What We Learned from the Report of the 911 Commission XXVIII.

So, there were flaws in how the government professionals responded to the danger posed by al Qaeda. How did elected officials do?

 

The Carter administration began the practice of having counter-terrorism co-ordinated by an NSC staff member in the White House. A civil servant, Richard Clarke, took over the function of co-ordinating policies on trans-national crime, narcotics, and terrorism (“drugs and thugs”) in the Reagan administration after Olly North’s “arms for hostages enterprise ran aground. The Clinton administration kept Clarke on. Beginning in 1995 the Clinton administration took a considerable interest in resisting terrorism: the anti-terrorism budget of the FBI was substantially increased and the budgets of the CIA ceased to decline; the US leaned on foreign countries to stop providing shelter to terrorists; and Richard Clarke was promoted to be “national coordinator for security, infrastructure protection, and counterterrorism.” (pp. 144-150.) In theory, Clarke was supposed to report through the Deputies Committee; in practice Clarke reported directly to a restricted sub-group of the Principals. (p. 288.)

However, Osama Bin Laden declared war on the United States in February 1998, but neither Bill Clinton nor George W. Bush went to Congress for a corresponding declaration of war against Osama Bin Laden. This limited the possibilities for action against Bin Laden. (NB: On the other hand, how do you declare war against one guy living in a cave in the most backward place on earth?)

 

In the wake of the Watergate scandals, Congress created House and Senate select committees to over-see the work of the intelligence agencies (and to keep them from making a mess on the carpet). However, the Armed Services committees have real authority over the intelligence agencies, so the intelligence budgets rise and fall with the over-all levels of defense spending.

The grab for a “peace dividend” in the 1990s by cutting defense budgets also drove down intelligence budgets; Congress wasn’t interested in terrorism as a problem; and Congress has become progressively less capable of exercising over-sight of the executive branch in recent decades. Instead of carefully reviewing the implementation of laws and programs, Congressional committees have shifted to “a focus on personal investigations, possible scandals, and issues designed to generate media attention.” (Quoted, p. 155.) They certainly did nothing to push the executive branch to reorganize itself to deal with the post-Cold War world. (pp. 150-157.) NB: The general coarsening of American public life showed up here as well.

 

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