i.e. this was a lone wolf), and that he only learned of the al-Qaeda connection four days after the incident? I’m not sure which is worse — the possibility that the president was misinformed or uninformed for a number of  days, or that he knew better and for reasons not entirely clear decided to play down the al-Qaeda connection until it could no longer be ignored. This is, of course, a second scandal — the primary one being that we did not act on “information that was in possession of the government… that spoke to both where the suspect had been, what some of his thinking and plans were, what some of the plans of Al Qaeda were.”

As the Washington Post editors fume: “Now we want to shine a light on the stunning breakdown in communication among the State Department, the National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC) and the British government that allowed Mr. Abdulmutallab to buy a ticket in the first place.” And then we can find out why the president went before the public with incomplete and inaccurate information on Monday.

We seem to have an intelligence apparatus that cannot communicate effectively before a terror attack, and an administration that cannot communicate forthrightly and accurately with the public after one. Unlike those who coped with 9/11, the Obama administration had the experience of a massive domestic terror attack to guide and inform it. And yet this is the best that the Obama administration can do.

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Obami’s Anti-Terror Policies Necessitate Stonewalling

One has to marvel at the opening graph of this Politico story:

Growing evidence that the Nigerian man charged with trying to blow up a commercial airliner as it landed in Detroit Friday spent time in Yemen and may have been fitted with customized, explosive-laden clothing there could complicate the U.S. government’s efforts to send home more than 80 Yemeni prisoners currently at Guantanamo Bay.

Yes, reality is complicating the Obama administration’s war on terror policies. It must be maddening to the Obami that they are presented once again with inconvenient evidence that their insistence on emptying Guantanamo of dangerous people is mind-bogglingly inane. It is not surprising that Republicans were quick to point this out:

“Yesterday just highlights the fact that sending this many people back—or any people back—to Yemen right now is a really bad idea,” said Rep. Pete Hoekstra (R-Mich.), the ranking Republican on the House Intelligence Committee. “It’s just dumb….If you made a list of what the three dumbest countries would be to send people back to, Yemen would be on all the lists.” “I think it’s a major mistake,” Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) said about prisoner releases to Yemen. “I don’t think Guantanamo should be closed, but if we’re going to close it I don’t believe we should be sending people to Yemen where prisoners have managed to escape in the past….Obviously, if [Abdulmutallab] did get training and direction from Yemen, it just adds to what is already a dangerous situation.”

Moreover this suggests that together with the domestic terror attack by Major Nadal Hassan, the Obama team will be hard pressed to make the claim that its policy of moral preening — closing Guantanamo, giving up on enhanced interrogation techniques, attacking the CIA, and giving KSM a public forum — is appropriate in the midst of daily evidence that our enemies are unimpressed with such gestures and are motivated not by objections to our military tribunals or incarceration policies but rather by their battle against western civilization itself.

And the Obami’s response is predictable. King and Hoeskstra, as have many of their colleagues (e.g., Rep. Frank Wolf on Yemen releases, Sen. Pete Sessions on the Uighurs), are running into a stone wall in attempting to get basic information from an administration whose first instinct is to stonewall and rebuff any oversight efforts:

 As with the shooting at Ft. Hood in November, the White House has ordered federal agencies not to provide briefings or answer inquiries from members of Congress, leaving all such contacts to be handled by the White House.“I don’t think I ever saw that throughout President Bush’s time in the White House. I could call directly to the director of the CIA or the [National Counterterrorism Center] and get whatever briefings I wanted,” Hoekstra said. He called the briefing limits “totally inappropriate,” but said the White House maintained the orders were needed because of the ongoing criminal investigation.

Perhaps if the Obami’s anti-terror policies were more in sync with public opinion and reality, they would be more forthcoming. But the public will have only one question: are we safer because of the Obama administration’s policies? So far, there is reason to think we are not.

One has to marvel at the opening graph of this Politico story:

Growing evidence that the Nigerian man charged with trying to blow up a commercial airliner as it landed in Detroit Friday spent time in Yemen and may have been fitted with customized, explosive-laden clothing there could complicate the U.S. government’s efforts to send home more than 80 Yemeni prisoners currently at Guantanamo Bay.

Yes, reality is complicating the Obama administration’s war on terror policies. It must be maddening to the Obami that they are presented once again with inconvenient evidence that their insistence on emptying Guantanamo of dangerous people is mind-bogglingly inane. It is not surprising that Republicans were quick to point this out:

“Yesterday just highlights the fact that sending this many people back—or any people back—to Yemen right now is a really bad idea,” said Rep. Pete Hoekstra (R-Mich.), the ranking Republican on the House Intelligence Committee. “It’s just dumb….If you made a list of what the three dumbest countries would be to send people back to, Yemen would be on all the lists.” “I think it’s a major mistake,” Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) said about prisoner releases to Yemen. “I don’t think Guantanamo should be closed, but if we’re going to close it I don’t believe we should be sending people to Yemen where prisoners have managed to escape in the past….Obviously, if [Abdulmutallab] did get training and direction from Yemen, it just adds to what is already a dangerous situation.”

Moreover this suggests that together with the domestic terror attack by Major Nadal Hassan, the Obama team will be hard pressed to make the claim that its policy of moral preening — closing Guantanamo, giving up on enhanced interrogation techniques, attacking the CIA, and giving KSM a public forum — is appropriate in the midst of daily evidence that our enemies are unimpressed with such gestures and are motivated not by objections to our military tribunals or incarceration policies but rather by their battle against western civilization itself.

And the Obami’s response is predictable. King and Hoeskstra, as have many of their colleagues (e.g., Rep. Frank Wolf on Yemen releases, Sen. Pete Sessions on the Uighurs), are running into a stone wall in attempting to get basic information from an administration whose first instinct is to stonewall and rebuff any oversight efforts:

 As with the shooting at Ft. Hood in November, the White House has ordered federal agencies not to provide briefings or answer inquiries from members of Congress, leaving all such contacts to be handled by the White House.“I don’t think I ever saw that throughout President Bush’s time in the White House. I could call directly to the director of the CIA or the [National Counterterrorism Center] and get whatever briefings I wanted,” Hoekstra said. He called the briefing limits “totally inappropriate,” but said the White House maintained the orders were needed because of the ongoing criminal investigation.

Perhaps if the Obami’s anti-terror policies were more in sync with public opinion and reality, they would be more forthcoming. But the public will have only one question: are we safer because of the Obama administration’s policies? So far, there is reason to think we are not.

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Where Are We Losing?

Yesterday ABC News posted a story about the new State Department report on terrorism. There’s been, it seems, an uptick in global terror victims. From the story:

Most dramatically, there was a 50 percent increase worldwide in suicide bombings last year. All told, 66,995 people were killed or wounded in terror attacks in 2007 (up from 59,327 in 2006 and 39,469 in 2005).

They then break down some of the figures by country and offer this:

“Around the globe people are getting increasingly efficient at killing other people,” said Russ Travers of the National Counterterrorism Center, which compiled the data for the report.

The war on terror has been dispiriting in a number of ways, and even as there’s progress being made, we’re sure to encounter many more unforeseeable setbacks. But we are still very much in a live war. And reading something conclusive into these numbers is disingenuous. It’s like visiting one’s car in the body shop, seeing the pieces scattered about, and determining that the mechanics have made things worse.

The bigger problem lies in the fact that the MSM is so eager to seize upon these figures as confirmation of the Bush administration’s incompetence. In a new piece at National Review, Victor Davis Hanson writes that we’re winning the war abroad and losing it here:

After years of learning how to fight an unfamiliar war in Afghanistan and Iraq, and to protect us at home, we are finally getting most things right. But if our soldiers and intelligence agencies have learned how to win, our politically-correct diplomats and the American consumer haven’t – and are doing as much at home to empower radical Islam as those on the front lines are to defeat it.

As Hanson points out, the U.S. military is making long-awaited and tangible progress. But if news outlets remain obsessed with exploiting the “most dramatically” depressing numbers, ignoring the positives, and looking to diminish every potential gain, then they’ll continue to make the overall fight that much harder.

Yesterday ABC News posted a story about the new State Department report on terrorism. There’s been, it seems, an uptick in global terror victims. From the story:

Most dramatically, there was a 50 percent increase worldwide in suicide bombings last year. All told, 66,995 people were killed or wounded in terror attacks in 2007 (up from 59,327 in 2006 and 39,469 in 2005).

They then break down some of the figures by country and offer this:

“Around the globe people are getting increasingly efficient at killing other people,” said Russ Travers of the National Counterterrorism Center, which compiled the data for the report.

The war on terror has been dispiriting in a number of ways, and even as there’s progress being made, we’re sure to encounter many more unforeseeable setbacks. But we are still very much in a live war. And reading something conclusive into these numbers is disingenuous. It’s like visiting one’s car in the body shop, seeing the pieces scattered about, and determining that the mechanics have made things worse.

The bigger problem lies in the fact that the MSM is so eager to seize upon these figures as confirmation of the Bush administration’s incompetence. In a new piece at National Review, Victor Davis Hanson writes that we’re winning the war abroad and losing it here:

After years of learning how to fight an unfamiliar war in Afghanistan and Iraq, and to protect us at home, we are finally getting most things right. But if our soldiers and intelligence agencies have learned how to win, our politically-correct diplomats and the American consumer haven’t – and are doing as much at home to empower radical Islam as those on the front lines are to defeat it.

As Hanson points out, the U.S. military is making long-awaited and tangible progress. But if news outlets remain obsessed with exploiting the “most dramatically” depressing numbers, ignoring the positives, and looking to diminish every potential gain, then they’ll continue to make the overall fight that much harder.

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Power to the Private Sector

Both the Washington Post and the New York Sun are reporting on a major snafu involving Osama bin Laden’s last videotape.

It seems that the SITE Intelligence Group—a private firm that tracks terrorist activities online and is headed by Ritz Katz, an Israeli citizen born in Iraq and now living in the U.S.—managed to get an advance copy of bin Laden’s rantings from an al Qaeda server. SITE shared its haul with the White House and the National Counterterrorism Center with the proviso that it was meant to be kept strictly confidential to protect SITE’s sources. Within hours the video leaked to the press, however, and apparently al Qaeda webmasters were able to shut down the anomaly that SITE had exploited to keep tabs on the terrorists.

This story is disturbing on several levels: first, for the lack of security within the U.S. government (which makes other governments wary of sharing confidential information) and second, for the apparent lack of capacity within the U.S. intelligence community. With all the billions we spend on surveiling al Qaeda, is it really the case that a small, non-governmental organization can get its hands on a major al Qaeda video before the government can? It’s hard to know for sure because the government is never going to come clean about what it does and does not know, but the high-level officials quoted in these news articles certainly did not dispute the notion that SITE can find out things the government can’t.

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Both the Washington Post and the New York Sun are reporting on a major snafu involving Osama bin Laden’s last videotape.

It seems that the SITE Intelligence Group—a private firm that tracks terrorist activities online and is headed by Ritz Katz, an Israeli citizen born in Iraq and now living in the U.S.—managed to get an advance copy of bin Laden’s rantings from an al Qaeda server. SITE shared its haul with the White House and the National Counterterrorism Center with the proviso that it was meant to be kept strictly confidential to protect SITE’s sources. Within hours the video leaked to the press, however, and apparently al Qaeda webmasters were able to shut down the anomaly that SITE had exploited to keep tabs on the terrorists.

This story is disturbing on several levels: first, for the lack of security within the U.S. government (which makes other governments wary of sharing confidential information) and second, for the apparent lack of capacity within the U.S. intelligence community. With all the billions we spend on surveiling al Qaeda, is it really the case that a small, non-governmental organization can get its hands on a major al Qaeda video before the government can? It’s hard to know for sure because the government is never going to come clean about what it does and does not know, but the high-level officials quoted in these news articles certainly did not dispute the notion that SITE can find out things the government can’t.

This seems further to confirm the general impression of ineptitude on the part of the CIA and other intelligence agencies. (See Tim Weiner’s meticulously researched book, Legacy of Ashes, for details of this sorry story’s stretching back to the 1940’s.) There is, however, a silver lining to this news. It is good to know that the private sector is filling in where government lags behind.

That is precisely what we should be doing—taking advantage of our strengths as a society to compensate for the weaknesses of our government. There are a lot of smart, entrepreneurial people in America; and while most of them devote their energies to the “business of America”—i.e., business—some can be very effective freelance terrorist-fighters. In the past, I have suggested mobilizing an army of geeks to fight al Qaeda online; that is precisely what the SITE folks are doing, and more power to them.

In fact, as I write in my latest book, War Made New, the Information Age increasingly is taking power away from large, hierarchical, centralized organizations like the U.S. government and giving more power to small, nimble, decentralized, networked entities like al Qaeda. But SITE and its ilk can be just as nimble and networked as al Qaeda. They can be effective in ways that the lumbering U.S. government cannot. Instead of treating them as unwelcome competition, the government would be well advised to encourage our NGO’s to battle their NGO’s.

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