Monday, October 10, 2005

Intelligence Accountability

Last Wednesday, CIA Director Porter Goss announced that an accountability board will not be held on 9/11 failures. A classified CIA report conducted by CIA Inspector General John Helgerson is likely to remain classified despite efforts by the families of 9/11 victims and some Members of Congress on the House intelligence panel including Jane Harman (D-CA). Goss argues that making the report public or holding an accountability board would harm agency morale and undermine the ability for covert agents to take risks in the future. However, public confidence in our intelligence community has been severely damaged with the failures of 9/11 and the absence of WMDs in Iraq. Holding the agency responsible would be an excellent start in restoring not only this country’s public confidence, but the confidence of the global community. If the United States were ever to make the case for disarming a rogue nation of WMDs in the future, such as North Korea, with any hope to gain support from the U.N., the reliability of our intelligence would need to be examined. Furthermore, to avoid another Iraq in the war on terror, the U.S. will need allies who can trust our intelligence sources in order to take effective action against future acts of terrorism.

Former CIA director George Tenet (appointed by Clinton), his former director of operations James Pavitt, and former chief of the counterterrorism center Cofer Black are all apparently named in the classified report according to officials who have read it. Holding these people responsible would merely single out top officials in the agency, embarrass their predecessors, and bring into question President Bush’s decision to present Tenet with the Presidential Medal of Freedom shortly after his resignation. It may be true that not one particular person or group could have prevented 9/11, but that should not preclude a public review of the agency as recommended by the 9/11 Commission. Each inspector general from the departments of State, Justice, and Defense has already completed their own investigations without publicly disciplining anyone. This represents a pattern in this administration of stonewalling public questions over government decision making and accountability of its officials.

The hard-line conservatives have taken advantage of fair criticism of government secrecy in the Bush administration by portraying the media as liberal, and therefore justify their efforts, via the corporate controlled Fox News Channel and talk radio networks that spin the facts in favor of a neo conservative agenda, to create a “counterbalance” and a culture war over values. All of this has resulted in an increasingly polarized electorate, creating cynicism and apathy among political moderates who find themselves lost in the middle. On the right, the social conservatives have aligned themselves, via the Christian Coalition, to the neo-cons and war hawks of the administration. On the left, the liberal peaceniks have rallied around Cindy Sheehan in an ill conceived cause to prematurely bring our troops home from Iraq, while the Democrats on capitol hill have nothing to stand for except hollow criticisms over the administration's tactical failures and lack of progress in training Iraqi battalions and combating a robust insurgency, yet presenting no real alternatives or solutions.

The belated response by FEMA to Hurricane Katrina, the Rove leak identifying a CIA agent, the Tom DeLay and Bill Frist ethical scandals, the Iraqi insurgency, and the intelligence breakdowns have all contributed to an erosion of public confidence in this government. Unfortunately, alternatives to the current course of an open ended war on terrorism, growing bureaucratic mishandlings of emergencies, and the overall conduct of public officials are few and far between. The Director of National Intelligence John Negroponte, a recently created position, was brought in to oversee a vast intelligence bureaucracy and to improve cooperation between the various agencies. Negroponte has decided to go along with Goss’s decision in withholding agency accountability and even protection of retired agents who made mistakes, continuing a pattern of government secrecy and a lack of taking responsibility.

The line between national security and government transparency continues to shift away from openness and disclosure in favor of protecting federal bureaucrats. This pattern only contributes to maintaining the status quo, which will do nothing to improve the credibility of our intelligence networks in the eyes of the world, an often overlooked component critical to maintaining allies in the global war on terror.

Without credibility, governments cannot hope to combat perpetual terrorism on a global scale, because its allies or even its own citizens will have little reason to trust the intelligence to prevent future attacks. This “boy who cried wolf” syndrome could have devastating consequences on the scale of 9/11/2001. Remember all of the resources being wasted when preparations for a threat are made and then the information turns out to be false. Consider what happened last week when there was an apparent terrorist threat to New York City’s subway system. Just a few weeks ago, the Department of Homeland Security spent $2.7 million on 30 bomb-sniffing dogs and the training of their police handlers for 10 transit agencies in major cities including Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, San Francisco, and Washington, but NYC turned down the offer. The threat turned out to be not credible. (Source:

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