It is appropriate for the proper intelligence oversight committees in
Congress to investigate the Sept. 11 terrorist attack, as the objective is
to discover if there were intelligence breakdowns and repair any flaws to
better protect us in the future. But if Democrats, especially, think this
is the issue they've been searching for to deflate President Bush's high
approval ratings (Enron, Social Security, education, tax cuts and political
fundraising through picture sales having failed them), they had better heed
the advice of former Bill Clinton adviser Dick Morris.
Interviewed on Fox News Channel last Friday (May 17), Morris warned fellow
Democrats that they would be doing Bush a favor by politicizing the war on
terrorism. The president, said Morris, could then ask voters to send more
Republican reinforcements to the Senate and House to replace those who
won't stand united against America's common enemy. Having abandoned
bipartisanship, Morris believes Democrats would then be vulnerable to a
political counterstrike by Republicans on their strongest post 9/11 issue:
patriotism. Democrats need to "hug the opposition on their best issues,"
After opening the war on terrorism to political examination, Democrats run
the risk of exposing their own party, including former Democrat presidents,
to culpability in any intelligence failures. John R. Bolton, now
undersecretary of State for arms control, noted in a May 16, 1999 column in
The Washington Times: "(President) Clinton has consistently mismanaged what
should have been, for any administration, the primary obligation of
stewardship for the country's intelligence capabilities....From the start,
the president himself has never shown much interest in intelligence
matters. He is the first president in memory not to receive morning
briefings directly from the Central Intelligence Agency along with his
daily copy of the written 'President's Daily Brief.' Even today, CIA
briefers rarely see (President Clinton) personally."
Did this indifference to intelligence lead to the first World Trade Center
attack in 1993 and the mistaken 1999 U.S. bombing of the Chinese Embassy in
Belgrade, not to mention our "surprise" over India's nuclear testing in
1998? Did it make 9/11 inevitable? Inquiring congressional minds will want
A 1997 essay for Studies in Intelligence by Defense Intelligence Agency
analyst Russ Travers offered a balanced critique of the decline in American
intelligence gathering. In his commentary, presciently titled "The Coming
Intelligence Failure," Travers found fault in the Executive and Legislative
branches, as well as the Intelligence Community.
In the Executive Branch, Travers suggested that U.S. national security
policy had been more reactive than anticipatory: "Any attempt to program
resources according to consumer needs is a recipe for getting whipsawed
from crisis to crisis and cannot be sustained."
Congress also "will bear some responsibility for our forthcoming
intelligence failure," wrote Travers, four years before 9/11. He cited the
congressional push for a division of labor in the IC which has
"significantly diminished competitive analysis (of data) within the
Community and should, therefore, be seen as an acceptance of increased
risk." Travers added, "By operating under the premise that we can divide
intelligence analysis into military, economic and political subcomponents
and then parcel out discrete responsibilities to various agencies, we are
sowing the seeds for inevitable mistakes." This "artificial distinction"
had not existed before, Travers noted, and "we are setting ourselves up to
do bad political, economic and military analysis; by implication, support
to all our consumers is going to get worse."
Further, "a combination of bureaucratic politics and self-inflicted wounds
within the IC will prove to be critical factors responsible for our
failure," Travers wrote.
These are some of the areas where any investigation of intelligence
failures should focus. To suggest, as some Democrats are, that President
Bush put thousands of lives at risk by ignoring specific and credible
evidence of an imminent attack on the United States by Islamic extremists
flies in the face of the character and moral strength an overwhelming
majority of Americans have come to admire in this man, especially since
If Democrats want to pursue such a strategy, Republicans should not stand
in their way. It might return the Senate to Republican control and probably
widen the GOP majority in the House.