Man Without Qualities

Sunday, May 19, 2002

Apologia pro blog sua

UPDATE: OpinionJournal features more on the Clinton administrations' contibutions to the nation's intelligence and military deficiencies. OpinionJournal points out that President Clinton is not responsible for the Sepotember 11 attacks. But neither does a review of the facts and history suggest that the Clinton administrations did the right things that could have been done or did not seriously contribute the general federal intelligence decrepitude that allowed the terrorists to succeed.

Ted Barlow writes on his blog that he is upset about my comments regarding the recent statements of some prominent Democrats about September 11. He asks for a response, and I am pleased to comply.

I cannot fully answer some of Mr. Barlow’s questions because some of them simply make no sense to me. For example, as evidence that liberal Democrats have supported strong and effective intelligence services, he asserts that “President Clinton more than doubled the budgets for intelligence agencies, at the same time the head of the FBI, Louis Freeh, openly worked to destroy him and his presidency.” While it makes sense to cite an increase in intelligence funding to argue that Mr. Clinton supported strong intelligence services, I cannot understand what is added by the phrase “at the same time the head of the FBI, Louis Freeh, openly worked to destroy him and his presidency.” Mr. Freeh certainly had his weak points as FBI Director, but to my knowledge no one has ever proposed a plausible reason to think Mr. Freeh acted in bad faith when he moved contrary to the Bill Clinton’s desires. Why connect Mr. Clinton's funding of anti-terrorism with Mr. Freeh's urging appointment of an independent prosecutor in one case or another? The relationship seems tenuous, at best.

Whether Mr. Barlow and like minded people like it or not, American intelligence services have been deliberately handicapped by Federal law from sharing information effectively and extensively. By way of example only, U.S. law prohibits the nation’s foreign intelligence agencies, including the CIA and the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), from retaining intelligence on American citizens. [National Security Act of 1947 (50 U.S.C. 401 note)] If a terrorist followed by the CIA enters the United States, the CIA must notify the FBI. Then, the FBI and CIA may either create a joint case or the FBI may allow the CIA to continue its pursuit with its knowledge. The CIA may then retain information on U.S. citizens the terrorist encounters only as part of a joint CIA-FBI investigation. The CIA has the crucial role in the FBI investigation because the CIA is the source for the pertinent foreign intelligence. But after the case is closed (as an investigation) and turned over for prosecution, the information on American citizens must be purged from CIA files. Thereafter, the CIA has amnesia about the Americans who were involved with the terrorists. That is not effective or extensive sharing of intelligence.

The above described restrictions continue to exist as a result of liberal Democrat determination, allegedly to protect civil liberties, but actually to render the intelligence services largely ineffective. In fact, from the Church Senate hearings in the 1970’s liberal Democrats have preponderantly viewed the intelligence services – and especially the CIA - as a threat to civil liberties. One may argue whether such concern was well founded, but questioning its existence as a long-term motivating force is just silly.

The law described above impedes intelligence about US nationals, but the Clinton Administration added policies that seriously restricted intelligence about foreign nationals - such as al Qaida. It is no secret that the Clinton Administration shared the general liberal Democratic hostility toward the intelligence services. The first Clinton chief of the CIA, James Woolsey, quit in reported disgust with Mr. Clinton in 1995. Mr. Clinton appointed John Deutch to that post. Mr. Clinton instructed Mr. Deutch to work with then-Representative Robert Torricelli to suppress the CIA's Clandestine Service ability to use foreign nationals of unsavory background. This was done by Mr. Deutch implementing a policy which forbade such use of such “unsavories” without special authorization – and such authorization was made very rare. It is also reported that Deutch implemented "sensitivity seminars" to improve "tolerance" -- apparently forgetting that terrorists don't get "sensitivity training." By the end of Mr. Deutch term at the CIA in December 1996, CIA morale and the ability to collect human intelligence, "HUMINT," had withered.

It is true that the CIA got money for things besides HUMIT. A good deal of money went into satellites, for example, which are certainly necessary for modern intelligence – but very, very far from sufficient. I have seen no one explain how one uses a satellite to distinguish whether a particular terrorist plan to hijack an aircraft is a suicide mission or one in which the aircraft and people on board are to be held as hostages. That kind of determination requires “HUMIT”. I HAVE NOT HEARD HILLARY CLINTON EXPLAIN WHY THE CLINTON ADMINISTRATION WAS JUSTIFIED IN IMPLEMENTING POLICIES WHICH IMPEDED THE ABILITY OF THE CIA TO GATHER INFORMATION FROM UNSAVORY PEOPLE SUCH AS MEMBERS OF AL QAIDA. Now that she’s piping up, she should be required to answer for those policies.

Through the above restrictions – and there were others - the Clinton Administration and Congressional Democrats and the liberal media actively impeded intelligence sharing. Indeed, the constant expectation on the part of the intelligence services of opportunistic hostility from the media and the Democrats was and is certainly a major reason for their depressed morale and effectiveness. In fact, The New Republic points out that the CIA actually helped demolish 1999 anti-terrorist efforts in part “out of fear that they would rekindle the agency's cold war reputation for dirty tricks.” But failure to update necessary intelligence sharing systems in the face of a steadily increasing need for such sharing also played an important role. Some indication of the effect of eight years of the passive side of Presidential and Democrat hostility to the intelligence services can be gleaned from what it is now costing to repair the mess the last Democratic administration left behind:

“The federal government is spending $155 million this year for “information and intelligence sharing,” with $722 million more requested in next year’s White House budget proposal, according to Homeland Security Office spokesman Gordon Johndroe. ‘The goals are to tear down the information stovepipes,’ Johndroe said yesterday, referring to the long-held practice of various agencies to keep data to themselves. ‘Information stays in one pipe, and now we’re going to tear down those stovepipe walls.’”

Previous efforts to pass anti-terrorist legislation have met with unremitting opposition from the liberal establishment. As The New Republic described the liberal assault on a 1999 anti-terrorism effort: “Civil liberties groups were predictably hostile. Within hours of the report's release, the ACLU called it an ‘ominous cloud.’ The Arab American Institute's James Zogby said it harked back to the ‘darkest days of the McCarthy era.' Leftist commentators accused the commission of hyping the danger of terrorism so that the FBI and CIA could justify greater surveillance powers and more money. Salon's Bruce Shapiro suggested that the NCT's warnings of domestic attack ‘are a con job, with roughly the veracity of the latest Robert Ludlum novel.’ Robert Dreyfuss wrote in Mother Jones that ‘[f]or the national security establishment, adrift with few enemies since the end of the Cold War a decade ago, the terrorist threat seems made to order.’" The New Republic – not most people’s idea of right-wing agitprop - also points out that the Clinton Administration’s own intelligence and Department or Justice appointees helped torpedo the 1999 effort. And it drops the sentence “Civil liberties groups were predictably hostile” with the clear understanding that no informed person doubts that Democrat-aligned civil rights groups were and are predictably hostile to legislation expanding intelligence authority.

The civil rights of American citizens are of utmost importance, but their protection should not be used as a pretext for handicapping the intelligence services - and that's what is and was going on in the Congressional Democratic Party and with its liberal allies. Only if the public is reassured that the Administration will not misapply intelligence-related powers can the correct balance be struck. The Clinton administration not only handicapped the intelligence services, it also exploited and distorted serious domestic tragedy for political gain – in the process creating widespread public distrust that the government (that is, the Clinton administration) can be trusted with enhanced intelligence related powers. Who could forget Hillary Clinton’s paranoid conjuring that her political foes constituted a “vast right wing conspiracy” – inflaming concern that she and her husband could not be trusted with additional power.

Many aspects of the Clinton administration contributed to the sense that their interest in anti-terrorism was distorted to serve a partisan liberal Democratic agenda. Towards the end of that Administration the FBI’s antiterrorism budget did increase. But the additional money wasn’t spent by the Clinton FBI. Given the Clinton administration’s obsession with right wing domestic terrorists, an obsession consistent with Hillary’s delusions of “vast right wing conspiracies,” serious questions as to how such money would have been spent are in order. Recall the Clinton Administration’s use of spectacular force in Waco, a use of force explained at the time with serious misrepresentations by the Attorney General. Subsequently, the administration politically exploited the hideous acts of Timothy McVeigh to suggest that “right wing extremists” were a threat to the nation even though no credible evidence has ever been produced that Mr. McVeigh was acting for any such substantial group, or that people of his ilk posed any real general threat. For a while the Clintons and the Democrats rode rather high on their gun-control hobbyhorse, and even proposed gun control legislation probably inconsistent with the better reading of the Second Amendment in the federal Bill of Rights. But such Clinton Administration concern with domestic terrorism does not extend to active extremists groups on the left – which amplifies the sense of partisan opportunism. For example, the so-called “Friends of the Earth” are domestic terrorists willing to kill and commit arson in service of maintaining their version of earth’s ecological balance. But neither the Clintons nor Al Gore made a high-profile point of damning the FOE, choosing instead to focus on their confected “right wing conspiracies,” although FOE has burned homes in the very Long Island communities supposedly represented by Senator Clinton.

The Democrats in Congress never lack for feckless pontificating, and Dianne Feinstein's recent statements are a good example of that. Senator Feinstein says she was "concerned" about terrorism. Well, there is not a single United States Senator or Representative who would not say the same thing. Senator Feinstein’s bloviating is meaningless. She says that she complained to Vice President Cheney. Good. Maybe HE could do something constructive. Prior to September 11, the CURRENT administration had actually formulated a plan to dispose of al Qaida - but it was too late. What, specifically, did Ms. Feinstein want in addition to that - other than to grandstand?

It is particularly outrageous that Senator Feinstein is the conduit for this particular piece of Democratic grandstanding, because she co-sponsored the last important piece of antiterrorist legislation Congress considered prior to September 11 – and she therefore knows that liberal Democrats killed it – as reported by The New Republic:

“For one brief moment, Congress looked like it might impose change. Using the [1999 National Commission on Terrorism] report as their template, in July 2000 Senators Jon Kyl and Dianne Feinstein attached the recommended reforms to an intelligence authorization bill. As one Senate staffer told me, ‘It could have been one of the most important overhauls of American intelligence in recent memory.’ But the Kyl-Feinstein legislation quickly ran aground thanks largely to one man: Vermont's Patrick Leahy. Warning of CIA mischief and "risks to important civil liberties we hold dear," Leahy threatened to hold up the entire intelligence authorization bill to sink the reforms; so Kyl and Feinstein untethered the proposals from the budgetary process. Then, in October, bin Laden blew a hole in the USS Cole and Kyl and Feinstein's effort gained new momentum. But this time, instead of trying to defeat the legislation outright, Leahy weakened it so much that it became essentially useless. By threatening to place a hold on the bill, he extracted countless concessions. And when the legislation finally cleared the Senate in November, it did nothing to loosen CIA recruitment guidelines or expand the FBI's wiretapping authority. ‘It was so watered down by the time we got the bill,’ says one House Republican aide, ‘it wasn't worth taking up.’ And so the legislation died.”

Senator Feinstein obviously knew and understood the dimensions of the terrorist threat. Why didn’t she have the courage to stand up to more liberal Democrats like Senator Leahy and Hillary Clinton during the prior eight years of Democratic control of the Executive? She had no problem sponsoring gun control legislation following the disaster in Oklahoma City and making a big deal out of that. Why didn’t she do anything as aggressive to take on Senator Leahy and his kind in connection with antiterrorism efforts that really matter – and why isn’t she taking them on now? The answer is probably that she is a Democrat and so can't make too many waves in this area before it really comes back to haunt her. She also could have proposed even more than did propose. She could have proposed a bill to fund a supercomputer program for intelligence sharing among agencies, for example. And did she take and maintain definite action after President Clinton shocked the world by wasting expensive missiles in a far-fetched supposed attempt to kill bin Laden that served coincidentally to distract the country from the Lewinski scandal? Or after his bizarre attack on an African medical factory?

The Executive must lead in matters of national security. For eight years the Clinton administration did not do that - and Senators Feinstein, Daschle and Clinton were just fine with that approach. The "systemic" intelligence weaknesses now being talked about by the likes of Senators Feinstein, Daschle and Clinton took years of executive neglect and hostility to develop - with the consent and assistance of Congressional Democrats and the liberal media. The current administration inherited that mess from the prior Democratic administration, and there was clearly no time prior to September 11 for such problems to be fixed. Most of those problems have not been fixed yet. The Democrats should not be permitted to pretend otherwise. Are the Democrat bad? In this matter they are. Very, very bad.

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