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CURMUDGEONRY
Too Incompetent to Cooperate
So we need a new agency, what else?

by Barnabas
July 20, 2004

The final report of the commission investigating the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks recommends a major restructuring of the nation's intelligence community and includes broad criticism of the White House, Congress and other parts of the U.S. government for failing to detect, thwart and better respond to the deadly hijackings, according to panel members and other officials.

But the final report goes beyond the detailed findings of the commission's staff, scolding Congress for poor oversight of the nation's counterterrorism efforts and urging specific and dramatic reforms that include creation of a powerful national counterterrorism center, according to administration officials and those involved in drafting the document. The new center would have far greater authority than the Terrorist Threat Integration Center opened by the CIA last year, officials said.

—Dan Eggen and Steve Coll, "9/11 Panel Calls for Major Changes". Washington Post, July 18, 2004.

Espionage and war are the work of honorable and brave men and women, but that doesn’t keep them from being stinky enterprises made necessary by even stinkier situations. So if we must engage in them it’s a lot better to succeed than to fail. —Barnabas, May 29, 2002.

I had it mostly right two years ago, except for my assumption that the United States government is competent to engage in espionage and war. Since I am already a senior citizen, I doubt that I will ever be able to assume it again in this life. When a country has messed things up to the degree we have in the last few years, it takes a long time to get back in working order. Honor and bravery do not substitute for competence and cooperation.

This week we learned that the incompetence extends even to the investigation of incompetence. We expected great things from the 9/11 commission; but instead they give us the classic bureaucratic solution to all government screw-ups: start another agency and give it even more authority. We do not need a new agency. We have more than enough of those. What we need are people in them who work with each other, who know what they are doing, and then do it. If the FBI and CIA cannot be made to work, given their resources, what makes us believe that we can get an even bigger, more powerful, more secretive, agency work? Nothing makes me believe it.

Besides, it’s scary to think of an agency with even more power than the current ones exercise.The logic seems to be: If the current agencies can’t or won’t cooperate with each other, let’s devise one that doesn’t have to cooperate with anybody!

The irony is, the CIA is supposed to be that now. That’s why it is called the Central Intelligence Agency. Here’s part of its history, taken from its own web page: Under the provisions of the National Security Act of 1947 (which became effective on 18 December 1947) the National Security Council (NSC) and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) were created. The 1947 Act charged the CIA with coordinating the nation's intelligence activities and correlating, evaluating, and disseminating intelligence which affects national security. "Coordinating" is the key word.

Now we are going to have a more central intelligence agency. It sounds silly, but no sillier than the recommendation.

In the private sector we go out of business if we accept the inevitability of incompetence and treat cooperation as a matter of choice. Cooperation is a necessity, not an option,  for those who are on the same side. In the public sector, if there is in fact a rivalry between the FBI and the CIA as commonly reported, it confuses the common goal of the two agencies. That rivalry has to go. (Why It Will Happen Again). National security is not an intramural sport in your local Middle School.

"Values" was the word of the week in the presidential campaign this week, but I missed hearing about the values of competence and cooperation. But they are central to this campaign, and to the government that will follow it.



About the Author:
Barnabas believes that incompetence may be forgiven, but never excused. That includes his own.


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