There are numerous reasons why retired Admiral Dennis Blair was forced out as Director of National Intelligence, and this article addresses them.
By Andrea Stone
Thomas Kean, left, former chairman of the 9/11 Commission, and former Vice Chairman Lee H. Hamilton listen to comments by other panel members and reporters during a Nov. 14, 2005, news conference on the recommendations of the panel’s 2004 report.
WASHINGTON (May 21) — The downfall of retired Adm. Dennis Blair, who resigned Friday as director of national intelligence, came as yet another reminder that the best-laid plans for securing the nation against terrorism after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks haven’t all worked out.
The 9/11 Commission, whose findings were largely passed by Congress in 2004, outlined a series of security changes and improvements to thwart future attacks. While it is doubtful that the commission’s recommendations, if implemented, would have made the nation totally safe, they were aimed at reducing the odds of a successful terrorist plot.
“There is a much greater sense of the need for cooperation and the sharing of information compared to the intramural hoarding among different agencies that was evident prior to 9/11,” Richard Ben-Veniste, a 9/11 Commission member, told AOL News. “But events like Times Square and the Christmas Day plot show how much more needs to be done.”
One of the commission’s central recommendations was to establish the Office of the Director of National Intelligence to oversee and coordinate the CIA and 15 other civilian and military intelligence agencies. The commission urged that the DNI “receive a public appropriation for national intelligence, should have authority to hire and fire his or her intelligence deputies, and should be able to set common personnel and information technology policies across the intelligence community.”
Congress agreed to none of that. The result was that Blair’s tenure has been troubled from the start, and his two hamstrung predecessors didn’t fare much better. “There is a fundamental lack of clarity in the mission” of the DNI, 9/11 Commission vice chairman Lee Hamilton told AOL News.
Hamilton and Commission Chairman Tom Kean testified on Capitol Hill this week, telling the House Homeland Security Committee that some of their key recommendations have not been implemented or have been carried out haphazardly.
Among the concerns and to-do items left over since 9/11:
1. Not Connecting Enough Dots: A scathing report by the Senate Select Intelligence Committee on the Christmas Day bomb plot said the National Counterterrorism Center — created after 9/11 to coordinate and analyze data from 16 intelligence agencies — was “not adequately organized and did not have resources appropriately allocated to fulfill its missions.”
2. Take Another Look: A new government report slams a program that the Transportation Security Administration started in 2003 to nab would-be terrorists at airports based on suspicious behavior. The Government Accountability Office said TSA deployed the SPOT program even though a “scientific consensus does not exist on whether behavior detection principles can be reliably used for counterterrorism purposes.”
3. Can You Hear Me Now? A 2005 report card by the 9/11 Public Discourse Project gave an F to local, state and federal agencies in allocating more radio spectrum and improving connectivity for first-responder communications. Five years later, “[w]e still haven’t solved the problem to permit all first responders to seamlessly talk to one another at the scene of a disaster,” Hamilton said.
4. Who’s In Charge? The 9/11 Commission urged Congress to streamline its oversight of intelligence and homeland security, setting up a joint committee or a single committee in each house to deal with budget and policy issues. Yet congressional leaders have refused to give up their fiefdoms, resulting in, by Rep. Peter King’s calculations, 108 committees and subcommittees with jurisdiction. “It’s entirely dysfunctional,” said King, the top Republican on the House Homeland Security Committee.
5. Big Brother Is Watching: The Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, created after 9/11 to advise the executive branch and oversee government efforts to defend civil liberties, has been dormant since 2007. President Barack Obama hasn’t appointed members, despite repeated pleas from Rep. Jane Harman and other congressional Democrats. There is “no board protecting civil liberties,” Kean testified. “We’ve got massive capacity now to develop data and individuals and we need somebody to ensure that the collection capabilities do not violate our privacy and the liberties we care about.”
6. Look Homeward: All eyes looked abroad for bad guys after 9/11, yet as the fizzled Times Square bombing and at least two dozen other cases demonstrate, homegrown terrorist plots by born or naturalized Americans are growing. “We don’t really think that domestic intelligence has received enough attention,” Kean said, adding that the FBI must “reform itself and build an organization that places more emphasis on preventing attacks.”
Said Roger Cressey, a counterterrorism expert in the Bill Clinton and George W. Bush administrations: “The government is really good at thinking about the previous threat. Where we need to do a better job is to see where the threat is evolving.”