Commentary Magazine


Topic: National Intelligence

Morning Commentary

It’s “back to reality” week at the White House, where the Obama administration has finally given up on asking Israelis to freeze settlement construction.

And, in a Cheney-esque decision, a D.C. federal judge has dismissed any challenge to the president’s authority to kill an American citizen without due process.

Bill Gertz reports that 25 percent of terrorists released from Gitmo have gone back to the battlefield, according to a report from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.

Jonah Goldberg delivers some sharp analysis on the West’s turning a blind eye to North Korea’s human rights situation: “Eventually this dynasty of misery will end and North Koreans, starved, stunted and beaten, will crawl back into the light of civilization. My hunch is that it will not be easy to meet their gaze, nor history’s. No one will be able to claim they didn’t know what was happening, and very few of us will be able to say we did anything at all to help.”

Pundits have likened Julian Assange to Pentagon Papers leaker Daniel Ellsberg, but the two bear no comparison, says Todd Gitlin at the New Republic: “Ellsberg’s release of the Pentagon Papers was a great democratic act that helped clarify for the American public how its leaders had misled it for years, to the immense detriment of the nation’s honor. By contrast, Wikileaks’s huge data dump, including the names of agents and recent diplomatic cables, is indiscriminate. Assange slashes and burns with impunity. He is a minister of chaos fighting for a world of total transparency. We have enough problems without that.”

And speaking of WikiLeaks, who wrote that story circling mainstream liberal blogs that the Swedish woman accusing Assange of rape has connections to the CIA? The author was Counterpunch’s Israel Shamir — a raving Holocaust-denier and conspiracy theorist, reports Reason magazine.

It’s “back to reality” week at the White House, where the Obama administration has finally given up on asking Israelis to freeze settlement construction.

And, in a Cheney-esque decision, a D.C. federal judge has dismissed any challenge to the president’s authority to kill an American citizen without due process.

Bill Gertz reports that 25 percent of terrorists released from Gitmo have gone back to the battlefield, according to a report from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.

Jonah Goldberg delivers some sharp analysis on the West’s turning a blind eye to North Korea’s human rights situation: “Eventually this dynasty of misery will end and North Koreans, starved, stunted and beaten, will crawl back into the light of civilization. My hunch is that it will not be easy to meet their gaze, nor history’s. No one will be able to claim they didn’t know what was happening, and very few of us will be able to say we did anything at all to help.”

Pundits have likened Julian Assange to Pentagon Papers leaker Daniel Ellsberg, but the two bear no comparison, says Todd Gitlin at the New Republic: “Ellsberg’s release of the Pentagon Papers was a great democratic act that helped clarify for the American public how its leaders had misled it for years, to the immense detriment of the nation’s honor. By contrast, Wikileaks’s huge data dump, including the names of agents and recent diplomatic cables, is indiscriminate. Assange slashes and burns with impunity. He is a minister of chaos fighting for a world of total transparency. We have enough problems without that.”

And speaking of WikiLeaks, who wrote that story circling mainstream liberal blogs that the Swedish woman accusing Assange of rape has connections to the CIA? The author was Counterpunch’s Israel Shamir — a raving Holocaust-denier and conspiracy theorist, reports Reason magazine.

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When Does an Unfulfilled Political Promise Become a Lie?

The president and his hapless attorney general (who, like the former director of National Intelligence, Dennis Blair, seems to be handicapped by his inability to go out in public without unnerving political supporters and giving fodder to opponents) repeatedly promised that they would reverse the Bush administration’s alleged proclivity to politicize the administration of justice. In the end, the accusations against the Bush team proved to be generally groundless (John Yoo and Jay Bybee were cleared, and the allegations that Yoo intentionally provided faulty legal advice were specifically rejected) or trivial (e.g., replacing nine U.S. attorneys, in contrast to other administrations, which replaced all of them). And in the politicization department, no one holds a candle to the Obama team.

This report explains that for all the crying about upholding our legal traditions and rejecting the “lawless” Bush team, the Obama gang is delaying a decision on the KSM trial until the election is in the rear-view mirror. It’s hard to get more political than that (unless, of course, it’s dismissing the New Black Panther intimidation case because left-wing civil rights groups and Holder’s lawyers don’t like enforcing the civil rights laws against minority defendants). Josh Gerstein reports:

Attorney General Eric Holder said the decision over where to hold the trial for alleged 9/11 plotter Khalid Sheikh Mohammad was “weeks away” — three months ago. Now advocates on both sides of the issue say they expect the Obama administration to punt the decision until after the November midterm elections — when the controversial plan could do less damage to the political fortunes of endangered Democrats and might face less resistance on Capitol Hill.

Holder last week explicitly denied the midterms had anything to do with the timing but would only say discussions are continuing. The White House had no comment. Any further stalling could pose a serious political problem for President Barack Obama on the left — where advocates cheered his administration’s plan to break from the Bush administration and give top al-Qaida figures trials in American courtrooms, a sign to the country and the world that U.S.-style justice was enough to try to men accused of the worst crimes in the nation’s history. … Advocates say the signs of foot-dragging are evident. The Democrats’ political fortunes have dipped further, talks on the broader issue of Guantanamo closure have ground to a halt and the House took a little-noticed vote to block transporting any Gitmo detainees to the United States, for any reason.

The Obama administration plainly doesn’t have the nerve to stand up to its own base, so it delays and delays. Not exactly upholding our fundamental values, as Obama often preened. When the Bush administration had to combat endless attacks on its detainee procedures, the left, of course, excoriated the Bush Justice Department for dragging its feet and holding detainees in limbo. Some are shocked, shocked, to discover that the Obama gang is much worse:

“The worst possible outcome is not making a decision. … There’s a genuinely weird paralysis I would not have predicted,” said Ben Wittes, a Brookings Institution scholar who has urged Obama to announce that there will be no trials for the 9/11 suspects. “It’s disgraceful and they should be embarrassed by it. There are pros and cons of any approach you take, but there is no good argument to let this fester indefinitely.”

If there were Democrats willing to exercise any semblance of congressional oversight, the administration might be pressured to end the “weird” and entirely self-imposed paralysis. But for now, onlookers can only fume:

While “swift and certain justice” once was a regular part of the White House lexicon on Guantanamo and detainee trials, that catchphrase has now vanished along with the prospect of anything swift happening to most of the prisoners slated for continued detention or trial.

“Both the 9/11 and the Cole families had the president look them in the eye and say, ‘We’re going to close Gitmo, move forward with this process, and hold people accountable,’” said Commander Kirk Lippold, a proponent of military trials who was the commanding officer aboard the U.S.S. Cole when it was attacked in Yemen in 2000. “When does an unfulfilled political promise become a lie?” Lippold asked.

Now, there’s a question for Holder for his next outing on Capitol Hill.

The president and his hapless attorney general (who, like the former director of National Intelligence, Dennis Blair, seems to be handicapped by his inability to go out in public without unnerving political supporters and giving fodder to opponents) repeatedly promised that they would reverse the Bush administration’s alleged proclivity to politicize the administration of justice. In the end, the accusations against the Bush team proved to be generally groundless (John Yoo and Jay Bybee were cleared, and the allegations that Yoo intentionally provided faulty legal advice were specifically rejected) or trivial (e.g., replacing nine U.S. attorneys, in contrast to other administrations, which replaced all of them). And in the politicization department, no one holds a candle to the Obama team.

This report explains that for all the crying about upholding our legal traditions and rejecting the “lawless” Bush team, the Obama gang is delaying a decision on the KSM trial until the election is in the rear-view mirror. It’s hard to get more political than that (unless, of course, it’s dismissing the New Black Panther intimidation case because left-wing civil rights groups and Holder’s lawyers don’t like enforcing the civil rights laws against minority defendants). Josh Gerstein reports:

Attorney General Eric Holder said the decision over where to hold the trial for alleged 9/11 plotter Khalid Sheikh Mohammad was “weeks away” — three months ago. Now advocates on both sides of the issue say they expect the Obama administration to punt the decision until after the November midterm elections — when the controversial plan could do less damage to the political fortunes of endangered Democrats and might face less resistance on Capitol Hill.

Holder last week explicitly denied the midterms had anything to do with the timing but would only say discussions are continuing. The White House had no comment. Any further stalling could pose a serious political problem for President Barack Obama on the left — where advocates cheered his administration’s plan to break from the Bush administration and give top al-Qaida figures trials in American courtrooms, a sign to the country and the world that U.S.-style justice was enough to try to men accused of the worst crimes in the nation’s history. … Advocates say the signs of foot-dragging are evident. The Democrats’ political fortunes have dipped further, talks on the broader issue of Guantanamo closure have ground to a halt and the House took a little-noticed vote to block transporting any Gitmo detainees to the United States, for any reason.

The Obama administration plainly doesn’t have the nerve to stand up to its own base, so it delays and delays. Not exactly upholding our fundamental values, as Obama often preened. When the Bush administration had to combat endless attacks on its detainee procedures, the left, of course, excoriated the Bush Justice Department for dragging its feet and holding detainees in limbo. Some are shocked, shocked, to discover that the Obama gang is much worse:

“The worst possible outcome is not making a decision. … There’s a genuinely weird paralysis I would not have predicted,” said Ben Wittes, a Brookings Institution scholar who has urged Obama to announce that there will be no trials for the 9/11 suspects. “It’s disgraceful and they should be embarrassed by it. There are pros and cons of any approach you take, but there is no good argument to let this fester indefinitely.”

If there were Democrats willing to exercise any semblance of congressional oversight, the administration might be pressured to end the “weird” and entirely self-imposed paralysis. But for now, onlookers can only fume:

While “swift and certain justice” once was a regular part of the White House lexicon on Guantanamo and detainee trials, that catchphrase has now vanished along with the prospect of anything swift happening to most of the prisoners slated for continued detention or trial.

“Both the 9/11 and the Cole families had the president look them in the eye and say, ‘We’re going to close Gitmo, move forward with this process, and hold people accountable,’” said Commander Kirk Lippold, a proponent of military trials who was the commanding officer aboard the U.S.S. Cole when it was attacked in Yemen in 2000. “When does an unfulfilled political promise become a lie?” Lippold asked.

Now, there’s a question for Holder for his next outing on Capitol Hill.

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Not If — but When — Does Holder Go?

COMMENTARY contributor Gabriel Schoenfeld writes:

Eric Holder has been a disastrous attorney general. “Classic 101 Boobery” was how one Democratic operative memorably called his decision, now on hold, to try Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in a civilian court in lower Manhattan. Other blunders have piled up and the White House has been repeatedly embarrassed by his string of ill-considered decisions and gaffes. With the midterm elections approaching, it would not be surprising if Holder soon finds himself under the Obama bus, lying next to former Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair.

No doubt Holder has become a liability. It’s not clear, however, that shoving him aside before the election would win Obama any brownie points with voters. But one thing is for sure: if the Republicans take either the House or the Senate, Holder will get bounced before new chairmen take over key committees and start firing subpoenas his way. The stonewall act will end, or the Obama administration will wind up in nasty court fights. And we will learn how Holder’s operation, supposedly dedicated to de-politicizing the Justice Department, has been corrupted by left-wing ideologues. For a White House increasingly perceived as a bastion of liberal political hackery, Holder has become one more problem that they’d rather have behind them. Better to have Holder skewered as the former attorney general and to let a brand-new attorney general promise to take a “hard look” at Justice than to watch the agonizing sight of Holder twisting and turning, struggling to explain himself and his crew of leftist lawyers.

COMMENTARY contributor Gabriel Schoenfeld writes:

Eric Holder has been a disastrous attorney general. “Classic 101 Boobery” was how one Democratic operative memorably called his decision, now on hold, to try Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in a civilian court in lower Manhattan. Other blunders have piled up and the White House has been repeatedly embarrassed by his string of ill-considered decisions and gaffes. With the midterm elections approaching, it would not be surprising if Holder soon finds himself under the Obama bus, lying next to former Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair.

No doubt Holder has become a liability. It’s not clear, however, that shoving him aside before the election would win Obama any brownie points with voters. But one thing is for sure: if the Republicans take either the House or the Senate, Holder will get bounced before new chairmen take over key committees and start firing subpoenas his way. The stonewall act will end, or the Obama administration will wind up in nasty court fights. And we will learn how Holder’s operation, supposedly dedicated to de-politicizing the Justice Department, has been corrupted by left-wing ideologues. For a White House increasingly perceived as a bastion of liberal political hackery, Holder has become one more problem that they’d rather have behind them. Better to have Holder skewered as the former attorney general and to let a brand-new attorney general promise to take a “hard look” at Justice than to watch the agonizing sight of Holder twisting and turning, struggling to explain himself and his crew of leftist lawyers.

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When It Comes to National Intelligence, One Head Is Better than Two

The Wall Street Journal reports that the White House is having a tough time finding anyone willing to take on the thankless job of director of National Intelligence after firing retired Admiral Dennis Blair. If the newspaper’s reporting is to be believed, the post has already been turned down by CIA director Leon Panetta and former senator Chuck Hagel. That leaves Gen. James Clapper, the top intelligence official at the Department of Defense, as the front-runner, but his appointment is unpopular on Capitol Hill.

What to do? Here’s a thought from out of left field: why not appoint Panetta to the job while letting him keep his current appointment as CIA director? In fact, why not make it a tradition to have the same person serve as both DNI and DCI? That would actually be in line with the historic expectation that the head of the CIA would also be the head of the entire intelligence community. That promise was never realized, so in 2005 Congress created a separate DNI post. But each DNI has struggled to exercise any real power over individual intelligence agencies, and in particular over the CIA; Blair lost bruising turf battles to Panetta. By putting the same person in charge of both National Intelligence and CIA, you eliminate at least one turf battle. That may very well be the best solution for the short term, and possibly even the long term, unless Congress invests the DNI with vast new powers over budgeting and personnel, which it so far hasn’t been willing to do.

The Wall Street Journal reports that the White House is having a tough time finding anyone willing to take on the thankless job of director of National Intelligence after firing retired Admiral Dennis Blair. If the newspaper’s reporting is to be believed, the post has already been turned down by CIA director Leon Panetta and former senator Chuck Hagel. That leaves Gen. James Clapper, the top intelligence official at the Department of Defense, as the front-runner, but his appointment is unpopular on Capitol Hill.

What to do? Here’s a thought from out of left field: why not appoint Panetta to the job while letting him keep his current appointment as CIA director? In fact, why not make it a tradition to have the same person serve as both DNI and DCI? That would actually be in line with the historic expectation that the head of the CIA would also be the head of the entire intelligence community. That promise was never realized, so in 2005 Congress created a separate DNI post. But each DNI has struggled to exercise any real power over individual intelligence agencies, and in particular over the CIA; Blair lost bruising turf battles to Panetta. By putting the same person in charge of both National Intelligence and CIA, you eliminate at least one turf battle. That may very well be the best solution for the short term, and possibly even the long term, unless Congress invests the DNI with vast new powers over budgeting and personnel, which it so far hasn’t been willing to do.

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What if They Got Away?

Eli Lake reports:

U.S. and allied counterterrorism authorities have launched a global manhunt for English-speaking terrorists trained in Yemen who are planning attacks on the United States, based on intelligence provided by the suspect in the attempted Christmas Day bombing after he began cooperating. . .

Said one official: “It’s safe to say that Abdulmutallab is not the only bullet in the chamber for al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula,” the Islamist terrorist group based in Yemen.

“Farouk took a month to get operational. Once he left [training in Yemen], it did not take very long,” the official said.

So in the five weeks of silence, did the other English-speaking terrorists go into hiding? Are the leads still good? We don’t know, but it is precisely this concern and the danger of leads gone cold that strike at the core of the Obami’s approach. They are concerned about extending constitutional principles to terrorists (and gaining convictions); they should have been focused like a laser on getting all the actionable data as soon as possible to prevent future attacks. Now it seems as though we are scrambling to catch up — and the Obami are trying to prepare us in the event we can’t catch up:

The data about the additional terrorist plots is thought to be one factor behind alarming congressional testimony two weeks ago from senior U.S. intelligence officials, including Director of National Intelligence Dennis C. Blair.

Mr. Blair said he was “certain” that it was al-Qaeda’s priority to attempt an attack on the United States within three to six months.

The increased threat of terrorism emanating from Yemen was outlined in a majority staff report by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee made public last month. The report warned that U.S. criminals were migrating to Yemen for terrorist training.

A smart national security observer makes an additional point: “Enhanced interrogation is something also envisioned by Obama and it need not be torture. The HIG–high value interrogation group–was chartered for this kind of non torture/enhanced interrogation. It was not set up. So getting to him need not have meant waterboarding.” Conservatives would dispute whether waterboarding is torture, but the point is correct: even under the Obami’s own interrogation rules, it is hard to condone this missed opportunity.

So the question comes down to this: what if in the five weeks of the Christmas Day bomber’s Mirandized silence other terrorists got away? And if the unimaginable happens and one of these should strike, what then? Even the potential for such a calamity should convince all but the most hardened Obama sycophants that we are in danger now, greater danger than we would otherwise be, had the search for mass-murders-in-training begun weeks earlier.

There is no excuse for such malfeasance. Those officials who came up with this cockeyed scheme and have now put Americans in greater danger should be sacked. And the American people, once the full account comes out, may well conclude that this includes Obama. He is commander in chief after all.

Eli Lake reports:

U.S. and allied counterterrorism authorities have launched a global manhunt for English-speaking terrorists trained in Yemen who are planning attacks on the United States, based on intelligence provided by the suspect in the attempted Christmas Day bombing after he began cooperating. . .

Said one official: “It’s safe to say that Abdulmutallab is not the only bullet in the chamber for al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula,” the Islamist terrorist group based in Yemen.

“Farouk took a month to get operational. Once he left [training in Yemen], it did not take very long,” the official said.

So in the five weeks of silence, did the other English-speaking terrorists go into hiding? Are the leads still good? We don’t know, but it is precisely this concern and the danger of leads gone cold that strike at the core of the Obami’s approach. They are concerned about extending constitutional principles to terrorists (and gaining convictions); they should have been focused like a laser on getting all the actionable data as soon as possible to prevent future attacks. Now it seems as though we are scrambling to catch up — and the Obami are trying to prepare us in the event we can’t catch up:

The data about the additional terrorist plots is thought to be one factor behind alarming congressional testimony two weeks ago from senior U.S. intelligence officials, including Director of National Intelligence Dennis C. Blair.

Mr. Blair said he was “certain” that it was al-Qaeda’s priority to attempt an attack on the United States within three to six months.

The increased threat of terrorism emanating from Yemen was outlined in a majority staff report by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee made public last month. The report warned that U.S. criminals were migrating to Yemen for terrorist training.

A smart national security observer makes an additional point: “Enhanced interrogation is something also envisioned by Obama and it need not be torture. The HIG–high value interrogation group–was chartered for this kind of non torture/enhanced interrogation. It was not set up. So getting to him need not have meant waterboarding.” Conservatives would dispute whether waterboarding is torture, but the point is correct: even under the Obami’s own interrogation rules, it is hard to condone this missed opportunity.

So the question comes down to this: what if in the five weeks of the Christmas Day bomber’s Mirandized silence other terrorists got away? And if the unimaginable happens and one of these should strike, what then? Even the potential for such a calamity should convince all but the most hardened Obama sycophants that we are in danger now, greater danger than we would otherwise be, had the search for mass-murders-in-training begun weeks earlier.

There is no excuse for such malfeasance. Those officials who came up with this cockeyed scheme and have now put Americans in greater danger should be sacked. And the American people, once the full account comes out, may well conclude that this includes Obama. He is commander in chief after all.

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Did John Brennan Lie?

Marc Thiessen dismantles John Brennan’s anti-terrorism spin on Meet The Press. Brennan claimed that Republicans were informed of the handling of the Christmas Day bomber and, specifically, his Mirandizing. Thiessen explains:

Republicans were assured by the Obama administration that the decision on reading Miranda rights to captured terrorists would be made a on “case-by-case” basis.

So if Brennan is wondering why the Republicans he spoke with did not just assume Abdumutallab would be automatically Mirandized, it is because the Obama administration told them so.

Of course, the HIG was not interrogating Abdulmutallab because — despite all the fanfare with its announcement — it had not yet been stood up. But how were Republicans to know that? Especially since Obama’s own director of national intelligence didn’t know that either?

Needless to say, all the Republicans briefed on the Christmas Day bombing deny they were told Abdulmutallab had been read Miranda warnings:

“Brennan never told me any of plans to Mirandize the Christmas Day bomber — if he had I would told him the Administration was making a mistake,” Sen. Bond said in a statement. “The truth is that the administration did not even consult our intelligence chiefs, as DNI Blair [Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair] testified, so it’s absurd to try to blame Congressional leaders for this dangerous decision that gave terrorists a five week head start to cover their tracks.” . . .

The other lawmakers said through aides on Sunday that they had received brief, non-secure courtesy calls from Mr. Brennan that imparted little substantive information. They also said Mr. Brennan was trying to deflect blame away from the administration.

Mr. Hoekstra’s statement said Mr. Brennan “only informed him that Abdulmutallab had severe burns and was being treated. Contrary to what he attempts to imply, he at no time informed Hoekstra that Abdulmutallab had been Mirandized nor did he seek Hoekstra’s consultation or provide any sort of meaningful briefing. The faulty decision to Mirandize Abdulmuttalab was the Obama administration’s, and its decision alone.”

Sen. McConnell’s spokesman, Don Stewart, said Mr. Brennan “is clearly trying to shift the focus away from the fact that their bad decisions gave terrorists in Yemen a weeks-long head start.”

“The bottom line is this: on Christmas day, a known terrorist, with the help of al Qaeda in Yemen , attempted to kill Americans by blowing up an airplane,” Mr. Stewart said. “Rather than having highly trained terror investigators spend time with this terrorist, the administration decided to treat him as a common criminal who had a right to a government-funded lawyer and advised of his right to remain silent.”

Kevin Smith, a spokesman for Mr. Boehner, echoed that sentiment, adding: “Instead of attempting to dodge responsibility, John Brennan and this administration should focus on fixing the near-catastrophic intelligence breakdown that failed to prevent this attack.”

Perhaps Brennan should be called back to testify under oath and confront the Republicans whom he claimed to brief. The Obama administration has assumed that any spin it puts out will not be rebutted. But the spin has been, rather forcefully. Now the ball is in the administration’s court, and its credibility is on the line.

Marc Thiessen dismantles John Brennan’s anti-terrorism spin on Meet The Press. Brennan claimed that Republicans were informed of the handling of the Christmas Day bomber and, specifically, his Mirandizing. Thiessen explains:

Republicans were assured by the Obama administration that the decision on reading Miranda rights to captured terrorists would be made a on “case-by-case” basis.

So if Brennan is wondering why the Republicans he spoke with did not just assume Abdumutallab would be automatically Mirandized, it is because the Obama administration told them so.

Of course, the HIG was not interrogating Abdulmutallab because — despite all the fanfare with its announcement — it had not yet been stood up. But how were Republicans to know that? Especially since Obama’s own director of national intelligence didn’t know that either?

Needless to say, all the Republicans briefed on the Christmas Day bombing deny they were told Abdulmutallab had been read Miranda warnings:

“Brennan never told me any of plans to Mirandize the Christmas Day bomber — if he had I would told him the Administration was making a mistake,” Sen. Bond said in a statement. “The truth is that the administration did not even consult our intelligence chiefs, as DNI Blair [Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair] testified, so it’s absurd to try to blame Congressional leaders for this dangerous decision that gave terrorists a five week head start to cover their tracks.” . . .

The other lawmakers said through aides on Sunday that they had received brief, non-secure courtesy calls from Mr. Brennan that imparted little substantive information. They also said Mr. Brennan was trying to deflect blame away from the administration.

Mr. Hoekstra’s statement said Mr. Brennan “only informed him that Abdulmutallab had severe burns and was being treated. Contrary to what he attempts to imply, he at no time informed Hoekstra that Abdulmutallab had been Mirandized nor did he seek Hoekstra’s consultation or provide any sort of meaningful briefing. The faulty decision to Mirandize Abdulmuttalab was the Obama administration’s, and its decision alone.”

Sen. McConnell’s spokesman, Don Stewart, said Mr. Brennan “is clearly trying to shift the focus away from the fact that their bad decisions gave terrorists in Yemen a weeks-long head start.”

“The bottom line is this: on Christmas day, a known terrorist, with the help of al Qaeda in Yemen , attempted to kill Americans by blowing up an airplane,” Mr. Stewart said. “Rather than having highly trained terror investigators spend time with this terrorist, the administration decided to treat him as a common criminal who had a right to a government-funded lawyer and advised of his right to remain silent.”

Kevin Smith, a spokesman for Mr. Boehner, echoed that sentiment, adding: “Instead of attempting to dodge responsibility, John Brennan and this administration should focus on fixing the near-catastrophic intelligence breakdown that failed to prevent this attack.”

Perhaps Brennan should be called back to testify under oath and confront the Republicans whom he claimed to brief. The Obama administration has assumed that any spin it puts out will not be rebutted. But the spin has been, rather forcefully. Now the ball is in the administration’s court, and its credibility is on the line.

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Consensus Forms: Obama’s Terror Approach Is Mindless

Broad-based criticism is mounting in response to the Obami’s unthinking fixation on handling terrorists within the criminal-justice model. National Intelligence Director Dennis Blair got the ball rolling in a testimony concerning the Christmas Day bomber. Stephen Hayes quotes his testimony, in which he acknowledges that no thought was given to designating Abdulmutallab for questioning by the high-value interrogation unit:

Frankly, we were thinking more of overseas people and—duh! [here Blair theatrically slaps palm to forehead]—we didn’t put it [into effect] then. That’s what we will do now. .  .  .I was not consulted; the decision was made on the scene. It seemed logical to the people there, but it should have been taken using this HIG format at a higher level.

Hayes explains: “We had a load of information on Abdulmutallab—his background, his movements, his contacts—that never came into play in the cursory questioning of him. And we missed a chance to get a load of information from him which could have greatly aided efforts to head off future attacks and destroy al Qaeda assets in Yemen and elsewhere.”

He is not alone in his condemnation of the Obami’s approach. The Washington Post editors agree that “the decision to try Mr. Abdulmutallab turns out to have resulted not from a deliberative process but as a knee-jerk default to a crime-and-punishment model. . . The administration claims Mr. Abdulmutallab provided valuable information — and probably exhausted his knowledge of al-Qaeda operations — before he clammed up. This was immediately after he was read his Miranda rights and provided with a court-appointed lawyer. The truth is, we may never know whether the administration made the right call or whether it squandered a valuable opportunity.”

How could this be, you ask? Well, it’s simple. Obama made the call. This is his vision of how we should respond to terrorism. He is the author of the “not Bush” anti-terror approach. He has empowered Eric Holder to wage war on the intelligence community and to put Justice Department lawyers, rather than intelligence officials, in the driver seat. If this seems to have been foolhardy and fraught with peril, it will take bipartisan action to reverse it. Oversight hearings, use of the power of the purse, and ultimately legislation to determine the jurisdiction of the federal course are all within the purview of Congress. As Democratic lawmakers have learned on domestic policy, following Obama’s lead is politically unwise. Perhaps it is time they showed some independence and exercised their own constitutional responsibilities to think through our approach and set a sensible policy for handling terrorists whom we capture. The White House sure isn’t doing so.

Broad-based criticism is mounting in response to the Obami’s unthinking fixation on handling terrorists within the criminal-justice model. National Intelligence Director Dennis Blair got the ball rolling in a testimony concerning the Christmas Day bomber. Stephen Hayes quotes his testimony, in which he acknowledges that no thought was given to designating Abdulmutallab for questioning by the high-value interrogation unit:

Frankly, we were thinking more of overseas people and—duh! [here Blair theatrically slaps palm to forehead]—we didn’t put it [into effect] then. That’s what we will do now. .  .  .I was not consulted; the decision was made on the scene. It seemed logical to the people there, but it should have been taken using this HIG format at a higher level.

Hayes explains: “We had a load of information on Abdulmutallab—his background, his movements, his contacts—that never came into play in the cursory questioning of him. And we missed a chance to get a load of information from him which could have greatly aided efforts to head off future attacks and destroy al Qaeda assets in Yemen and elsewhere.”

He is not alone in his condemnation of the Obami’s approach. The Washington Post editors agree that “the decision to try Mr. Abdulmutallab turns out to have resulted not from a deliberative process but as a knee-jerk default to a crime-and-punishment model. . . The administration claims Mr. Abdulmutallab provided valuable information — and probably exhausted his knowledge of al-Qaeda operations — before he clammed up. This was immediately after he was read his Miranda rights and provided with a court-appointed lawyer. The truth is, we may never know whether the administration made the right call or whether it squandered a valuable opportunity.”

How could this be, you ask? Well, it’s simple. Obama made the call. This is his vision of how we should respond to terrorism. He is the author of the “not Bush” anti-terror approach. He has empowered Eric Holder to wage war on the intelligence community and to put Justice Department lawyers, rather than intelligence officials, in the driver seat. If this seems to have been foolhardy and fraught with peril, it will take bipartisan action to reverse it. Oversight hearings, use of the power of the purse, and ultimately legislation to determine the jurisdiction of the federal course are all within the purview of Congress. As Democratic lawmakers have learned on domestic policy, following Obama’s lead is politically unwise. Perhaps it is time they showed some independence and exercised their own constitutional responsibilities to think through our approach and set a sensible policy for handling terrorists whom we capture. The White House sure isn’t doing so.

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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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Flotsam and Jetsam

Noemie Emery remembers Dean Barnett. Mickey Kaus adds: “This past year I would gladly have traded the entire national staffs of the New York Times, Washington Post and all four TV networks for any two of Barnett, Deborah Orin, Marjorie Williams and Cathy Seipp. They were all immune to Democratic BS.”

Obama’s TSA nominee withdraws (gets dumped?) on a busy news day.

George Will reminds us that the fallout from Obamaism could be much worse than a single congressional election: “Today, Democrats worrying about a reprise of 1994 should worry more about a rerun of the 1966 midterm elections, which began a Republican resurgence that presaged victories in seven of the next 10 presidential elections. The 2008 elections gave liberals the curse of opportunity, and they have used it to reveal themselves ruinously.”

Is Obama bending to reality? “President Barack Obama suggested he’s open to Congress passing a scaled-back health-care bill, potentially sacrificing much of his signature policy initiative as chaos engulfed Capitol Hill Wednesday. Top Democrats said they would press ahead despite growing doubts among rank-and-file members that they can pass a bill they’ve been laboring over for nearly a year. A host of ideas offered in recent days have lost favor.” Lost favor? Perhaps “melted in the aftermath of post-Brown panic” is a more precise description.

Rep. Bart Stupak seems to agree with a scaled-down health-care bill: “Tuesday’s results have created an opportunity for President Obama to deliver a final health-care reform bill. It may mean a scaled back proposal, but a proposal that focuses on the most critical needs of Americans. I remain confident that Congress will pass a health-care bill that finally grants Americans access to affordable, quality health-care coverage.”

Another non-achievement by the Obami: “Just a month after world leaders fashioned a tentative and nonbinding agreement at the climate change summit meeting in Copenhagen, the deal already appears at risk of coming undone, the top United Nations climate official warned on Wednesday.”

If Dennis Blair is on the way out, he’s going out in style, dumping on Obama’s antiterror approach: “The nation’s intelligence chief said Wednesday that the Christmas Day airline bombing suspect should have been treated as a terrorism detainee when the plane landed. That would have meant initial questioning by special interrogators. … Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair told the Senate Homeland Security Committee that he was not consulted on whether Abdulmutallab should be questioned by the recently created High-Value Detainee Interrogation Group or HIG.”

But then Blair is forced to walk it back in a late-afternoon statement: “‘The FBI interrogated Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab when they took him into custody,’ the statement said. ‘They received important intelligence at that time, drawing on the FBI’s expertise in interrogation that will be available in the HIG once it is fully operational.’” How many Friday news dumps will Blair survive?

More Democratic victims: “Massachusetts Republican Scott Brown’s upset victory over Democrat Martha Coakley Tuesday night altered the national political landscape in the health care debate and could have profound repercussions for the Democratic majority in Congress, including Arkansas’ closely-watched U.S. Senate race. … Two-term incumbent Democrat Sen. Blanche Lincoln, whose seat will be one of the most hotly contested races in the nation in 2010, continues to lose ground in her favorable ratings as well as her job performance among Arkansas voters.” Overall, only 38 percent approve of her performance, while 56 disapprove.

Noemie Emery remembers Dean Barnett. Mickey Kaus adds: “This past year I would gladly have traded the entire national staffs of the New York Times, Washington Post and all four TV networks for any two of Barnett, Deborah Orin, Marjorie Williams and Cathy Seipp. They were all immune to Democratic BS.”

Obama’s TSA nominee withdraws (gets dumped?) on a busy news day.

George Will reminds us that the fallout from Obamaism could be much worse than a single congressional election: “Today, Democrats worrying about a reprise of 1994 should worry more about a rerun of the 1966 midterm elections, which began a Republican resurgence that presaged victories in seven of the next 10 presidential elections. The 2008 elections gave liberals the curse of opportunity, and they have used it to reveal themselves ruinously.”

Is Obama bending to reality? “President Barack Obama suggested he’s open to Congress passing a scaled-back health-care bill, potentially sacrificing much of his signature policy initiative as chaos engulfed Capitol Hill Wednesday. Top Democrats said they would press ahead despite growing doubts among rank-and-file members that they can pass a bill they’ve been laboring over for nearly a year. A host of ideas offered in recent days have lost favor.” Lost favor? Perhaps “melted in the aftermath of post-Brown panic” is a more precise description.

Rep. Bart Stupak seems to agree with a scaled-down health-care bill: “Tuesday’s results have created an opportunity for President Obama to deliver a final health-care reform bill. It may mean a scaled back proposal, but a proposal that focuses on the most critical needs of Americans. I remain confident that Congress will pass a health-care bill that finally grants Americans access to affordable, quality health-care coverage.”

Another non-achievement by the Obami: “Just a month after world leaders fashioned a tentative and nonbinding agreement at the climate change summit meeting in Copenhagen, the deal already appears at risk of coming undone, the top United Nations climate official warned on Wednesday.”

If Dennis Blair is on the way out, he’s going out in style, dumping on Obama’s antiterror approach: “The nation’s intelligence chief said Wednesday that the Christmas Day airline bombing suspect should have been treated as a terrorism detainee when the plane landed. That would have meant initial questioning by special interrogators. … Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair told the Senate Homeland Security Committee that he was not consulted on whether Abdulmutallab should be questioned by the recently created High-Value Detainee Interrogation Group or HIG.”

But then Blair is forced to walk it back in a late-afternoon statement: “‘The FBI interrogated Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab when they took him into custody,’ the statement said. ‘They received important intelligence at that time, drawing on the FBI’s expertise in interrogation that will be available in the HIG once it is fully operational.’” How many Friday news dumps will Blair survive?

More Democratic victims: “Massachusetts Republican Scott Brown’s upset victory over Democrat Martha Coakley Tuesday night altered the national political landscape in the health care debate and could have profound repercussions for the Democratic majority in Congress, including Arkansas’ closely-watched U.S. Senate race. … Two-term incumbent Democrat Sen. Blanche Lincoln, whose seat will be one of the most hotly contested races in the nation in 2010, continues to lose ground in her favorable ratings as well as her job performance among Arkansas voters.” Overall, only 38 percent approve of her performance, while 56 disapprove.

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Intelligence Policy

John Bolton has an excellent editorial in the Wall Street Journal discussing intelligence community (IC) organization. He ultimately recommends doing away with the director of National Intelligence and resubordinating the IC to the National Security Council (NSC), a proposal with some merit. He also makes the exceptional point that one of our biggest issues with intelligence is not so much collecting or analyzing it as assessing its implications.

I confess to being something of a hobby-horsewoman on the latter topic, and I am energized to see Bolton bring it up. He correctly implies that it is squarely within the purview of the president and his advisers to assess the implications of intelligence. Everyone on earth may agree that Iran has a nuclear program that could be readily adapted to the production of nuclear weapons, but only the president of the United States has been elected to decide the implications of that for the policy of his nation. Assessing these implications is inherently a political process, and that means the IC should not be performing it at all, except under policy guidance from the executive.

Intelligence cannot answer the question “Should we strike Iran now?” That is a policy question, but too often a great confusion arises on that head, abetted by the handling of intelligence itself. The “Iraqi WMD” controversy is a superb example of such confusion. No form of intelligence could have ensured that we struck Iraq at precisely the right moment to guarantee a smoking gun. The president made a policy decision; his critics, however, have argued ever since that he made an intelligence decision. Their unspoken premise is that intelligence can naturally appear in a form that obviates policy assessments and eliminates risk, and that Bush truncated some accepted process by not waiting for it to do so.

Intelligence doesn’t do that, however. Bolton is right to raise the issue of assessing policy implications, because it’s in this area that the controversy and vulnerability of the process are concentrated. Every celebrated instance of public dissatisfaction with intelligence is predicated on assumptions about the policy implications of that intelligence. Those assumptions are rarely examined in any systematic way, and presidents almost never address them or seek to shape them in the public mind.

Keeping open the national-security option of preemption, which is peculiarly reliant on intelligence, means that the question of policy implications from intelligence will recur for us in the future. The organizational correctives we apply should honor the executive’s constitutional responsibility for assessing policy implications. Bolton may be right about having the IC report to the NSC; that arrangement would in some ways mimic how the military plugs intelligence into planning and execution. At some point, however, we will have to come to grips with the persistent and legitimate possibility that, in any given situation, what we are seeing among our politicians is a disagreement on policy implications rather than on the intelligence itself. The IC is not responsible for the management or the outcomes of such disputes, and it should not be organized in a way that encourages it to participate in them.

John Bolton has an excellent editorial in the Wall Street Journal discussing intelligence community (IC) organization. He ultimately recommends doing away with the director of National Intelligence and resubordinating the IC to the National Security Council (NSC), a proposal with some merit. He also makes the exceptional point that one of our biggest issues with intelligence is not so much collecting or analyzing it as assessing its implications.

I confess to being something of a hobby-horsewoman on the latter topic, and I am energized to see Bolton bring it up. He correctly implies that it is squarely within the purview of the president and his advisers to assess the implications of intelligence. Everyone on earth may agree that Iran has a nuclear program that could be readily adapted to the production of nuclear weapons, but only the president of the United States has been elected to decide the implications of that for the policy of his nation. Assessing these implications is inherently a political process, and that means the IC should not be performing it at all, except under policy guidance from the executive.

Intelligence cannot answer the question “Should we strike Iran now?” That is a policy question, but too often a great confusion arises on that head, abetted by the handling of intelligence itself. The “Iraqi WMD” controversy is a superb example of such confusion. No form of intelligence could have ensured that we struck Iraq at precisely the right moment to guarantee a smoking gun. The president made a policy decision; his critics, however, have argued ever since that he made an intelligence decision. Their unspoken premise is that intelligence can naturally appear in a form that obviates policy assessments and eliminates risk, and that Bush truncated some accepted process by not waiting for it to do so.

Intelligence doesn’t do that, however. Bolton is right to raise the issue of assessing policy implications, because it’s in this area that the controversy and vulnerability of the process are concentrated. Every celebrated instance of public dissatisfaction with intelligence is predicated on assumptions about the policy implications of that intelligence. Those assumptions are rarely examined in any systematic way, and presidents almost never address them or seek to shape them in the public mind.

Keeping open the national-security option of preemption, which is peculiarly reliant on intelligence, means that the question of policy implications from intelligence will recur for us in the future. The organizational correctives we apply should honor the executive’s constitutional responsibility for assessing policy implications. Bolton may be right about having the IC report to the NSC; that arrangement would in some ways mimic how the military plugs intelligence into planning and execution. At some point, however, we will have to come to grips with the persistent and legitimate possibility that, in any given situation, what we are seeing among our politicians is a disagreement on policy implications rather than on the intelligence itself. The IC is not responsible for the management or the outcomes of such disputes, and it should not be organized in a way that encourages it to participate in them.

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Is Obama Really Shaken?

David Broder, like many pundits more conservative in outlook who have hoped for an Obama “Ah ha!” moment, seems to think that Obama will have an epiphany in the wake of the Christmas Day bombing plot. He contends:

The near-miss by a passenger plotting to blow up an American airliner as it flew into Detroit seems to have shocked this president as much as the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon did the last.

Really? It’s hard to discern. Obama has not ordered a review and reconsideration of his fundamental policy decisions. He has not declared that classifying terrorists as criminal defendants may require a second look. He’s still bent on closing Guantanamo. Eric Holder and the lefty lawyers still reign supreme at the Justice Department, and KSM is headed for trial. And so far, not a single Obama official has been fired for what the president concedes was an abominable screwup. We have no new declaration of U.S. policy. How shocked could he be?

Broder divines that the “Christmas plot appears to have shaken Obama like nothing else that happened in his first year.” But how can we tell? This seems, frankly, to be a bit of wishful thinking, just as observers listening to the Nobel Peace Prize speech saw glimmers of a tougher Iran policy or a more robust assertion of American exceptionalism. Certainly we’ve come a long way since the Hawaii performance, when the president proclaimed the Christmas Day bombing plot the work of an “isolated extremist,” but the reaction has been a flurry of incremental, bureaucratic adjustments. Former 9/11 commission member John Lehman let it rip, deriding the Obama response:

President Obama just doesn’t get it. … I don’t think he has a clue. It’s all pure spin. He’s ignoring key issues and taking respectable professionals like John Brennan and turning them into hacks and shills. It’s beyond contempt. The president has ignored the 9/11 Commission’s report. … This whole idea that we can fix things by jumping higher and faster is ridiculous. The fact is that the system worked just like we said it would work if the president failed to give the Director of National Intelligence the tools he needs: it’s bloated, bureaucratic, layered, and stultified.

President Obama continues to totally ignore one of the important thrusts of our 9/11 recommendations, which is that you have to approach counterterrorism as a multiagency intelligence issue, and not as a law-enforcement issue.

Obama and his political gurus have figured out that the president’s national-security stance — downplaying the war against Islamic fundamentalists, hyper-legalistic rhetoric, a refusal to recognize jihadist attacks as part of a concerted war on the West, etc. — is a political loser. The public, Congress, and the media recoiled in horror when they saw the president’s ho-hum reaction to an attempt to incinerate nearly 300 people. But understanding the political peril does not signify a commitment to rethink policy assumptions. That would require a fundamental reorientation away from the “not Bush” policies, including the decision to classify terrorists captured in the U.S. as criminal defendants and to try them in civilian courts. Even the Washington Post editors sense that the response is somehow not commensurate with the gravity of the intelligence failure:

Mr. Obama’s solutions have the air of the small bore: a “training course” for the National Security Agency; a “dedicated capability responsible for enhancing record information on possible terrorists … for watchlisting purposes.” Perhaps a series of individual tweaks will do the job. But the administration report suggests that the problem is less tractable than Mr. Obama has acknowledged. His depiction Thursday of the shortcomings was admirably honest and more frightening than previously portrayed. His proposed fixes did not entirely reassure.

The fixes do not reassure because they do not begin to address the most basic errors of the Obama administration and its odd predilection, made odder by mismatched rhetoric, to see the war against Islamic fundamentalists as peripheral to its agenda. We will know that Obama has really been “shaken” when the war on Islamic terrorists is identified as such, when that becomes the core mission of the administration and when the president’s policies and not just his rhetoric changes.

David Broder, like many pundits more conservative in outlook who have hoped for an Obama “Ah ha!” moment, seems to think that Obama will have an epiphany in the wake of the Christmas Day bombing plot. He contends:

The near-miss by a passenger plotting to blow up an American airliner as it flew into Detroit seems to have shocked this president as much as the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon did the last.

Really? It’s hard to discern. Obama has not ordered a review and reconsideration of his fundamental policy decisions. He has not declared that classifying terrorists as criminal defendants may require a second look. He’s still bent on closing Guantanamo. Eric Holder and the lefty lawyers still reign supreme at the Justice Department, and KSM is headed for trial. And so far, not a single Obama official has been fired for what the president concedes was an abominable screwup. We have no new declaration of U.S. policy. How shocked could he be?

Broder divines that the “Christmas plot appears to have shaken Obama like nothing else that happened in his first year.” But how can we tell? This seems, frankly, to be a bit of wishful thinking, just as observers listening to the Nobel Peace Prize speech saw glimmers of a tougher Iran policy or a more robust assertion of American exceptionalism. Certainly we’ve come a long way since the Hawaii performance, when the president proclaimed the Christmas Day bombing plot the work of an “isolated extremist,” but the reaction has been a flurry of incremental, bureaucratic adjustments. Former 9/11 commission member John Lehman let it rip, deriding the Obama response:

President Obama just doesn’t get it. … I don’t think he has a clue. It’s all pure spin. He’s ignoring key issues and taking respectable professionals like John Brennan and turning them into hacks and shills. It’s beyond contempt. The president has ignored the 9/11 Commission’s report. … This whole idea that we can fix things by jumping higher and faster is ridiculous. The fact is that the system worked just like we said it would work if the president failed to give the Director of National Intelligence the tools he needs: it’s bloated, bureaucratic, layered, and stultified.

President Obama continues to totally ignore one of the important thrusts of our 9/11 recommendations, which is that you have to approach counterterrorism as a multiagency intelligence issue, and not as a law-enforcement issue.

Obama and his political gurus have figured out that the president’s national-security stance — downplaying the war against Islamic fundamentalists, hyper-legalistic rhetoric, a refusal to recognize jihadist attacks as part of a concerted war on the West, etc. — is a political loser. The public, Congress, and the media recoiled in horror when they saw the president’s ho-hum reaction to an attempt to incinerate nearly 300 people. But understanding the political peril does not signify a commitment to rethink policy assumptions. That would require a fundamental reorientation away from the “not Bush” policies, including the decision to classify terrorists captured in the U.S. as criminal defendants and to try them in civilian courts. Even the Washington Post editors sense that the response is somehow not commensurate with the gravity of the intelligence failure:

Mr. Obama’s solutions have the air of the small bore: a “training course” for the National Security Agency; a “dedicated capability responsible for enhancing record information on possible terrorists … for watchlisting purposes.” Perhaps a series of individual tweaks will do the job. But the administration report suggests that the problem is less tractable than Mr. Obama has acknowledged. His depiction Thursday of the shortcomings was admirably honest and more frightening than previously portrayed. His proposed fixes did not entirely reassure.

The fixes do not reassure because they do not begin to address the most basic errors of the Obama administration and its odd predilection, made odder by mismatched rhetoric, to see the war against Islamic fundamentalists as peripheral to its agenda. We will know that Obama has really been “shaken” when the war on Islamic terrorists is identified as such, when that becomes the core mission of the administration and when the president’s policies and not just his rhetoric changes.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Looks like there was good reason to hold up the TSA nominee: “The White House nominee to lead the Transportation Security Administration gave Congress misleading information about incidents in which he inappropriately accessed a federal database, possibly in violation of privacy laws, documents obtained by the Washington Post show.”

Another good reason to dump Dennis Blair: “A U.S. counter-terrorism official is sharply challenging the assertion Thursday by Dennis C. Blair, the Director of National Intelligence, that the al-Qaeda terrorist network is ‘diminished.’  .  .  . The U.S. counter-terrorism official told Politico: ‘Blair should, at a minimum, take a mulligan on this. He seems to be suggesting here that al-Qaeda is somehow less of a threat these days. That just ain’t so. And someone should remind him that inexperienced individuals have been responsible for carrying out major attacks. That includes the muscle men on 9/11 and a number of other terrorist attacks since then.’”

A taste of ObamaCare: “The Mayo Clinic, praised by President Barack Obama as a national model for efficient health care, will stop accepting Medicare patients as of tomorrow at one of its primary-care clinics in Arizona, saying the U.S. government pays too little. . . Mayo’s move to drop Medicare patients may be copied by family doctors, some of whom have stopped accepting new patients from the program, said Lori Heim, president of the American Academy of Family Physicians.”

Déjà vu all over again: “The former chairman of the 9/11 commission said that communications lapses that allowed a suspected terrorist to board a Detroit jetliner echoed the mistakes leading up to the 9/11 attacks. ‘It’s like reading the same script over again,’ said Thomas H. Kean, the 9/11 investigation’s top Republican and a former governor of New Jersey.”

A revolt is brewing against Gov.Charlie Crist’s state GOP chairman. Sure does seem as though “Charlie Crist is off his game. Way off his game, which was spectacular when it was good. . .Nowadays, Democrats have pretty much abandoned him, and hard-core GOP conservatives are flocking to Marco Rubio. Charlie’s not only lost his mo, he’s lost his mojo.”

Is David Broder kidding? “If there is anyone in the administration who embodies President Obama’s preference for quiet competence with ‘no drama,’ it is Janet Napolitano.” Well, she does seem to embody the essence of the Obama administration, but this is hardly reason for praise.

I suspect most Americans agree with Charles Krauthammer on this one: “The reason the country is uneasy about the Obama administration’s response to this attack is a distinct sense of not just incompetence but incomprehension. From the very beginning, President Obama has relentlessly tried to play down and deny the nature of the terrorist threat we continue to face. . . Any government can through laxity let someone slip through the cracks. But a government that refuses to admit that we are at war, indeed, refuses even to name the enemy — jihadist is a word banished from the Obama lexicon — turns laxity into a governing philosophy.”

The media elites didn’t make too much of this in the aftermath of the Fort Hood massacre, but now they have perked up: “The apparent ties between the Nigerian man charged with plotting to blow up an airliner on Christmas Day and a radical American-born Yemeni imam have cast a spotlight on a world of charismatic clerics who wield their Internet celebrity to indoctrinate young Muslims with extremist ideology and recruit them for al-Qaeda, American officials and counterterrorism specialists said.” But remember that the Obami are nevertheless going to give KSM a  public trial so he can use his “celebrity to indoctrinate young Muslims with extremist ideology and recruit them for al-Qaeda.”

Andy McCarthy on the Obami’s priorities: “Sure, this government can’t figure out how to move someone from the terrorist database to the no-fly list, but you can rest assured they’re fixated on the real problem:  bloggers who report that TSA issued a directive to increase security after the Christmas bombing attempt.”

This is how the housing crisis seems to have started: “The Obama administration’s $75 billion program to protect homeowners from foreclosure has been widely pronounced a disappointment, and some economists and real estate experts now contend it has done more harm than good.Since President Obama announced the program in February, it has lowered mortgage payments on a trial basis for hundreds of thousands of people but has largely failed to provide permanent relief. Critics increasingly argue that the program, Making Home Affordable, has raised false hopes among people who simply cannot afford their homes.”

Looks like there was good reason to hold up the TSA nominee: “The White House nominee to lead the Transportation Security Administration gave Congress misleading information about incidents in which he inappropriately accessed a federal database, possibly in violation of privacy laws, documents obtained by the Washington Post show.”

Another good reason to dump Dennis Blair: “A U.S. counter-terrorism official is sharply challenging the assertion Thursday by Dennis C. Blair, the Director of National Intelligence, that the al-Qaeda terrorist network is ‘diminished.’  .  .  . The U.S. counter-terrorism official told Politico: ‘Blair should, at a minimum, take a mulligan on this. He seems to be suggesting here that al-Qaeda is somehow less of a threat these days. That just ain’t so. And someone should remind him that inexperienced individuals have been responsible for carrying out major attacks. That includes the muscle men on 9/11 and a number of other terrorist attacks since then.’”

A taste of ObamaCare: “The Mayo Clinic, praised by President Barack Obama as a national model for efficient health care, will stop accepting Medicare patients as of tomorrow at one of its primary-care clinics in Arizona, saying the U.S. government pays too little. . . Mayo’s move to drop Medicare patients may be copied by family doctors, some of whom have stopped accepting new patients from the program, said Lori Heim, president of the American Academy of Family Physicians.”

Déjà vu all over again: “The former chairman of the 9/11 commission said that communications lapses that allowed a suspected terrorist to board a Detroit jetliner echoed the mistakes leading up to the 9/11 attacks. ‘It’s like reading the same script over again,’ said Thomas H. Kean, the 9/11 investigation’s top Republican and a former governor of New Jersey.”

A revolt is brewing against Gov.Charlie Crist’s state GOP chairman. Sure does seem as though “Charlie Crist is off his game. Way off his game, which was spectacular when it was good. . .Nowadays, Democrats have pretty much abandoned him, and hard-core GOP conservatives are flocking to Marco Rubio. Charlie’s not only lost his mo, he’s lost his mojo.”

Is David Broder kidding? “If there is anyone in the administration who embodies President Obama’s preference for quiet competence with ‘no drama,’ it is Janet Napolitano.” Well, she does seem to embody the essence of the Obama administration, but this is hardly reason for praise.

I suspect most Americans agree with Charles Krauthammer on this one: “The reason the country is uneasy about the Obama administration’s response to this attack is a distinct sense of not just incompetence but incomprehension. From the very beginning, President Obama has relentlessly tried to play down and deny the nature of the terrorist threat we continue to face. . . Any government can through laxity let someone slip through the cracks. But a government that refuses to admit that we are at war, indeed, refuses even to name the enemy — jihadist is a word banished from the Obama lexicon — turns laxity into a governing philosophy.”

The media elites didn’t make too much of this in the aftermath of the Fort Hood massacre, but now they have perked up: “The apparent ties between the Nigerian man charged with plotting to blow up an airliner on Christmas Day and a radical American-born Yemeni imam have cast a spotlight on a world of charismatic clerics who wield their Internet celebrity to indoctrinate young Muslims with extremist ideology and recruit them for al-Qaeda, American officials and counterterrorism specialists said.” But remember that the Obami are nevertheless going to give KSM a  public trial so he can use his “celebrity to indoctrinate young Muslims with extremist ideology and recruit them for al-Qaeda.”

Andy McCarthy on the Obami’s priorities: “Sure, this government can’t figure out how to move someone from the terrorist database to the no-fly list, but you can rest assured they’re fixated on the real problem:  bloggers who report that TSA issued a directive to increase security after the Christmas bombing attempt.”

This is how the housing crisis seems to have started: “The Obama administration’s $75 billion program to protect homeowners from foreclosure has been widely pronounced a disappointment, and some economists and real estate experts now contend it has done more harm than good.Since President Obama announced the program in February, it has lowered mortgage payments on a trial basis for hundreds of thousands of people but has largely failed to provide permanent relief. Critics increasingly argue that the program, Making Home Affordable, has raised false hopes among people who simply cannot afford their homes.”

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Connecting Dots

As we learn more about the catastrophic intelligence failure that allowed the Christmas Day bomber to get on a plane and come perilously close to slaughtering hundreds of passengers, the question inevitably centers on one question: who dropped the ball? This report gives as good an answer as any:

During Tuesday’s appearance, the president also said: “It’s been widely reported that the father of the suspect in the Christmas incident warned U.S. officials in Africa about his son’s extremist views. It now appears that weeks ago this information was passed to a component of our intelligence community, but was not effectively distributed so as to get the suspect’s name on a no-fly list.”

That “component” is apparently the NCTC, created on the recommendation of the 9/11 Commission. It’s not clear what analysts there should have done with the information. One possibility would have been to alert FBI agents.

The U.S. intelligence official said: “The United States government set up NCTC — and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence — to connect the dots on terrorism. If somebody thinks it could have been done better in this case, they know where to go for answers.”

And the Director of National Intelligence is Dennis Blair. If his job is to connect the dots and his boss says there was a catastrophic failure to do just that, how can Blair remain? At the very least he needs to explain what went wrong and why he didn’t successfully perform the sole task that was the purpose of his position.

Yesterday Rep. Peter King complained that the Obami have built an “iron curtain” and have a “stonewalling mentality” when it comes to sharing information with Congress on terrorist attacks. Actually, it seems as though they didn’t share information with each-other either — and now their reticence to explain anything to Congress can more clearly be seen as an effort to mask their own gross incompetence. A serious Congressional or independent investigation would be a smart idea. Otherwise, we may never know exactly what happened or what went wrong.

As we learn more about the catastrophic intelligence failure that allowed the Christmas Day bomber to get on a plane and come perilously close to slaughtering hundreds of passengers, the question inevitably centers on one question: who dropped the ball? This report gives as good an answer as any:

During Tuesday’s appearance, the president also said: “It’s been widely reported that the father of the suspect in the Christmas incident warned U.S. officials in Africa about his son’s extremist views. It now appears that weeks ago this information was passed to a component of our intelligence community, but was not effectively distributed so as to get the suspect’s name on a no-fly list.”

That “component” is apparently the NCTC, created on the recommendation of the 9/11 Commission. It’s not clear what analysts there should have done with the information. One possibility would have been to alert FBI agents.

The U.S. intelligence official said: “The United States government set up NCTC — and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence — to connect the dots on terrorism. If somebody thinks it could have been done better in this case, they know where to go for answers.”

And the Director of National Intelligence is Dennis Blair. If his job is to connect the dots and his boss says there was a catastrophic failure to do just that, how can Blair remain? At the very least he needs to explain what went wrong and why he didn’t successfully perform the sole task that was the purpose of his position.

Yesterday Rep. Peter King complained that the Obami have built an “iron curtain” and have a “stonewalling mentality” when it comes to sharing information with Congress on terrorist attacks. Actually, it seems as though they didn’t share information with each-other either — and now their reticence to explain anything to Congress can more clearly be seen as an effort to mask their own gross incompetence. A serious Congressional or independent investigation would be a smart idea. Otherwise, we may never know exactly what happened or what went wrong.

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Crying Sheep

When you cry wolf once too often, you lose credibility. The same thing happens when you cry sheep.

Is the CIA now crying sheep about al Qaeda? In an interview with the Washington Post, CIA Director Michael Hayden sketches a series of triumphs in the global war on terrorism:

Near strategic defeat of al-Qaeda in Iraq. Near strategic defeat for al-Qaeda in Saudi Arabia. Significant setbacks for al-Qaeda globally — and here I’m going to use the word “ideologically” — as a lot of the Islamic world pushes back on their form of Islam.

Before we uncork the champagne, let’s recall that it was less than a year ago that U.S. intelligence estimated that al Qaeda

is and will remain the most serious terrorist threat to the Homeland, as its central leadership continues to plan high-impact plots, while pushing others in extremist Sunni communities to mimic its efforts and to supplement its capabilities. We assess the group has protected or regenerated key elements of its Homeland attack capability, including: a safehaven in the Pakistan Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), operational lieutenants, and its top leadership. Although we have discovered only a handful of individuals in the United States with ties to al-Qaeda senior leadership since 9/11, we judge that al-Qaeda will intensify its efforts to put operatives here.

As a result, we judge that the United States currently is in a heightened threat environment.

Let’s also recall that in January 2007, John Negroponte, then Director of National Intelligence, offered a wolf-like assessment of Iran:

Our assessment is that Tehran is determined to develop nuclear weapons. It is continuing to pursue uranium enrichment and has shown more interest in protracting negotiations than reaching an acceptable diplomatic solution.

In December of that year, the same office, now led by Mike McConnell, issued a National Intelligence Estimate was crying sheep:

We judge with high confidence that in fall 2003, Tehran halted its nuclear weapons program; we also assess with moderate-to-high confidence that Tehran at a minimum is keeping open the option to develop nuclear weapons.

And of course, the shadow hanging over all U.S. intelligence assessments is the botched 2003 estimate that Iraq had an active WMD program. But in this instance the wolf turned out to be a sheep.

Restoring the credibility of U.S. intelligence is an urgent task. What is the point of having intelligence agencies if we cannot even place a modicum of trust in their words?

But how should they go about the task? Ultimately, there is only one approach that will work: get rid of the clowns and start getting things right.

When you cry wolf once too often, you lose credibility. The same thing happens when you cry sheep.

Is the CIA now crying sheep about al Qaeda? In an interview with the Washington Post, CIA Director Michael Hayden sketches a series of triumphs in the global war on terrorism:

Near strategic defeat of al-Qaeda in Iraq. Near strategic defeat for al-Qaeda in Saudi Arabia. Significant setbacks for al-Qaeda globally — and here I’m going to use the word “ideologically” — as a lot of the Islamic world pushes back on their form of Islam.

Before we uncork the champagne, let’s recall that it was less than a year ago that U.S. intelligence estimated that al Qaeda

is and will remain the most serious terrorist threat to the Homeland, as its central leadership continues to plan high-impact plots, while pushing others in extremist Sunni communities to mimic its efforts and to supplement its capabilities. We assess the group has protected or regenerated key elements of its Homeland attack capability, including: a safehaven in the Pakistan Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), operational lieutenants, and its top leadership. Although we have discovered only a handful of individuals in the United States with ties to al-Qaeda senior leadership since 9/11, we judge that al-Qaeda will intensify its efforts to put operatives here.

As a result, we judge that the United States currently is in a heightened threat environment.

Let’s also recall that in January 2007, John Negroponte, then Director of National Intelligence, offered a wolf-like assessment of Iran:

Our assessment is that Tehran is determined to develop nuclear weapons. It is continuing to pursue uranium enrichment and has shown more interest in protracting negotiations than reaching an acceptable diplomatic solution.

In December of that year, the same office, now led by Mike McConnell, issued a National Intelligence Estimate was crying sheep:

We judge with high confidence that in fall 2003, Tehran halted its nuclear weapons program; we also assess with moderate-to-high confidence that Tehran at a minimum is keeping open the option to develop nuclear weapons.

And of course, the shadow hanging over all U.S. intelligence assessments is the botched 2003 estimate that Iraq had an active WMD program. But in this instance the wolf turned out to be a sheep.

Restoring the credibility of U.S. intelligence is an urgent task. What is the point of having intelligence agencies if we cannot even place a modicum of trust in their words?

But how should they go about the task? Ultimately, there is only one approach that will work: get rid of the clowns and start getting things right.

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Intelligence For Dummies

Personnel with foreign language skills are critical to the success of U.S. foreign policy. And they are especially valuable when they don’t speak or understand the languages of our adversaries. That is what “diversity” is all about.

Confused? Here is Donald Kerr,  Principal Deputy Director of National Intelligence, explaining the paradox on May 16 at the Second Intelligence Community Heritage Summit.

In this work there are countless stories about the importance of diversity. There’s one I recently learned from an FBI intelligence analyst who had worked on Saddam Hussein’s debriefing team in Iraq. While Saddam was being interviewed, a key component of the strategy was to keep him isolated from people outside of the FBI agencies who were questioning him, but he was fluent in several languages. Not deeply so, but sufficiently, and the interviewers needed to find guards who could speak a language that he wouldn’t understand. It turned out to be really difficult. He knew bits of Spanish, but not the rapid fire Spanish of Puerto Rico. So Puerto Rican speakers would really flummox him, they certainly do me. And that’s what the FBI settled on for his guards. U.S. military members who were native Puerto Ricans in terms of the Spanish that they spoke.

So the importance of diversity comes up in even the most unexpected circumstances.

In this global conflict, this struggle with violent extremism, the clarion call for diversity, diversity of experience, of culture, of interest, has to be our call to action.

Kerr revealed some other sensitive secrets in his talk. Among them is a new danger.

We have to watch our words. . . .We have to avoid words like jihadist, mujahedeen. We have to be clear. It’s not just political correctness, it’s to avoid legitimizing the action of terrorists.

Our spies have recently made some other new discoveries. Here’s an amazing one. CIA analysts have been working the problem for years, and here’s what they found: there’s a big country near Japan, and like the United States, it is also “diverse.”

We need to understand China, not as a vast assemblage of 1.3 billion people, but to recognize that there are differences in different parts of China. We know there are different languages, different dialects and different cultures. That’s part of what we need to understand as well.

Is Kerr’s speech the final straw? Is it time to abolish the intelligence community and start from scratch?

Personnel with foreign language skills are critical to the success of U.S. foreign policy. And they are especially valuable when they don’t speak or understand the languages of our adversaries. That is what “diversity” is all about.

Confused? Here is Donald Kerr,  Principal Deputy Director of National Intelligence, explaining the paradox on May 16 at the Second Intelligence Community Heritage Summit.

In this work there are countless stories about the importance of diversity. There’s one I recently learned from an FBI intelligence analyst who had worked on Saddam Hussein’s debriefing team in Iraq. While Saddam was being interviewed, a key component of the strategy was to keep him isolated from people outside of the FBI agencies who were questioning him, but he was fluent in several languages. Not deeply so, but sufficiently, and the interviewers needed to find guards who could speak a language that he wouldn’t understand. It turned out to be really difficult. He knew bits of Spanish, but not the rapid fire Spanish of Puerto Rico. So Puerto Rican speakers would really flummox him, they certainly do me. And that’s what the FBI settled on for his guards. U.S. military members who were native Puerto Ricans in terms of the Spanish that they spoke.

So the importance of diversity comes up in even the most unexpected circumstances.

In this global conflict, this struggle with violent extremism, the clarion call for diversity, diversity of experience, of culture, of interest, has to be our call to action.

Kerr revealed some other sensitive secrets in his talk. Among them is a new danger.

We have to watch our words. . . .We have to avoid words like jihadist, mujahedeen. We have to be clear. It’s not just political correctness, it’s to avoid legitimizing the action of terrorists.

Our spies have recently made some other new discoveries. Here’s an amazing one. CIA analysts have been working the problem for years, and here’s what they found: there’s a big country near Japan, and like the United States, it is also “diverse.”

We need to understand China, not as a vast assemblage of 1.3 billion people, but to recognize that there are differences in different parts of China. We know there are different languages, different dialects and different cultures. That’s part of what we need to understand as well.

Is Kerr’s speech the final straw? Is it time to abolish the intelligence community and start from scratch?

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The CIA’s Grand Champion

 From 2002-05, Mark M. Lowenthal was an assistant director of the CIA and vice chairman of the National Intelligence Council. He has written one of the more useful books by an intelligence official: Intelligence: From Secrets To Policy. An even more significant accomplishment to my mind — one that offers outside validation of his smarts — is having become a “Grand Champion” on Jeopardy in 1988.

In Sunday’s Washington Post, Lowenthal candidly admitted that the “U.S. intelligence community has failed” both as “a public institution and as a profession.” But the failure, in his eyes, does not reside in either inability to intercept the 9/11 plot or the erroneous assessment of Iraq weapons of mass destruction in 2003.

September 11, Lowenthal argues, was not something that could have been forestalled by intelligence:

No one has yet revealed the one or two or 10 things that, had they been done differently, might have prevented the attacks. In my view, and in the view of many of my colleagues, even the missed “operational opportunities” identified by the 9/11 Commission would have done little more than force al-Qaeda to send different terrorists into the United States, especially considering the legal rules in play at the time. Even if every “dot” had been connected, they would not have led to the tactical intelligence needed to stop those four planes on that Tuesday morning.

I am not fully persuaded, but, for the sake of argument, let’s grant Lowenthal the point. He makes a similar observation about the botched 2003 WMD National Intelligence Estimate. Even if the tradecraft in producing that NIE had not been so shoddy, the result, he contends, might well have been the same:

it is extremely difficult, if not impossible, to envision an NIE based on good intelligence that would have come up with the correct answer. The best my fellow analysts could have done, I think, would have been to offer three analytical options: Saddam Hussein has WMD; he does not have WMD; or we simply do not know. And of course, given his track record of gassing Kurds, attacking neighbors and resisting U.N. weapons inspections, the most likely of the three still would have been that he had WMD. But analytical responses that cover the waterfront of possibilities are not seen as very useful to policymakers, for obvious reasons. Moreover, even if we had concluded that we just didn’t know what Iraq had, Bush would have probably favored going to war anyway, and Congress would have gone along, largely out of political expediency.

This is more persuasive. But if these two alleged failures were not really failures at all, why then is Lowenthal so down on U.S. intelligence? His answer:

We failed because we have not explained ourselves adequately and comprehensibly to the public — describing our role, the limits within which we work and our view of what can be reasonably expected from us. We have failed because we have allowed ourselves to be caricatured, vilified and misrepresented by people who do not know us, do not like us and do not understand us — or simply see us as convenient fall guys.

This is preposterous. Lowenthal is undoubtedly right that the public is ill informed about what can reasonably be expected from intelligence in view of the insuperable challenges it continually faces. I have made a similar observation in The CIA Follies (Cont’d.) in COMMENTARY. But the idea that intelligence officials have allowed themselves “to be caricatured, vilified and misrepresented by people who do not know us, do not like us and do not understand us — or simply see us as convenient fall guys” does not hold up.

I would point Lowenthal to the 2005 declassified summary of the Inspector General’s report on the CIA’s counterterrorism branch,  including its al-Qaeda unit run by Michael Scheuer. Perhaps the CIA could not have stopped the 9/11 plot no matter what it did. But the managerial and analytical ineptitude on display in that critical unit is staggering.  

I would point him to the decision to put Richard Immerman, an anti-war activist professor, in charge of analytical standards and integrity in the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.

I would point him to the tendentious declassified summary of the December 2007 NIE on Iran.

I would point him to the endless leaks from the intelligence community designed to undercut the policies of the administration it is tasked with serving. The intelligence community has not been vilified; rather, elements in it have been villainous and the entire operation has been paying the price. One doesn’t need to be a Jeopardy grand champion to understand that.

 From 2002-05, Mark M. Lowenthal was an assistant director of the CIA and vice chairman of the National Intelligence Council. He has written one of the more useful books by an intelligence official: Intelligence: From Secrets To Policy. An even more significant accomplishment to my mind — one that offers outside validation of his smarts — is having become a “Grand Champion” on Jeopardy in 1988.

In Sunday’s Washington Post, Lowenthal candidly admitted that the “U.S. intelligence community has failed” both as “a public institution and as a profession.” But the failure, in his eyes, does not reside in either inability to intercept the 9/11 plot or the erroneous assessment of Iraq weapons of mass destruction in 2003.

September 11, Lowenthal argues, was not something that could have been forestalled by intelligence:

No one has yet revealed the one or two or 10 things that, had they been done differently, might have prevented the attacks. In my view, and in the view of many of my colleagues, even the missed “operational opportunities” identified by the 9/11 Commission would have done little more than force al-Qaeda to send different terrorists into the United States, especially considering the legal rules in play at the time. Even if every “dot” had been connected, they would not have led to the tactical intelligence needed to stop those four planes on that Tuesday morning.

I am not fully persuaded, but, for the sake of argument, let’s grant Lowenthal the point. He makes a similar observation about the botched 2003 WMD National Intelligence Estimate. Even if the tradecraft in producing that NIE had not been so shoddy, the result, he contends, might well have been the same:

it is extremely difficult, if not impossible, to envision an NIE based on good intelligence that would have come up with the correct answer. The best my fellow analysts could have done, I think, would have been to offer three analytical options: Saddam Hussein has WMD; he does not have WMD; or we simply do not know. And of course, given his track record of gassing Kurds, attacking neighbors and resisting U.N. weapons inspections, the most likely of the three still would have been that he had WMD. But analytical responses that cover the waterfront of possibilities are not seen as very useful to policymakers, for obvious reasons. Moreover, even if we had concluded that we just didn’t know what Iraq had, Bush would have probably favored going to war anyway, and Congress would have gone along, largely out of political expediency.

This is more persuasive. But if these two alleged failures were not really failures at all, why then is Lowenthal so down on U.S. intelligence? His answer:

We failed because we have not explained ourselves adequately and comprehensibly to the public — describing our role, the limits within which we work and our view of what can be reasonably expected from us. We have failed because we have allowed ourselves to be caricatured, vilified and misrepresented by people who do not know us, do not like us and do not understand us — or simply see us as convenient fall guys.

This is preposterous. Lowenthal is undoubtedly right that the public is ill informed about what can reasonably be expected from intelligence in view of the insuperable challenges it continually faces. I have made a similar observation in The CIA Follies (Cont’d.) in COMMENTARY. But the idea that intelligence officials have allowed themselves “to be caricatured, vilified and misrepresented by people who do not know us, do not like us and do not understand us — or simply see us as convenient fall guys” does not hold up.

I would point Lowenthal to the 2005 declassified summary of the Inspector General’s report on the CIA’s counterterrorism branch,  including its al-Qaeda unit run by Michael Scheuer. Perhaps the CIA could not have stopped the 9/11 plot no matter what it did. But the managerial and analytical ineptitude on display in that critical unit is staggering.  

I would point him to the decision to put Richard Immerman, an anti-war activist professor, in charge of analytical standards and integrity in the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.

I would point him to the tendentious declassified summary of the December 2007 NIE on Iran.

I would point him to the endless leaks from the intelligence community designed to undercut the policies of the administration it is tasked with serving. The intelligence community has not been vilified; rather, elements in it have been villainous and the entire operation has been paying the price. One doesn’t need to be a Jeopardy grand champion to understand that.

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Every Which Way on the NIE

The November National Intelligence Estimate on Iran declared flatly in its opening sentence that ‘We judge with high confidence that in fall 2003, Tehran halted its nuclear weapons program; we also assess with moderate-to-high confidence that Tehran at a minimum is keeping open the option to develop nuclear weapons.”

Defense Secretary Robert Gates, speaking at West Point last night, said that Iran remains “hell-bent” on acquiring nuclear weapons.

Does Michael Hayden, CIA director, agree? Speaking with Tim Russert  on Meet the Press on March 30, he said that “we stand by the judgment” in the NIE. That seems unequivocal.

But Hayden then began to equivocate. Russert asked him point blank: “Do you believe the Iranians are trying to develop a nuclear program?” Here is the transcript:

GEN. HAYDEN:  I–personal…

MR. RUSSERT: Yes.

GEN. HAYDEN: Personal belief? Yes. It’s hard for me to explain. And, you know, this is not court of law stuff. This is, this is, you know, in terms of beyond all reasonable doubt, this is, this is Mike Hayden looking at the body of evidence. OK. Why would the Iranians be willing to pay the international tariff they appear willing to pay for what they’re doing now if they did not have, at a minimum, at a minimum, if they did not have the desire to keep the option open to, to develop a nuclear weapon and perhaps even more so, that they’ve already decided to do that? It’s very difficult for us to judge intent, and so we have to work back from actions. Why the continuing production of fissile material, and Natanz? They say it’s for civilian purposes, and yet the, the planet, the globe, states around the world have offered them fissile material under controls so they can have their, their, their civilian nuclear program. But the Iranians have rejected that. I mean, when you start looking at that, and you get, not just the United States, but you get the U.N. Security Council imposing sanctions on them, why would they go through that if it were not to develop the technology that would allow them to create fissile material not under international control?

What about Mike McConnell, director of National Intelligence? Here he is defending the NIE in congressional testimony on February 5:

I’d start by saying that the integrity and the professionalism in this NIE is probably the highest in our history in terms of objectivity, and quality of the analysis, and challenging the assumptions, and conducting red teams on the process, conducting a counterintelligence assessment about were we being misled or so on.

That sounds unequivocal. But then McConnell, too, begins to equivocate:

The only thing that they’ve halted was nuclear weapons design, which is probably the least significant part of the program. So if I’d had until now to think about it, I probably would have changed a thing or two.

So, with Secretary Gates joining in, we now have a trifecta of confusion. The top three intelligence and defense officials of the Bush administration are disavowing the NIE even as the adminstration stands by it.

The November National Intelligence Estimate on Iran declared flatly in its opening sentence that ‘We judge with high confidence that in fall 2003, Tehran halted its nuclear weapons program; we also assess with moderate-to-high confidence that Tehran at a minimum is keeping open the option to develop nuclear weapons.”

Defense Secretary Robert Gates, speaking at West Point last night, said that Iran remains “hell-bent” on acquiring nuclear weapons.

Does Michael Hayden, CIA director, agree? Speaking with Tim Russert  on Meet the Press on March 30, he said that “we stand by the judgment” in the NIE. That seems unequivocal.

But Hayden then began to equivocate. Russert asked him point blank: “Do you believe the Iranians are trying to develop a nuclear program?” Here is the transcript:

GEN. HAYDEN:  I–personal…

MR. RUSSERT: Yes.

GEN. HAYDEN: Personal belief? Yes. It’s hard for me to explain. And, you know, this is not court of law stuff. This is, this is, you know, in terms of beyond all reasonable doubt, this is, this is Mike Hayden looking at the body of evidence. OK. Why would the Iranians be willing to pay the international tariff they appear willing to pay for what they’re doing now if they did not have, at a minimum, at a minimum, if they did not have the desire to keep the option open to, to develop a nuclear weapon and perhaps even more so, that they’ve already decided to do that? It’s very difficult for us to judge intent, and so we have to work back from actions. Why the continuing production of fissile material, and Natanz? They say it’s for civilian purposes, and yet the, the planet, the globe, states around the world have offered them fissile material under controls so they can have their, their, their civilian nuclear program. But the Iranians have rejected that. I mean, when you start looking at that, and you get, not just the United States, but you get the U.N. Security Council imposing sanctions on them, why would they go through that if it were not to develop the technology that would allow them to create fissile material not under international control?

What about Mike McConnell, director of National Intelligence? Here he is defending the NIE in congressional testimony on February 5:

I’d start by saying that the integrity and the professionalism in this NIE is probably the highest in our history in terms of objectivity, and quality of the analysis, and challenging the assumptions, and conducting red teams on the process, conducting a counterintelligence assessment about were we being misled or so on.

That sounds unequivocal. But then McConnell, too, begins to equivocate:

The only thing that they’ve halted was nuclear weapons design, which is probably the least significant part of the program. So if I’d had until now to think about it, I probably would have changed a thing or two.

So, with Secretary Gates joining in, we now have a trifecta of confusion. The top three intelligence and defense officials of the Bush administration are disavowing the NIE even as the adminstration stands by it.

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The Richard Immerman Watch

We have already noted here and in the Weekly Standard that a fox is guarding the hen house. Richard Immerman, a far-Left professor of history on leave from Temple University who participated there in “teach-ins” against the Iraq war, is working in the heart of U.S. intelligence, serving as the ombudsman for “analytic integrity” in the office of the Director of National Intelligence.

How he is able to perform this job while himself being a partisan in the intelligence wars is a mystery. As recently as this past January, Immerman published an essay lambasting the “Bushites” for manipulating intelligence in the run-up to the invasion of Iraq. They made “every effort to ‘cook the books,’” Immerman wrote, ” they ‘hyped’ the need to go to war, and they lied too often to count.”

Matters are complicated by an additional wrinkle. While at Temple, Immerman became the target of a lawsuit. The student who filed it, Christian M. DeJohn, was a master’s candidate in history, He also happened to be a decorated tank commander in the Pennsylvania National Guard, who days after September 11, 2001 was called up to serve on a counterterrorism mission in Bosnia.

While at Temple, Sgt. DeJohn had clashed with Immerman about some of the professor’s left-wing views. Then, while he was stationed in Bosnia, the Temple history department began sending him anti-war fliers, inviting him to take part in its teach-ins against Bush’s “imperialist” foreign policy. Sgt. DeJohn objected, and asked to be taken off the list.

When Sgt DeJohn returned to the states in April 2003 and attempted to resume his education at Temple, it seems, according to the complaint, that a campaign of retribution ensued, carried out by Immerman and some of his history department colleagues. Matters became so serious that Sgt. DeJohn filed a lawsuit alleging that his First Amendment right of free speech was being infringed.

In the course of discovery proceedings, email correspondence among history department faculty members came to light in which Sgt. DeJohn was accused of suffering from “paranoid delusions,” being “mentally imbalanced,” “trained to kill by the U.S. Army,” and being “literally obsessed with the idea of liberal bias.”

Among the emails was one from Richard Immerman in which he stated that “Christian is a gnat whom I hope will self-destruct without any help from us.”

This is interesting language for a professor to use about one of his students, especially a student who voluntarily chose to put himself in harm’s way to defend Immerman’s right to spout nonsense.

If dissenting students were treated in this way at Temple, how are dissenting analysts within the intelligence community treated now that Immerman is responsible for investigating their complaints of left-wing and/or any other form of bias?

I would welcome receiving reports from any “gnats” who have had experience dealing with the good professor.

We have already noted here and in the Weekly Standard that a fox is guarding the hen house. Richard Immerman, a far-Left professor of history on leave from Temple University who participated there in “teach-ins” against the Iraq war, is working in the heart of U.S. intelligence, serving as the ombudsman for “analytic integrity” in the office of the Director of National Intelligence.

How he is able to perform this job while himself being a partisan in the intelligence wars is a mystery. As recently as this past January, Immerman published an essay lambasting the “Bushites” for manipulating intelligence in the run-up to the invasion of Iraq. They made “every effort to ‘cook the books,’” Immerman wrote, ” they ‘hyped’ the need to go to war, and they lied too often to count.”

Matters are complicated by an additional wrinkle. While at Temple, Immerman became the target of a lawsuit. The student who filed it, Christian M. DeJohn, was a master’s candidate in history, He also happened to be a decorated tank commander in the Pennsylvania National Guard, who days after September 11, 2001 was called up to serve on a counterterrorism mission in Bosnia.

While at Temple, Sgt. DeJohn had clashed with Immerman about some of the professor’s left-wing views. Then, while he was stationed in Bosnia, the Temple history department began sending him anti-war fliers, inviting him to take part in its teach-ins against Bush’s “imperialist” foreign policy. Sgt. DeJohn objected, and asked to be taken off the list.

When Sgt DeJohn returned to the states in April 2003 and attempted to resume his education at Temple, it seems, according to the complaint, that a campaign of retribution ensued, carried out by Immerman and some of his history department colleagues. Matters became so serious that Sgt. DeJohn filed a lawsuit alleging that his First Amendment right of free speech was being infringed.

In the course of discovery proceedings, email correspondence among history department faculty members came to light in which Sgt. DeJohn was accused of suffering from “paranoid delusions,” being “mentally imbalanced,” “trained to kill by the U.S. Army,” and being “literally obsessed with the idea of liberal bias.”

Among the emails was one from Richard Immerman in which he stated that “Christian is a gnat whom I hope will self-destruct without any help from us.”

This is interesting language for a professor to use about one of his students, especially a student who voluntarily chose to put himself in harm’s way to defend Immerman’s right to spout nonsense.

If dissenting students were treated in this way at Temple, how are dissenting analysts within the intelligence community treated now that Immerman is responsible for investigating their complaints of left-wing and/or any other form of bias?

I would welcome receiving reports from any “gnats” who have had experience dealing with the good professor.

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Ignatius: Scrap The CIA and Start Over

David Ignatius has written several spy-thrillers in addition to his day job. (He’s now a columnist for the Washington Post.) He has developed some good sources within the intelligence community and for good reason—he is generally a defender of the CIA against its multitude of critics. So it is significant when even Igantius suggests that the CIA’s day may have passed. In Sunday’s column, he writes:

When the next president thinks about fixing the CIA, he or she ought to consider the radical thought that it’s time to blow up the CIA and start over. That’s not to denigrate the thousands of professionals who work there; but they deserve a chance to do their jobs without having those three scarlet letters attached permanently to their work. It’s too late, unfortunately, to undo the reorganization that created the DNI [Director of National Intelligence]. So let those three initials cloak a new, elite corps of analysts drawn from the CIA cadre; let’s give the science and technology division to the DNI, too. The tech revolution hasn’t prospered in the past decade under CIA management.

Meanwhile, let’s float the clandestine service free from its barnacle-encrusted CIA anchor and let it find a new home — somewhere distant from Langley, where the old ghosts and myths are far away.

Ignatius’s comments suggest that the next president might have bipartisan support for a massive restructuring of the intelligence community. Of course the CIA can be expected to fight change with every bit of cunning it possesses. And while the agency has muffed many of its overseas assignments, it has shown a disconcerting aptitude for political infighting in Washington.

David Ignatius has written several spy-thrillers in addition to his day job. (He’s now a columnist for the Washington Post.) He has developed some good sources within the intelligence community and for good reason—he is generally a defender of the CIA against its multitude of critics. So it is significant when even Igantius suggests that the CIA’s day may have passed. In Sunday’s column, he writes:

When the next president thinks about fixing the CIA, he or she ought to consider the radical thought that it’s time to blow up the CIA and start over. That’s not to denigrate the thousands of professionals who work there; but they deserve a chance to do their jobs without having those three scarlet letters attached permanently to their work. It’s too late, unfortunately, to undo the reorganization that created the DNI [Director of National Intelligence]. So let those three initials cloak a new, elite corps of analysts drawn from the CIA cadre; let’s give the science and technology division to the DNI, too. The tech revolution hasn’t prospered in the past decade under CIA management.

Meanwhile, let’s float the clandestine service free from its barnacle-encrusted CIA anchor and let it find a new home — somewhere distant from Langley, where the old ghosts and myths are far away.

Ignatius’s comments suggest that the next president might have bipartisan support for a massive restructuring of the intelligence community. Of course the CIA can be expected to fight change with every bit of cunning it possesses. And while the agency has muffed many of its overseas assignments, it has shown a disconcerting aptitude for political infighting in Washington.

Read Less

Bring Back the OSS?

We’ve frequently criticized the performance of the intelligence community in this space. Criticism is easy, especially when things as bad they are. But criticism of something so vital to our security can only take one so far. At some point, one has to turn and look for solutions. That’s where I run into trouble.

When thinking about institutions so complicated, so secretive, so self-protective, so entangled with Congress, so impervious to genuine reform, it becomes difficult to conceive of a plan that would be radical enough and also politically feasible.

Presumably, one approach would be build some new and highly functional institutions from scratch to accomplish narrowly tailored purposes — like fighting terrorists.

My friend Max Boot has been giving the matter some serious thought and that is the direction he has proposed.  In testimony before the House Armed Services Committee, he presented the bold idea of resurrecting the Office of Strategic Services (OSS)  “that was created in 1942 to gather and analyze intelligence as well as to conduct low-intensity warfare behind enemy lines in occupied Europe and Asia.”

OSS was disbanded after World War II; both the Green Berets and the CIA trace their lineage to this august ancestor. My proposal is to re-create OSS by bringing together under one roof not only Army Special Forces, civil-affairs, and psy-ops but also the CIA’s paramilitary Special Activities Division, which has always been a bit of a bureaucratic orphan at Langley (and which is staffed largely by Special Operations veterans). This could be a joint civil-military agency under the combined oversight of the Secretary of Defense and the Director of National Intelligence, like the Defense Intelligence Agency or the National Security Agency. It would bring together in one place all of the key skill sets needed to wage the softer side of the war on terror. Like SOCOM [U.S. Special Operations Command], it would have access to military personnel and assets; but like the CIA’s Special Activities Division, its operations would contain a higher degree of “covertness,” flexibility, and “deniability” than those carried out by the uniformed military.

Max is not only a super-smart guy, he’s also an influential one: lately, he’s been whispering into the ear of one of the candidates for the presidency of the United States.

This if from a speech by that candidate:

I would also set up a new civil-military agency patterned after the Office of Strategic Services in World War II. A modern-day OSS could draw together unconventional warfare, civil-affairs, paramilitary and psychological-warfare specialists from the military together with covert-action operators from our intelligence agencies and experts in anthropology, advertising, foreign cultures, and numerous other disciplines from inside and outside government. In the spirit of the original OSS, this would be a small, nimble, can-do organization that would fight terrorist subversion across the world and in cyberspace. It could take risks that our bureaucracies today are afraid to take – risks such as infiltrating agents who lack diplomatic cover into terrorist organizations. It could even lead in the front-line efforts to rebuild failed states. A cadre of such undercover operatives would allow us to gain the intelligence on terrorist activities that we don’t get today from our high-tech surveillance systems and from a CIA clandestine service that works almost entirely out of our embassies abroad.

Does this sound familiar?

The question of the day is: which candidate has embraced Max Boot’s proposal: Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, or John McCain?

The second question of the day: will meaningful intelligence reform ever come about or will it take a second September 11 to get rid of the clowns?

We’ve frequently criticized the performance of the intelligence community in this space. Criticism is easy, especially when things as bad they are. But criticism of something so vital to our security can only take one so far. At some point, one has to turn and look for solutions. That’s where I run into trouble.

When thinking about institutions so complicated, so secretive, so self-protective, so entangled with Congress, so impervious to genuine reform, it becomes difficult to conceive of a plan that would be radical enough and also politically feasible.

Presumably, one approach would be build some new and highly functional institutions from scratch to accomplish narrowly tailored purposes — like fighting terrorists.

My friend Max Boot has been giving the matter some serious thought and that is the direction he has proposed.  In testimony before the House Armed Services Committee, he presented the bold idea of resurrecting the Office of Strategic Services (OSS)  “that was created in 1942 to gather and analyze intelligence as well as to conduct low-intensity warfare behind enemy lines in occupied Europe and Asia.”

OSS was disbanded after World War II; both the Green Berets and the CIA trace their lineage to this august ancestor. My proposal is to re-create OSS by bringing together under one roof not only Army Special Forces, civil-affairs, and psy-ops but also the CIA’s paramilitary Special Activities Division, which has always been a bit of a bureaucratic orphan at Langley (and which is staffed largely by Special Operations veterans). This could be a joint civil-military agency under the combined oversight of the Secretary of Defense and the Director of National Intelligence, like the Defense Intelligence Agency or the National Security Agency. It would bring together in one place all of the key skill sets needed to wage the softer side of the war on terror. Like SOCOM [U.S. Special Operations Command], it would have access to military personnel and assets; but like the CIA’s Special Activities Division, its operations would contain a higher degree of “covertness,” flexibility, and “deniability” than those carried out by the uniformed military.

Max is not only a super-smart guy, he’s also an influential one: lately, he’s been whispering into the ear of one of the candidates for the presidency of the United States.

This if from a speech by that candidate:

I would also set up a new civil-military agency patterned after the Office of Strategic Services in World War II. A modern-day OSS could draw together unconventional warfare, civil-affairs, paramilitary and psychological-warfare specialists from the military together with covert-action operators from our intelligence agencies and experts in anthropology, advertising, foreign cultures, and numerous other disciplines from inside and outside government. In the spirit of the original OSS, this would be a small, nimble, can-do organization that would fight terrorist subversion across the world and in cyberspace. It could take risks that our bureaucracies today are afraid to take – risks such as infiltrating agents who lack diplomatic cover into terrorist organizations. It could even lead in the front-line efforts to rebuild failed states. A cadre of such undercover operatives would allow us to gain the intelligence on terrorist activities that we don’t get today from our high-tech surveillance systems and from a CIA clandestine service that works almost entirely out of our embassies abroad.

Does this sound familiar?

The question of the day is: which candidate has embraced Max Boot’s proposal: Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, or John McCain?

The second question of the day: will meaningful intelligence reform ever come about or will it take a second September 11 to get rid of the clowns?

Read Less




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