WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Judge Richard A. Posner was in town for a public appearance the other night, and as he is a leading candidate for the title World's Foremost Authority, I thought I would stop by the famous old Willard Hotel to see what he had to say about the 9/11 Commission Report and its legislative by-product, the Intelligence Report Act. Supposedly the legislation improves the capacity of our intelligence community in this time of terror attacks worldwide. Posner, a federal judge and lecturer at the University of Chicago Law School, writes on a broad range of public matters. He writes beautifully on issues that do not invite elegant prose and with a powerful analytical mind. Often he comes to conclusions with which I do not agree. For instance in his book on the impeachment of President Bill Clinton, he reviewed the law and the transgressions of the culprit, concluding that Clinton could be impeached but should not to be. Well, Judge, I was with you part of the way.
Now he was in Washington to discuss his most recent book, "Preventing Surprise Attacks: Intelligence Reform in the Wake of 9/11," which is part of a promising series of brief books that the Hoover Institution is publishing on pressing political, economic and social issues. As usual Posner's approach reminds me of another brilliant, if unconventional, policy scholar -- the late Edward Banfield. Banfield, a Harvard government professor of two decades back, employed vast learning and a skeptical intelligence to arrive at conclusions that ended up being commonsensical, and thus, to his fellow scholars, deeply disturbing.
On the 9/11 Commission's findings and the consequent legislation, Posner's most optimistic judgment is that the legislation is hazy. It leaves the president and intelligence reformers much room in which to revise the commission's recommendations, and they had better use all the room available because they will need it to improve intelligence. His additional judgment is very much like one Banfield might render, to wit, there is no "solution" to the intelligence problem. Surprise attacks are by their nature surprising. While we attempt to thwart the next 9/11, the terrorists are working on something new. Will the intelligence community anticipate it and prevent it? That is hard to say, though we had better try.
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