Monday, April 19, 2004

Gutting National Security

What do the Lincoln Tunnel, the Holland Tunnel, the George Washington Bridge, the United Nations, the New York FBI Office, and the Los Angeles International Airport have in common?

They are all standing today because, according to the 9/11 Commission's staff report, US intelligence and law enforcement agencies foiled terrorist plots to destroy them in the 90's during the Clinton administration. The first bombing of the World Trade Center was enough of a wake up call for the Clinton administration. After that attack, not one foreign terrorist attempt to attack within the United States succeeded. All foreign terrorist plans within the US were foiled. Every single one, for 7 years. Until 9/11.

John Ashcroft would have us believe that one memo from Jamie Gorelick so hamstrung the FBI that it couldn't do the job it needed to do to prevent 9/11. Somehow though, the FBI under Clinton managed the record above. That's at least six landmarks saved (Some officials have hinted there were more plots foiled). Then along comes Ashcroft and the Bush Administration. Suddenly, the WTC is destroyed, the Pentagon attacked, people murdered by domestic anthrax attacks. And Ashcroft, our top cop throughout all of this mayhem, wants to blame the folks who were getting the national security thing done right?

All of the laws supposedly hampering the FBI, CIA etc. from doing their job were in place for the entirety of the Clinton administration, and numerous attacks were prevented by sound national security practices over many years. Logically therefore you can't blame those laws for the Bush administration's multiple failure to accomplish the same thing..

So what DID change to make us so vulnerable to terrorist attacks? Without getting into judgments as to the merits of the personnel involved, there are three specific, objective changes that served to weaken the United States' defenses in 2001:

(1) A wholesale disabling of the information sharing apparatus of the intelligence, law enforcement and military agencies. The very first National Security Policy Directive crafted by the Bush administration went into effect February 13, 2001, just two weeks after the Bush administration moved into their offices. Most other people would barely know where to find the bathrooms and the supply closets by this time, but somehow the Bush administration felt comfortable enough with their surroundings that they restructured the entire organization of the National Security Council, abolishing every single working group that facilitated top level infomation sharing on terrorist activity by the FBI, CIA, Departments of Defense and State and National Security Council. In it's place were a bunch of committees controlled largely by Condoleeza Rice and her appointees. Some committees were separated geographically, thus "Near East and North Africa" was separated from "Europe and Eurasia" or "South Asia". Terrorist matters were split up between new committees named "Counter-Terrorism and National Preparedness", "Proliferation, Counterproliferation, and Homeland Defense", "Intelligence and Counterintelligence", "Records Access and Information Security". Condoleeza Rice was given the authority to name each committee chair and assign staff. Then, committees with the same names as the earlier counter-terroism working groups were reconstituted as sub-groups under the "Counter-terrorism and Natioanl Preparedness" committee. This placed two, perhaps three additional bureaucratic levels between the main decision makers of government and terrorist information and recommendations. Anyone who has studied the nature of bureaucracies can easily understand that this amounts to a kiss of death for any notion of quick counterterrorist response. Hats off to contributing writer Margie Burns at Online Journal for pointing this out (scroll down).

(2) A crippling dismantlement of the procedures used to protect U.S. airspace from hijackings and air attacks. If the Pentagon had been operating under the air security procedures held in place for decades, the WTC would probably be standing today. Normal procedures call for fighter jet interception of any suspicious aircraft activity reported by air traffic control to NORAD within minutes of first suspicion. So why weren't those procedures followed on 9/11? Turns out the procedures were sacked on June 1, 2001, to be replaced by a much more cumbersome procedure adding bureacratic layers to the response process. Under the new rules, air traffic control notifies the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). The FAA passes the info up the line to the FAA chief. The FAA chief then forwards the info to the NMCC (National Military Command Center). The NMCC notifies NORAD to get them to figure out where some jets who can intercept might happen to be. Once NORAD gives an answer, then NMCC locates and contacts the Secretary of Defense for authority to scramble the jets. That's at least five steps to go through, each one capable of being foiled by voice mail or a lunch appointment. What utter nimrod ordered this? Here's the memo itself, signed by a Vice Admiral S. A. Fry. The big question is, who ordered him to do it? Hats off to Jim Rarey of Medium Rare for the 411 on this one.

(3) A deliberate removal of counter-terrorism from the national priority list. The Center for American Progress has this one nailed. Never mind the complete absence of speechifying on bin Laden or terrorism from inauguration to 9/11. Never mind the obvious fixation on missile defense and a national oil company welfare I mean national energy policy. This is nailed in writing. First, Janet Reno's list of priorities. Reno's budget goals in 2000 say: "In the near term as well as the future, cybercrime and counterterrrorism are going to be the most challenging threats". Then, John Ashcroft's priorities in the corresponding document revised one year later on his watch. Terrorism isn't mentioned among the seven strategic goals listed.

So in objective documentable fact, we see that terrorism was removed as a priority, the ability for intelligence agencies to share information was crippled, and the ability to respond quickly to air hijackings was eviscerated. All within five months. No wonder this administration tried as hard as it did to stop the 9/11 Commission from getting off the ground.

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