Although the 9/11 commissions investigation has won praise in the media for being bipartisan, on balance it has not made us safer. The commission discovered new information to rewrite the history of the Sept. 11 attacks, uncovered government incompetence that should make Americans wonder if those attacks could have been prevented and made some useful recommendations. But the panel avoided the most important question surrounding the attackstheir cause.
The commission showed that the Bush administration, in the months prior to Sept. 11, had much more warning of an impending terrorist attack than previously known. The panel also correctly criticized the performance of U.S. intelligence, diplomacy, law enforcement, aviation security and the military prior to or on that horrible day. Finally, the commission made useful recommendations to safeguard American libertiesrejecting a dangerous new domestic spy agency and arguing for improved congressional oversight of intelligence and homeland security agencies.
But like many government and quasi-government bodies after Sept. 11, the 9/11 commission focused on dubious recommendations about what the authorities could do to improve their response to terrorism instead of the more important question of what the government could do to reduce the chances of an attack in the first place. For example, the commission recommended creating a new national counterterrorism center to coordinate foreign and domestic intelligence on terrorism and a new national intelligence director, who would control the myriad of intelligence agencies and their budgets. Like the creation of the Department of Homeland Security, however, both of these proposed reforms would add a layer of bureaucracy, exacerbating the governmental coordination problems discovered by the commission itself. To fight small, agile terrorism groups, the government should cut the excessive number of intelligence bureaucracies, not create more.
The director of central intelligence, in addition to being the presidents chief adviser on intelligence and the head of the CIA, is already supposed to be riding herd on the existing 15 intelligence agencies. Yet the director is not allowed to make the critical personnel and budgetary decisions concerning those agencies because they are parts of other organizations. The Department of Defense, for example, controls 85 percent of the U.S. intelligence budget. Instead of creating a new national intelligence chief, the director should just be given the powers required to do his current job.
To reduce the coordination and communication problems among intelligence agencies that occurred prior to Sept. 11, the excessive number of intelligence agencies should be streamlined and consolidated. Intelligence units in the Departments of Energy (which analyzes nuclear matters), State (which analyzes information related to U.S. foreign policy) and Treasury (which deals with information affecting U.S. fiscal and monetary policy) could be merged into the CIA. FBI counterespionage functions and Coast Guard Intelligence could be merged into the intelligence unit of the Department of Homeland Security. The intelligence arms of the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps could be subsumed into the Defense Intelligence Agency, as could the National Reconnaissance Office (which builds satellites and coordinates collection of satellite and aerial intelligence), the National Security Agency (which collects signals intelligence from electronic transmissions) and the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency (which does satellite imagery and mapping).
The greatest flaw in the commissions analysis and recommendations, however, was one of omission. The panel did not address the root causes of the Sept. 11 attacks. Dealing with them is the only way to reduce the chances of terrorist attacks in the first place.
In his statement upon release of the commissions report, Thomas Kean, the commissions chairman, incorrectly opined that the terrorists hate America and its policies. Even al Qaeda does not hate America per se. The groups statements indicate that it hates U.S. foreign policy toward the Middle East, especially the U.S. governments propping up of corrupt Arab regimes (such as Saudi Arabia and Egypt) for their perceived strategic significance. Furthermore, repeated polls in the Islamic world (including two polls in friendly Arab countries released last week by the University of Maryland and the Arab American Institute and Zogby International) indicate that the United States is hated not for its culture, technology or freedomsas President Bush would have us believebut for its foreign policy. The president has further inflamed that hatred with his illegitimate invasion of a sovereign Iraqa nation that had no weapons of mass destruction and that the 9/11 Commission said had no collaborative relationship with al Qaeda.
It is from this sea of hatred that the blowback terrorism of a small minority of individuals emanates. Ending longstanding U.S. government meddling in the Middle East would do more than any of the commissions recommendations to reduce terrorist attacks on innocent Americans.