August 4, 2004
By Helle C. Dale
Commission recommendations in Washington are just about a dime a
dozen. Don't know what to do about a big, hairy problem? Have a
bipartisan commission cogitate on it and then endorse solutions for
implementation years after you have left office. It's standard
Washington operating procedure.
Which is why it is so unusual to see the September 11 commission's
recommendations be treated by President Bush and his Democratic
challenger, Sen. John Kerry, as worth their weight in pure gold.
With the families of the September 11 victims keeping up the
pressure, congressional hearings starting up this week and a raised
level of terrorism alert around financial institutions in New York,
New Jersey and Washington, the two contenders in this year's
presidential election are rushing to plant their standard on
For national security to be caught up in the presidential election
campaign is certainly not the best way to formulate policy. Yet,
the decisions presented by the White House on Monday - and by
implication endorsed by the Democratic challenger insofar as Mr.
Kerry claims he would lose not a millisecond to implement them -
are moves in the right direction. Mr. Bush endorsed the creation of
a new national intelligence director and a national
counterterrorism center to coordinate counterterrorism plans across
the government. The president also advocated strengthening
congressional oversight on homeland security.
The commission report had harsh criticism for the uncoordinated
state of U.S. intelligence gathering and analysis before September
11, and for the government's utter lack of comprehension of the
nature of the threat we faced and still face. Not only did the 1993
World Trade Center bombing come as a total surprise to the
intelligence community, but when the terrorist threat from Osama
bin Laden was recognized five years later following the embassy
bombings in Africa, virtually nothing was done to improve the
intelligence community. Then followed the attack on the USS Cole
and September 11.
The report introduces numerous recommendations. Below are those
related to intelligence. The overall impact should be to counteract
the effect of separate "stovepipes" of intelligence.
Currently the director of central intelligence (DCI) serves as
the president's chief intelligence adviser, head of the CIA and the
government's chief coordinator of the intelligence community.
That's three major jobs. The position dates back to the National
Security Act of 1947, itself designed to mend the problems so
tragically revealed by Pearl Harbor.
During the Cold War, however, U.S. intelligence agencies
proliferated, particularly within the Pentagon. The result is that
as of today, 80 percent of the budget of the intelligence community
is outside the authority of the DCI. We need a national
intelligence director to coordinate information gathering and
sharing between our multitudinous agencies. The September 11
commission had preferred an office within the White House with full
budgetary authority over the intelligence community. The
president's plans would keep the office independent, with an
advisory role on budgets. In the coming weeks, Congress will be
studying the merits of the two proposals. Meanwhile, we also need a
full-time director of the CIA to focus on reforming the agency - a
high priority given its recent glaring failures before September 11
and in Iraq.
Equally important is reform of the congressional committee
structure to give the Homeland Security Department its own standing
House and Senate committees. Right now, homeland security officials
are called to account by a cornucopia of committees. Congress
itself has been slow to accept that it, too, needs a measure of
Important to remember, though, is that haste makes waste. We don't
want mistakes made in the rush for political advantage from the
September 11 commission report. Where so much is at stake, we need
to proceed with deliberation as well as speed.
Helle Dale is director of Foreign Policy and Defense Studies
at the Heritage Foundation. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
First appeared in The Washington Times
Commission recommendations in Washington are just about a dime a dozen.
Helle C. Dale
Senior Fellow for Public Diplomacy
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