Man Without Qualities

Saturday, May 18, 2002

Maybe Senator Daschle Can Tell Us All What to Do This Time

Some people have suggested that there wasn’t very much the government could have done prior to September 11 even if they had had specific warnings. For example, a reader of Charles Johnson's Little Green Footballs (eighth response, by “Enough”) presents very good observations along those lines. After all, these hijackers only had things like plastic knives, boxcutters, sheets and Korans.

But such suggestions are very, very wrong. The reasons the hijackers succeeded was that the people on those aircraft let them succeed. The people on those aircraft let the hijackers succeed because the crew on those aircraft had been rigorously trained - pursuant to government instruction - NOT TO RESIST HIJACKERS. In only one aircraft did the people in the aircraft resist - and that aircraft went down in a Pennsylvania field instead of the White House living room.

So the government COULD, at least in principle, have done quite a lot. Specifically, if the government had known that these were serious, suicide hijackers - not the old fashioned "let-our-prisoners-go-or-we-blow-up-the-plane" type hijackers - the government could have changed its policies and instructed the crew to resist and tell the passengers to resist. That would probably have stopped every single September 11 hijacker. Of course, that change of policy hugely increases the risk of disaster if, in fact, the hijackers ARE the old fashioned kind. Next time, the responsible officials will have to explain why they let the crew and passengers resist - thereby killing, say, 250 people, who would have been just fine if there had been no resistance. And, of course, the information available prior to September 11 DID NOT indicate any such suicidal intentions - as far as we know. So the government would have been changing policy in a way that could have created a disaster (although it would have prevented the actual disasters) without any hard information. Such decisions are very, very tough. But what's that to the second-guessers like the Democrats in Congress and their media water carriers.

The New York Times reports that US intelligence is intercepting al Qaida communications suggesting their general interest in doing something bigger and meaner than September 11. No specifics, the Times says.

Liberal Democrats in Congress for many years resisted proposals that would encourage broad information sharing between the nation's domestic and international intelligence services. Their claimed concern was that such cooperation might endanger civil rights. They enjoyed the staunch, rock-ribbed support of the New York Times and other such media.They generally suppressed national intelligence gathering and funding. But they now seem to be taking positions that imply that it was the government's inability to "connect the dots" because of a lack of intelligence service cooperation and intelligence service enthusiasm that allowed September 11 to happen. And they are saying that the memos and briefings the President received included information new to them. And they are saying this though the memos and briefings seem to have included only very general information not much more useful than what an ordinary intelligent person would have thought to be the case just sitting in a comfy chairs thinking about things for a few minutes: "Yup, guess those terrorists would like to hijack our planes and blow up our cities." But it was all new to the Democrats in Congress! Even to Hillary - who says we have to find out what the government knew - even though she WAS basically the government for the eight years before it all happened. And she doesn't remember a thing about the 1999 report produced by her husband's Administration - a report that the Democrats are suggesting was somehow VERY IMPORTANT. It's all so confusing. Just what did the Congressional Democrats and the Clinton Administration know and when did they know it? And let's not forget that the reason the President didn't have access to specific (or as Mr. Rumsfeld calls it, "granular") information that these were suicide hijackers rather than the old fashioned kind is now being laid by Mr. Daschle at the feet of a "broken system" - a system in which the intelligence services were underfunded, underencouraged and not allowed to cooperate with each other extensively. In other words, they were the intelligence services of the liberal Democrats dreams.

So this is a big chance for Senators Daschle and Clinton. Given the new, general reports - what do we do NOW?

Tom and Hillary? Tell us, PLEASE!

Maybe the President and Congress should hold a giant press conference together. Isn't that what Senators Daschle and Clinton do when they're up to important business? Maybe they can propose some new legislation. But, of course, nothing that might injure their delicate, hyper-refined sense of what we need to protect our civil rights - like letting the intelligence agencies extensively compare notes.

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