In obsessing over intelligence failures of the past, Americans may be overlooking intelligence failures of the present.
It’s not that we discount the value of knowing more about exactly what went wrong in American spy and law enforcement agencies in the years leading up to the massacres of Sept 11, 2001.
But we worry that, amid all the accusations and recriminations over what wasn’t done by U.S. officials or agencies in the past, present intelligence problems are being ignored.
While most of the media’s focus of late has been on helping former counterterrorism czar Richard Clarke become a best-selling author, or documenting the slide of the “independent” Sept. 11 commission into a partisan circus, several members of the Senate Armed Services Committee have been asking important questions about which federal agency is ultimately responsible for dealing with handling intelligence related to the terror threat. These senators, too, could have partisan motives. But at least they are asking questions that impact how intelligence matters are handled in the present and future, rather than the past.
Maine Republican Susan Collins and Michigan Democrat Carl Levin are asking whether primary responsibility for terror-related intelligence now rests with the Homeland Security Department and it’s Terrorist Threat Integration Center, or with the CIA and Defense Intelligence Agency. And they say the Bush administration has yet to clarify these lines of authority in a “satisfactory manner,” in spite of their repeated requests that it do so.
“I am told that the reason we haven’t received an answer to our letters is that DHS, DoD and CIA can’t agree on an answer, which implies to me that the lines of authority are not clear and that the answer is still being devised,” Collins said during a recent congressional hearing.
We had doubts about the creation of a Homeland Security Department and the new intelligence center within, believing that reforming existing agencies should have taken precedence over creating new ones. Now that these largely redundant new bureaucracies exist, we wish — for the sake of our national security — that Washington would hurry up and figure out what to do with them.