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Untangling Anti-Terrorist Confusion? Lots of Luck July 26, 2004
Wall Street Journal Editor Wall Street Journal
The late William E. Simon, Treasury secretary in the Nixon and Ford administrations, once described to a small group of Journal editors the origin of what would later become the U.S. Department of Energy.

As deputy to Treasury Secretary George Shultz in 1973, he had been sitting in for his boss at a Nixon cabinet meeting and offered a report on the "energy crisis".  Mr. Nixon chewed on his pencil for a moment and then, inspired by a thought told Mr. Simon that he was putting him in charge of a White House energy policy office, a job that later earned him the title of "energy czar".  In 1977, Congress and Jimmy Carter created a full-blown cabinet-level department to try to deal with the still unresolved "energy crisis".  Today, the DOE has wide ranging powers and a budget of roughly $20 billion.

The interesting thing about this story is that it was a clumsy attempt to correct a problem the government itself had created.  The "energy crisis" had been caused primarily by the price controls President Nixon adopted in 1971 as a response to inflation, also of the government's own making.  That's one way the government grows, or metastasizes if you will.  It add new functions to try to correct the problems of existing functions.  This new cell growth is always popular inside the beltway because it creates jobs and opportunities.

The Simon story came to mind last week while I was listening to John F. Lehman - probably the ablest member of the 9/11 Commission - describe to Journal editors the commision's report.  It proposes as a remedy for the government's 2001 failure to intercept the 9/11 attackers: A new cabinet level department headed by the "National Intelligence Director."

The new director would be in charge of the Central Intelligence Agency, the National Security Agency, the counter inteligence functions of the FBI, the Defense Intelligence Agency and a string of lesser intel units scattered throughout the government.

All this sounds plausible on the surface. Bring all the cats and dogs under one master.  Maybe they will do a better job than they do now of communicating with each other, so that the sum of their knowledge about terror suspects can be acted upon.  This would require a massive upgrading and linkage of their separate and often appallingly obsolescent computer networks.  But who knows, maybe with enough new organization charts, one of these days, the government will get itself organized.

But one wonders  A new department, Homeland Security, was created under Secretary Tom Ridge only two years ago. It already has spent $70 billion and wants $40 billion more next fiscal year, notes Forbes magazine.  The DHS is hard at work, organizing better security for nuclear power plants, arranging point-of-origin certification of shipboard containers, asking banks to monitor transfers from such places like Saudi Arabia. But Frobes still rates these risks at the "yellow" level and gives a high risk "red" to the threat of computer network hacking.

The patriot Act has broken down a key barrier to the effective use of intelligence to nab terrorists:  The "wall" erected by the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act to separate intelligence gathering and domestic prosecutions.  Interpretations of the FISA by the Clinton Justice Department and FISA judge Royce Lambert caused the information flow between intellegence and law enforcement to wither, says the 9/11 report.

We've already heard those sad stories of suspicious behaviour - flying lessons, for example - of the 9/11 hijackers never getting through to anyone motivated to act.  It's the story of a sprawling law enforcement, security and intelligence operation too compartmentalized to respond to clear danger signals. The FBI was focused on criminal prosecutions so it wasn't interested in flying lessons.

It wasn't that the U.S. had no defenses.  It has many thousands of law enforcement officers at all levels of government and as many as 20,000 people in the CIA alone.  But all of these people, many of them very able, were trapped in a morass of of government bureaucracy.

Some of these resttrictions are mind-boggling. Most big cities in the U.S. have "sanctuary" ordinances, pressed on them by "civil rights" groups, which prohibit city employees, especially the police, from checking with Immigration and Naturalization Service on the immigration status of anyone who runs afoul of the law. As a result, thousands of illegal aliens are at large in the U.S. and encounter no problems with the INS even if they are picked up for theft or drunken driving. And of course, airport screeners, under the same "civil rights" pressures are barred from "profiling" passengers and this, in the words of one critic, must accost a "blue-haired 70 year old woman with an aluminum "walker" and nine other average travelers for every able-bodied Mideast male.

The INS also has little coordination with the overseas consular offices of the State Department, which must approve visas for visitors to the U.S.  The State bureaucracy is responding to homeland security fears by tightening on VISA grants, but with no evident system for distinguising between terrorists and innocent students, business travelers and the like. The CIA's failure to insert spies into Al Queda was a major shortcoming.  One wonders what it does with it's estimated $40 billion budget.

Congress is itself fragmented, politically polarized and mired in the oversight methods of yesteryear, and so is not up the the requirements for legislating a more streamlined and efficient defense against terrorism.  For example, Secretary Ridge has had to testify to 80 committeess and subcomittees since taking office.  What they do with all that duplicative information and how he finds time to do anything else is a mystery.

Clearly, it was appropriate for the 9/11 Commission to note that foreign and domestic illegigence are the first line of defense against terrorists. But will a new cabinet department make it possible to put all arms of intelligence and law enforcement together into some coherent whole? The organization chart sure doesn't look like this department will be lean and mean. Ronald reagan solved Nixon;s "energy crisis" by abolishing energy price controls, sending prices downward.  Fighting terrorism isn't that easy, unfortunately, but perhaps enough critical elements of a vast bureaucracy can be mobilized for that effort.

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