WHILE AMERICA SLEPT?
or just another round of Political Backbiting??
Saturday, May 18, 2002
by RICHARD E. BERG-ANDERSSON
Well, well, well... a little over 8 months since the most horrific September 11th in Our Nation's history and we are now learning all about bits and pieces (frankly, "tidbits") of intelligence data and other related information re: potential terrorist attacks that, it turns out, happened to be floating around various parts of the Federal Government and about (where not actually within) the White House itself prior to September 11th and we Americans are all left to wonder whether or not the Bush Administration could have, should have, would have used these "tidbits" to prevent the 9/11 attacks.
To start with, I- frankly- don't think ANY rational person (malcontents and the lunatic fringe need not apply!) can possibly believe that President George W. Bush would not have- had he had much more specific information about what turned out to be the 9/11 attacks than he, apparently, had to hand- done whatever he could possibly have done to prevent them (and, truth be told, there- in the end- might not really have been all that much he could have done... I mean, would Americans have, for example, so willingly put up with a full "Ground Stop" of all commercial airline traffic for several days [vacations interrupted (hell-- returning from trips interrupted!), mail being delayed, etc.] without knowing precisely just why such a "Ground Stop" was being ordered by the Federal Government in the first place? [I here presume that the raw intelligence leading to such an order would have had to have been kept secret to protect its sources.] And, tell me, what would have then stopped the 9/11 hijackers from waiting to carry out their attacks once the "Ground Stop" was lifted- say, on 9/18?!). So far, there appears to be no "smoking gun" suggesting that the upper echelons of the Bush Administration- let alone the President himself- had any such more specific information.
IF (and it's a mighty BIG "if"- hence its capitalization herein) such a "smoking gun" should yet emerge in the course of the inevitable investigations that will flow from all this, I would be the first to- on this very site- call for the impeachment and removal from office of President Bush: for, it is quite clear- from the historical record of the 1787 Constitutional Convention- that the Framers of the U.S. Constitution intended what they called either "neglect of duty" or "negligence" to be a "high... Misdemeanor" under the provisions of Article II, section 4 in that document. There is, therefore, absolutely NO doubt that a President of the United States having much more specific information about potential terrorist threats from al-Qa'eda and NOT acting thereon would be so clearly guilty of nothing short of an impeachable offense! And, although I have never met the man (and haven't the slightest idea whether he has even ever HEARD of "The Green Papers"!), I have a sneaking suspicion that President Bush himself would agree with my previous sentence-- which is why I DON'T think he would have been so negligent, not to mention so 14-carat STUPID, to have ignored such more specific information had he been apprised of same.
My first question- to those Democrats who have so criticized the President for not telling us all a week, a month, more than a few months ago, that he had- indeed- had at least some small "tidbit" of information that he himself could not connect to what eventually happened on 9/11- is: where the hell have the Democrats on either the Senate or House Intelligence Committees been all this time? Cowering under a rock somewhere?! The Intelligence Committees were given at least some of the information being spoken of of late (no, it IS true that they didn't get all of it- and they certainly weren't privy to the President's own daily intelligence briefings- but they got, in my opinion, enough so that- if the President can be accused of not being savvy enough to "connect the dots" and then come up with "9/11" as the "picture" that then emerged- then so can they!)
It is, therefore, most unfair for members of either house of Congress- of either Party (though, clearly, the chorus of negativity against the Administration's handling of such pre-September 11th "tidbits" as they had emerges primarily from the Democratic side of the aisle)- to criticize President Bush for not potentially preventing 9/11 nor warning the American People about its potential- absent some clear and compelling evidence that the higher levels of the White House, in fact, had such much more specific intelligence than has, so far, been revealed to us. In other words: STOP WHINING [!!] and let's get the problem that this whole episode so well- albeit tragically- illustrates (that of the overall weakness of our homeland security apparatus- which continues largely unabated even after September 11th) fixed once and for all!
Appropos of that last sentence: I will now actually turn around and- fair and objective commentator that I am (if you don't believe me, just ask me!)- defend the Democrats in both houses of Congress (at least those who have been reacting to this whole issue with cooler heads!). It is just as unfair for Republicans in Congress- in their zeal to defend the honor of a President of their own Party (as understandable as that, of course, may be)- to then turn around and attack their Democratic colleagues with rhetoric fairly bordering on invective for pushing hard for large-scale investigations into this whole matter. First of all, "Opposition Party using problems within an Administration for potential political gain"- like "Dog Bites Man" and "Sun Rises in East"- is NOT news! The Republicans certainly were not above doing so during the Clinton Administration (you mean there WAS no Impeachment Trial in the Senate a few years back?) and, in the hard game of Politics (as in the harder game of Ice Hockey), if you're afraid of being checked into the boards in order to knock you off the puck, it's time to retire! Again, STOP WHINING!! Again, let's get the problem fixed!!!
Secondly, Congress has a legitimate role of oversight and investigation to play here under constitutional "checks and balances" and to suggest that, just because the Party in Opposition to that currently occupying the White House functionally controls the Senate and- in addition, as a rather sizeable minority- has no small leverage in the House of Representatives, there is here a questioning of the Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces of the United States during wartime that is somehow "unpatriotic" is not only rather silly, it is also highly counterproductive! For what are our Armed Forces doing in such far away places as Afghanistan (besides trying to- utilizing military means- thwart, where not break up, al-Qa'eda and their Taliban protectors)? These brave men and women are (as required by the oath they themselves took when they joined the military) defending the very Constitution of the United States that grants Congress such an oversight role! There had BETTER be large-scale investigations of this whole sorry episode by both houses of Congress!! The continuing jealousy- all too often leading to lack of cooperation- between various Federal agencies and departments we Americans depend on for what we now call "homeland security" has to stop... NOW!!!
Let's face it, folks! Homeland Security- as I type this piece- is one big sham: a sleight-of-hand magic show utilizing nothing more nor less than blue smoke and mirrors ("pay no attention to the man behind the curtain!!"). It has merely become the domestic law enforcement equivalent of the pills provided by a "Dr. Feelgood"!! I do not here at all criticize the motives or actions (though I DO have problems with more than a few methods utilized here and there- but THAT would be a whole other Commentary!) of the many, many dedicated men and women in Federal, State and Local Law Enforcement who are trying, sometimes desparately trying, to best defend our communities, the States of this Union and Our Nation as a whole from further terrorist attack. It is not those "on the ground" whom I here necessarily criticize but I am more criticizing those near and at the top who are actually running this whole show!!
The "man behind the curtain", in this case, is Tom Ridge- our Director of Homeland Security. Actually, he himself is not the problem; it is the setup of his office that is the problem! He has no real power: he can coordinate dozens of Federal agencies but he cannot at all enforce cooperation (unless he gets the President's ear and convinces the President to so enforce it)- and so Mr. Ridge (with all due respect, considering the difficulties he has faced in this regard since first taking on his rather herculean task) is merely left to pull levers and push buttons in order to show us all that the United States of Anerica is, indeed, the equivalent of "the Great and Powerful Oz" which, of course, merely leaves the whole apparatus of (alleged) homeland security something less than great and not all that powerful!!
Here is MY solution: by Act of Congress, create a Cabinet level Secretary of Homeland Defense (at the same time, change the name of the current Secretary of Defense to the Secretary of Military Operations) and give that new executive department its own budget and, more importantly, give it its own (though relatively small) law enforcement arm. Include legislation that would require both the Federal Bureau of Investigation (which would remain in the Department of Justice) and the Central Intelligence Agency (which would- naturally- have to remain an independent agency) to pass along any information either agency might receive of a homeland security nature to this new department's law enforcement arm (that is, allow the new Homeland Defense department to evaluate such raw intelligence on its own- independently of both the FBI and CIA!)
In addition, make this new Secretary of Homeland Defense an ex-officio member of the National Security Council [to better a.) allow him/her to coordinate with the Secretary of Military Operations (i.e. Defense) and the Secretary of State (and the President's National Security Advisor), where necessary and b.) give him/her the same direct access to the President of the United States that other members of the National Security Council have]. Also, allow this new department to have complete authority over National Guard units of any and all States- when "federalized" (by direct Presidential order only, of course: this Homeland Defense Secretary should- naturally- not be permitted to do this on his own)- operating solely on United States home soil (the Department of Military Operations- as aforesaid, the name I myself would give to the current Department of Defense if this new Department of Homeland Defense were to be created- would, of course, retain its traditional authority over "federalized" National Guard units operating overseas).
For the time being, I wouldn't add any agencies- whether independent or currently part of another Cabinet department- to this proposed new Department of Homeland Defense; that is, I wouldn't now propose placing, say, the Border Patrol or the Immigration and Naturalization Service in this new department (though I would probably place- in the enabling legislation- the same requirement that would, in my opinion, have to placed on the FBI and CIA- as noted earlier in this piece- that these agencies also provide the new department with any information they might have that could possibly affect homeland security). Once the new department is up and running, this- or a future- Administration could later propose to Congress (or, of course, Congress could pass legislation on its own) requiring that these and/or other agencies could be placed within the new department, if that should- after a time of seeing how the new department would actually work- someday prove desirable.
This solution I propose would give the person occupying the current Office of Homeland Security more "teeth" in carrying out his rather demanding obligations. At the same time, it would allow Congress to well exercise its constitutional oversight duties re: this new department under our tried and true system of "checks and balances". In future, if an agency or division of a department charged under the statute creating this new Department of Homeland Defense with providing that new department with such intelligence data and other related information it might need failed to do so, it would be legally answerable to the Congress of the United States and, thereby, the very American People who elect said Congress!
Thus, while I have, near the beginning of this very piece, defended President Bush against the (again, so far) quite unwarranted criticism he currently faces (for reasons already so well outlined), I here now criticize President Bush and his Administration for not allowing for this new Cabinet level department and, therefore, dangerously reducing the overall efficacy of the Office of Homeland Security he himself created and then assured us all would best defend us- as much as possible (for, of course, not EVERYthing can be foreseen and, therefore, prevented)- from future terrorist attack!!
It's high time we finally got SERIOUS!!!