How Obama Is Blowing the Terror War
America needs a streamlined intelligence bureaucracy. What we’re getting from the president, argues 9/11 Commission member John Lehman, is a lot of legalisms and political correctness.
Nothing could illustrate more clearly the impotence of our counterterrorism policy than the Pentagon report on why Army Major Nidal Hasan murdered 13 of his fellow soldiers at Fort Hood. It was issued quietly last Friday, only to be buried on Page 10 of Saturday’s New York Times, and illustrates the deadly fusion of mindless bureaucracy with obsessive political correctness.
The report tells us of a bureaucratic system in which the Muslim major was continually promoted “…despite concerns from his superiors.” While Islamism is hardly mentioned, a full chapter is devoted to the psychological stress that afflicts all Army doctors. We are told by the secretary of Defense that a major cause was that the military is burdened by “…attitudes mostly rooted in the Cold War.” We are told by the co-author of the report that the problem is not rooted in Islam. “Suppose it were fundamentalist Christian-inspired… Our concern is not with religion.” Oh, I see; we must be equally vigilant for Mennonite jihad.
Any intelligence bureaucrat rash enough to act on experience and insight will soon find their careers going nowhere, dismissed as a “cowboy.”
Just as with the undie bomber, there was ample intelligence about Major Hasan’s terrorist sympathies in the bureaucracy. But bureaucracy is about process not outcome, and here process was adhered to and, as before, the system did indeed work; but the 13 patients died. So, nothing here to look at, move along.
To deal with the crippling problem of bureaucratic bloat in intelligence, the 9/11 Commission on which I served urgently recommended the creation of a Director of National Intelligence with power to break up the bureaucratic layers and stovepipes and radically reduce the bloat by controlling the budgets, hiring and firing, and personnel policies of the entire intelligence community. Congress agreed and created the post, but it is deeply upsetting that both Bush and Obama have ignored the intent of the commission. First, Bush created yet another vast new bureaucracy in the DNI, and now Obama will not give his DNI power over budgets or people across the agencies. He is just one more voice.
Mindless bureaucracy and irrational political correctness did not of course arrive in Washington with Obama. What he added to this devil’s brew was an obsession with legalism and law enforcement. As explained by the administration in congressional testimony in December, it is now official Obama policy that for information in the intelligence bureaucracy to be acted on (for instance, putting someone on a watch list because of a warning from that person’s father that he might be a terrorist, say, or proposing that a Muslim officer’s jihadist sympathies should be considered by Army promotion boards), such information first must meet the legal evidentiary standard set in the Supreme Court case Terry v. Ohio. To wit: “Reasonable suspicion requires ‘articulable’ facts which… warrant a determination that an individual is… or has been engaged in … terrorist activities.”
Thus any intelligence bureaucrat rash enough to act on experience and insight will soon find their careers going nowhere, dismissed as a “cowboy.”
And if there comes yet another terrorist attack? Well, rest assured that the entire government will be focused on forensics—“we will bring these criminals to justice”—and making sure the terrorists are given the full rights of U.S. citizens so that the Muslim world and al Qaeda will be impressed by our fairness. Oh, and be sure to remind them that we are pressing ahead with our top priority of prosecuting the CIA interrogators of Khaled Sheikh Mohammed, and court-martialing the three Navy SEALs who punched the murderer of four Americans in Iraq.
John Lehman was secretary of the Navy in the Reagan administration and a member of the 9/11 Commission.