The Day Tom Kean Cried

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Hey, the Washington Post reports on issues that don't involve two 60-something men grunting at each other! Via Jonathan Weisman comes news that Democrats are flushing their campaign promise to "implement ALL the recommendations of the 9/11 Commission."

Because plans for implementing the commission's recommendations are still fluid, Democratic officials would not speak for the record. But aides on the House and Senate appropriations, armed services and intelligence committees confirmed this week that a reorganization of Congress would not be part of the package of homeland-security changes up for passage in the "first 100 hours" of the Democratic Congress.

It may seem like a minor matter, but members of the commission say Congress's failure to change itself is anything but inconsequential. In 2004, the commission urged Congress to grant the House and Senate intelligence committees the power not only to oversee the nation's intelligence agencies but also to fund them and shape intelligence policy. The intelligence committees' gains would come at the expense of the armed services committees and the appropriations panels' defense subcommittees. Powerful lawmakers on those panels would have to give up prized legislative turf.

They'd have to give up turf? Yeah, that won't happen. As Weisman reveals, consideration over the hurt feelings and wallets of people like Jack Murtha and Jane Harman are making it politically untenable for Pelosi to push for the congressional changes.

It's hard to know what side to take here. The Democrats are obviously being duplicitous and power-hungry, and hoping the 9/11 families who gave them so much juice over the last year don't mind. But the campaign pledge to implement the recommendations had really nothing to do with congressional musical chairs. It was code for "unlike these Republicans, we'll fund homeland security and make sure you're safe when you get on a plane." And you could easily argue that whether or not every passenger on an airplane gets screened will have more impact on a potential terrorist attack than whether Jack Murtha controls a $500 billion budget or a $100 billion budget. (The 41 recommendations are here.)

Recall that fateful day when Tom Kean and Lee Hamilton shambled forth with xeroxed copies of their report, and Nick Gillespie had the scoop.

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  1. It was code for “unlike these Republicans, we’ll fund homeland security and make sure you’re safe when you get on a plane.”

    I can’t think of a single problem with homeland security that would be solved with more money, and quite a few that would be made worse, so reneging on this promise actually strikes me as a positive.

  2. You mean…they lied?!

    I could never have imagined it!

    [snark]

  3. The question I always had about the “Implement ALL the recommendations of the 9/11 Commission” was whether they were going to revise the office of the Director of National Intelligence to bring the Republicans’ bill in line with the 9/11 Commission.

    The Commission recommended created a DNI to unify the diverse intelligence agencies scattered throughout the executive branch, and giving the DNI independent budgetary and personnel authority. The Republicans’ version failed to bring the DoD’s intelligence appartus under the DNI (because Rumsfeld has done so much better than the CIA in handling WMD intelligence, I guess) and made the DNI’s budgetary and hiring authority subject to White House oversight (because allowing the White House to lean on the intelligence agencies has worked out so wonderfully over the past five years, I guess).

    It would be a lot of fun to watch Bush and Cheney argue against giving more authority to intelligence professionals, rather than White House staffers and Pentagon civilians, in the management of the intelligence apparatus.

  4. Shouldn’t that be “Cwied”?

  5. “The Republicans’ version failed to bring the DoD’s intelligence appartus under the DNI”

    Yeah, lets put all of the US intelligence assets under one bit group think bureaucracy. That will help.

    There are so many problems with the 9-11 commission it might impossible to list them. First, no one bothers to notice the elephant in the room, which is of course Congress. Congress is never held responsible for anything, despite the fact that it has funding and oversight authority over all of these agencies. It wasn’t just the CIA and the FBI that was asleep in the 80s and 90s, where the hell was Congress?

    The CIA has been broke for 40 years. When it wasn’t inventing the missile gap to get Kennedy elected it was doing the Johnson and Nixon’s bidding against domestic enemies. Putting another layer of bureaucracy over that is not going to help. In past 50 years we have created a giant careerist, incompetent intelligence bureaucracy. All the 9-11 commission recommendations do will feed the beast and do nothing to solve the problem. We already have the DHS thanks to the 9-11 commission. Yeah, that has been a real success. The Democrats may be doing it for the wrong reasons, but they doing the country a favor by ignoring these recommendations.

  6. Has any fundamental reform taken place at the FBI, which I would argue is more disfunctional than the CIA? As bad as the CIA has been, the decades of corruption and incompetence at the FBI may be worse, from the Whitey Bolger fiasco, to Ruby Ridge, and the failure to energetically pursue the Moussoui (sp) arrest prior to 9/11, and on, and on, and on…

  7. John,

    Nice dodge. Nothing on the influence of political appointees in the White House and Pentagon over intelligence professionals?

    You can talk about the last 40 years, but it wasn’t 40 years of career CIA and DIA personnel who spent the past half decaded fellating hucksters like Ahmed Chalabi. It was political hacks who, being neo-conservatives, obviously know better than the bureacrats.

    Please, do me a favor – keep not learning lessons.

  8. “You can talk about the last 40 years, but it wasn’t 40 years of career CIA and DIA personnel who spent the past half decaded fellating hucksters like Ahmed Chalabi. It was political hacks who, being neo-conservatives, obviously know better than the bureacrats.”

    It was all those hacks who were asleep at the switch in the 1990s? Do you really believe that all of the problems with the CIA come from Bush? Get a grip on yourself Joe. I am sitting here defending the Democrats but that is not good enough because to do so means to admit that perhaps there were problems in the world before Bush. What are going to do in 2009 when there is a new President and (gasp) there are still problems in the world? I guess you will blame everything on Bush and the Neocons for ten or fifteen years or so, but at some point it is going to be tough road for you.

  9. Also nice dodge on the bureaucracy point. How is adding another layer of bureaucracy and another Indian Chief for peoples’ careers to depend on telling him what he wants to hear going to help? If the CIA is going to be fixed, it needs to be decentralized not centralized. Breakup the old timers who peaked during the cold war’s fiefdoms. Lets have lots of organizations with lots of different approaches so that if one is broke perhaps the others might try something new.

  10. “Do you really believe that all of the problems with the CIA come from Bush?”

    Of course not. I remember when they missed Saddam’s buildup on the Kuwaiti border, and the impending collapse of the USSR, too.

    But the most significant intelligence failure in our history – the ones that got us into the situation we’re in in Iraq – can most certainly be laid at the feet of this administration. The CIA was sending up all sorts of signals about the weakness of the WMD and Iraq/al Qaeda data, and was refusing to have anything to do with Playa Chalabi, and the adminstration slapped them down because they knew better.

    Yes, the CIA made mistakes in the past, but nothing like this.

    “What are going to do in 2009 when there is a new President and (gasp) there are still problems in the world?” Criticize him just has strongly, if he screws up this badly.

    “How is adding another layer of bureaucracy and another Indian Chief for peoples’ careers to depend on telling him what he wants to hear going to help?” Competing power centers are the fundamental principle behind how our government functions, and how mistakes are caught. There was no one who could have caught thethe mistakes of Bush and neocons who wasn’t below them in the chain of command. When the people who knew what they were talking about tried, they were slapped down, and forced to knuckle under, by people who had power to end their careers. We had a chance to change that, and King George decided he need to keep all the power in his own Imperial Court – even after seeing how badly that court’s interference with the professionals turned out.

    “If the CIA is going to be fixed, it needs to be decentralized not centralized. Breakup the old timers who peaked during the cold war’s fiefdoms. Lets have lots of organizations with lots of different approaches so that if one is broke perhaps the others might try something new.” By all means, but more importantly, let them do their job, without professional fantasizers having a boot on their neck.

  11. “By all means, but more importantly, let them do their job, without professional fantasizers having a boot on their neck.”

    The 9-11 commission is going to do nothing to stop that. Further, just because they are professionals doesn’t mean they are right all of the time. We have election for a reason and it is not good for the country to have bureaucracies who feel they are above political control. You are saying all of this stuff now, but wait until the CIA or the new Intelligence Sultan doesn’t like the policies of Democratic President and actively undermines it through selective leaks to sympathetic media the way the CIA has done Bush, you will be screaming like a stuck pig. Be very careful what you wish for. The last thing we need is a large bureaucracy that thinks it is above the elected and appointed officials there to control it, which is of course what we have in the CIA and why it needs to be dismantled and replaced with a new organization.

  12. “The 9-11 commission is going to do nothing to stop that.”

    Putting a wall between the politicians and the professionals will most certainly protect the independence of the latter against the meddling of the former. That’s why the military performed so well after Hurricaine Katrina, and why the crony-ridden FEMA performed so poorly.

    There is a thing called reality, that isn’t up for a popular vote. It doesn’t depend on conformance to some politician’s ideology.

  13. The question I always had about the “Implement ALL the recommendations of the 9/11 Commission” was whether they were going to revise the office of the Director of National Intelligence to bring the Republicans’ bill in line with the 9/11 Commission.

    Well, it looks as though that question won’t matter, since the Democrats don’t want to enact all recommendations. Frankly, this would have been one thing one the step to winning me over to being open to voting Democrat.

    Unnecessary disclosure: In my life, I have voted for one Republican (Bush in 2004), one Democrat (Eric Fingerhut running for Senate against George Voinovich in 2004) and that’s it. I sat out 2006, but the Democrats following through on Pelosi’s pledge to “drain the swamps” would get me to vote Democrat. Unfortunately, despite the “new blood”, it’s the same old party hacks (like Murtha, to name one) who are going to dictate policy for the next 2 years.

  14. John, I’ll grant you that there needs to be a balancing act between political accountability and professional independence.

    The problem is, the administration is still determined to yank the balance ever further away from professionalism, even after doing so engendered the worst intelligence failure of our lifetimes.

  15. Umm, John:

    Get a grip on yourself, Joe.

    No worries there.

    I keed, I keed!

  16. RD Dean,

    The worst thing I ever did was play some rock and roll.

    But the money’s no good.

    Just get a grip on yourself.

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