Thursday, July 22, 2004

The 9/11 Report: A Preview

From via Yahoo News (excerpts of the news report, with my commentary):
911 panel report: 'We must act'
Reforms 'need to be enacted and enacted speedily'

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The chairman of the panel investigating the attacks of September 11, 2001, said his commission found that the "United States government was simply not active enough in combating the terrorist threat before 9/11."
I'd say "no kidding," but that would be insensitive. I'd add that the terrorists might well have been able to do something atrocious, no matter how vigilant the government, because war isn't a one-sided affair.
Thomas Kean and his fellow panelists are citing a "failure of imagination" that they say kept U.S. officials from understanding the al Qaeda threat before the attacks on New York and Washington.
A "failure of imagination" is endemic to government. Bureaucracy is inimical to imagination. The best way to defeat terrorists is to give tough, clever, technologically equipped free-lancers a budget and a few ground rules and turn them loose on the problem. There's imagination for you.
In a news conference Thursday, Kean said that the United States is "faced with one of the greatest security challenges in our long history."

"Every expert with whom we spoke told us an attack of even greater magnitude is now possible and even probable. We do not have the luxury of time," Kean said.

"We must prepare and we must act. The al Qaeda network and its affiliates are sophisticated, patient, disciplined and lethal."
As I was saying.
Commission member Jamie Gorelick said the panel has made a strong effort to show the factual basis behind the recommendations.

She warned that "policymakers ignore that at their peril.

"There are bad consequences to being in the middle of a political season and there are also good ones," she said, "because everyone who is running for office can be asked, 'Do you support these recommendations?'"
Gorelick, as you will remember, was a big part of the problem. Now she thinks she's part of the solution. That's our government in action.
As expected, the report calls for a national intelligence chief and a counterterrorism center modeled on the military's unified commands.

It also proposes that a joint congressional committee be created to oversee homeland security.
I've read elsewhere that the report also chastises Congress for the meddling that weakened our intelligence services. So, Congress deserves another chance -- to meddle some more?
The report concluded that the emergence of al Qaeda in the late 1990s "presented challenges to U.S. governmental institutions that they were not well-designed to meet."

"The most important failure was one of imagination," commissioners wrote. "We do not believe leaders understood the gravity of the threat."

The report concluded that although "imagination is not usually a gift associated with bureaucracies," because previous al Qaeda attacks used vehicles to deliver explosives, "the leap to the use of other vehicles such as boats ... or planes is not far-fetched."
They had it right about imagination not being associated with bureaucracies. The rest is pure hindsight.
The report lists missed "operational opportunities" it said could have hindered or broken up the plot, blamed largely on lack of communication between the CIA and FBI.

"Information was not shared, sometimes inadvertently or because of legal misunderstandings," commissioners found.
The Gorelick effect.
"Since the plotters were flexible and resourceful, we cannot know whether any single step or series of steps would have defeated them. What we can say with a good deal of confidence is that none of the measures adopted by the United States government before 9/11 disturbed or even delayed the progress of the al Qaeda plot," Kean said.
How's that for bold, imaginative thinking? But what do you expect from a fact-finding commission? I can't wait to get my hands on a copy of the full report. It'll make a good doorstop.