Friday, July 23, 2004

Idiot Boxes

From Jim Pinkerton, on real results of the 9/11 Commission, especially its foolish structural antics - its ineffective shuffling of boxes only to "[put] them back in the same place:"

Consider, as one example, the commission's suggestion of creating a "national intelligence director" to oversee the 15 federal intelligence agencies. That's a nice-sounding idea. But we already have such a centralizer, whose title is director of central intelligence (DCI). That's right: the post commonly called "CIA director" is, in fact, the same director of central intelligence. That's been his title ever since the National Security Act of 1947 created the Central Intelligence Agency and tasked the DCI with coordinating intelligence government-wide.

As a second example, the commission proposes establishing a counterterrorism center inside the White House to become the "authoritative knowledge bank" for homeland-security efforts. That, too, sounds like a pretty good idea, although again it was first thought of 57 years ago; the National Security Council (NSC) is another product of the '47 National Security Act.

So one might ask: If the war on terror is the No. 1 national-security threat to the United States, shouldn't the National Security Council be tasked with that mission? If the current NSC isn't up to the job, we need a new NSC staff, not a second NSC-ish outfit operating in parallel. . . . .

Yet another recommendation is going to face a tougher fate: The commission wants to consolidate congressional oversight of counter-terror functions. This is a good idea - which is why it will probably never happen. Such consolidation would uproot turf of perhaps two dozen committees on Capitol Hill.

At this red-hot moment, no member of Congress is likely to come out publicly and say that personal perk- and pork-protection is more important than protecting the country. But House Speaker Dennis Hastert has already said that legislative action is unlikely this year; in 2005, after memories of the commission have faded, one can only wonder what Congress might be working on instead.

Besides, Washington today is atwitter with speculation about "pants-gate" - the apparent classified-document-pilfering committed by Bill Clinton's national security adviser, Sandy Berger.

Berger's misdeeds underscore the basic flaw in the commission's report: people matter. The catastrophe of 9/11 wasn't a failure of organizational charts; it was a failure of personnel. One can argue about the apportionment of blame, and to whom, but it's simply a dodge to say that institutions, as opposed to individuals, were at fault.

In making its critique, the commission has asked for bureau-structural response. And such a response, however duplicative or delayed, will be forthcoming. But the notion of personal responsibility, as well as political accountability, will suffer another blow as new flow charts crowd out the obvious need for new and shrewder people - for folks who can anticipate terror trouble, not because they are in the right box but because they are in the right frame of mind.

Amen to that.

It may seem anti-big-D-Democrat to say I'm not for growing the federal government - but I'm saying it anyway. At least, not when it will only complicate and diffuse the real issues. No, no one wants to be at fault, no one wants to lose his job. . . .

We need newer, better people, not newer, better titles.

This is the way the world ends, not with a bang, but a commission.

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