Thursday, January 07, 2010

September 11, 2001 and December 25, 2009: Two Examples of a Failure of Intelligence

It's Time to Face the Truth: America's Intelligence Community Is a Bloated Bureaucratic Mess In Dire Need of Reform; Its Failure to Function With Good Coordination Led to the Attack on the USS Cole and to 9/11; Only the Quick Work of Brave Individuals -- and a Faulty Detonator -- Prevented a Christmas Day Disaster Aboard Northwest Flight 253

Passenger buses are seen near Northwest Airlines Flight 253 ...

Passenger buses are seen near Northwest Airlines Flight 253 on the tarmac at Detroit Metro Airport on December 27 after crew members requested emergency assistance upon landing after reporting a "disruptive passenger." This was the same flight number as the one involved in the Christmas Day incident in which a Nigerian man was charged with attempting to blow up the Northwest passenger jet. The failed bombing attempt has touched off a roiling controversy over the shortcomings of U.S. intelligence and security agencies. (Photo: WDIV-TV Detroit via Reuters)

(Posted 5:00 a.m. EST Thursday, January 7, 2010)



One week after the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon in 2001, then-National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice told the press corps, "This isn't Pearl Harbor."

No, it was worse.

In 1941, the United States didn't have a director of central intelligence, 14 intelligence agencies and an overall intelligence budget of more than $50 billion to provide early warning of enemy attack.

One day after a Nigerian man nearly blew an airliner out of the sky, Homeland Security Director Janet Napolitano and White House spokesman Robert Gibbs told the media that the system had worked.

No, the system was dysfunctional.

In 2009, we had two additional intelligence agencies, a czar for national intelligence and an intelligence budget of more than $75 billion. In all three cases, there was sufficient intelligence available to prevent the attacks. In all three cases, however, our intelligence efforts were unimaginative, divided and diffuse.


A blizzard of warnings went unheeded in all three cases. The United States had broken the Japanese military code, which provided many warnings of a decision to attack the United States. In the case of 9/11, the Central Intelligence Agency received warnings from foreign liaison intelligence services, including the French, German, Israeli and Russian services.

The German intelligence service warned both the CIA and Mossad, the Israeli intelligence service, in the summer of 2001 that terrorists were planning to hijack commercial aircraft and use them as weapons to attack U.S. targets. The Israelis issued their own warnings to the FBI and the CIA in August 2001 that al-Qaida was planning to attack U.S. targets.

The State Department and the CIA even possessed information that al-Qaida had decided on targeting American Airlines and United Airlines, prompting some Foreign Service officers to change travel plans.

As early as August 2009, the CIA and the National Security Agency had sensitive information on a person of interest dubbed the "Nigerian," who was suspected of meeting with terrorist elements in Yemen. The mainstream media are treating Yemen as a new concern, but Yemen has been a problem for terrorism for the past ten years.

Admiral Anthony Zinni had been warned in 2000 not to refuel ships off the Yemeni coast, but chose to ignore these warnings. Result: The USS Cole was attacked in October 2000.


A prominent Nigerian banker and former senior government official, well known to the international community, relayed suspicions about his son to the U.S. Embassy and the CIA station in Lagos, but there was no effort to approach Yemeni officials to gather information on the banker's son, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab.

The son was a poster child for the "no-fly" list, buying his ticket with cash, checking no luggage, lying to British authorities about his student visa and spending several months in Yemen. The British denied Abdulmutallab reentry, but the State Department didn't even bother to check whether he had an entry visa for the United States.

In fact, he had a multiple-entry visa and, since all intelligence and law enforcement agencies have access to State's consular database listing visa holders, this fact was available throughout the community.

It's one thing to worry about due process in dealing with a U.S. citizen; it makes no sense to wait for additional derogatory information in the case of a foreigner who has traveled to Yemen and whose own father has provided a warning about his son's extremism.


The simple fact is that the intelligence community is not a "community"; it does not share intelligence effectively and it fails to make corporate decisions. The NSA had transcripts of al-Qaida phone conversations in 2001 and sensitive intercepts on the "Nigerian" in 2009 that it didn't share with the CIA, the FBI or the National Security Council.

The FBI accumulated intelligence on al-Qaida that it hoped to use in a criminal case against Osama bin Laden; therefore, most of this intelligence never left the compartmented areas of FBI headquarters. The CIA withheld information on two 9/11 terrorists, presumably because it hoped to recruit these suspects as sources.

We were led to believe the intelligence situation had improved in the wake of 9/11, but in view of the traditional cultural and professional jealousies of the military and civilian intelligence agencies, we have no evidence of significant change.

Various departments and agencies have their own watch lists for limiting travel of terrorist suspects, but apply their own parochial concerns to operational activities and often ignore the intelligence products of rival agencies.

The master list at the National Counterterrorism Center is too large and unwieldy (more than 550,000 names) to be useful, and the State Department computer network lacks an automatic feedback loop that would link a suspect to a U.S. visa.


The Department of Homeland Security never should have been created and should have been abolished in the wake of Hurricane Katrina (Remember "You're doing a heck of a job, Brownie?"). If we must have such a superfluous organization, then it should possess a centralized depository of terrorist suspects containing all relevant information.

The analytical capabilities of the CIA, the FBI and the DHS have not been enhanced by the creation of the intelligence czar. Moreover, it is revealing that President Obama made his decision last month to increase troops in Afghanistan without requesting a National Intelligence Estimate from the so-called intelligence community. Perhaps, he understands that there are too many instances where assumptions drive facts in the intelligence process.

Former members of the 9/11 Commission are claiming that their recommendations have not been fully implemented, but it was the 9/11 Commission that helped to create the crazy-quilt intelligence organization that we now have, with too many working parts and a cumbersome bureaucracy.

The Commission is responsible for the creation of the Director of National Intelligence (DNI), a sclerotic and bloated bureaucracy that has done little to improve strategic intelligence, and the National Counterterrorism Center, which is at the center of the Nigerian intelligence failure.

Hurricane Katrina in 2005 demonstrated that the DHS is dysfunctional; the Nigerian failure teaches us that the DNI and the NCTC need reform.

The 9/11 Commission's creation of an intelligence czar has ensured that diversity and competition in collection and analysis of intelligence will be given short shrift. Truth is elusive within the intelligence process, and there is rarely a single answer to a controversial question or problem.

The best intelligence analysis often comes from contrarian thinkers, but the militarized intelligence process rewards consensus and not competition.


In the one area where we need centralization, watch lists for terrorist suspects, we have a redundancy of collections. Homeland Security keeps one list for border crossings; the State Department has a list for visas; the Transportation Security Administration has a no-fly list and a selectee list with 4,000 and 14,000 listings, respectively; and the National Counter Terrorism Center has an unwieldy database of 550,000 names.

The criteria for each list differ, and it takes an interagency group to determine whether to place an individual on a specific list.

There is at least one thing we have to be thankful for. In view of the failed efforts of Robert Reid in 2001 and Abdulmutallab, we can be thankful al-Qaida still has not perfected an effective detonator. We should also applaud the post-9/11 reforms that limited the amounts of liquid that can be taken on commercial aircraft.

The United States may not be so lucky the next time around, so President Obama must take a hard look at his entire national security team, particularly CIA Director Leon Panetta, DNI Dennis Blair, and NSC Deputy Director John Brennan, to make sure they are taking the necessary actions to reform the process.

The failure points seem obvious, with bad decisions being made at a relatively low level in the process. The president has not demonstrated an interest in reforming the intelligence community, however, despite his campaign rhetoric.

Ironically, the president has left the CIA without its most effective component for investigating failure because he hasn't named a statutory inspector general for the CIA to replace John Helgerson, who announced his retirement ten months ago. Helgerson was responsible for the most authoritative investigation of the 9/11 failure -- which the Bush administration and the CIA managed to cover up.

(Melvin A. Goodman is a senior fellow at the Center for International Policy and adjunct professor of government at Johns Hopkins University. His 42-year government career included service at the CIA, State Department, Defense Department and the U.S. Army. This commentary first appeared at

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Volume V, Number 2
Guest Commentary Copyright 2010, Truthout.
The 'Skeeter Bites Report Copyright 2010, Skeeter Sanders. all rights reserved.


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Monday, January 04, 2010

Steele's Future as GOP Chairman Is Looking Increasingly Cloudy

One Year After Being Elected the Republican Party's First African-American National Chairman, Michael Steele's Authority Is Still Under Fire From Hard-Line Conservatives -- Now Steele's Foes Are Claiming He's Using His Post For Personal Profit, Charging Up to $20G in Speaking Fees


In the year since he became the first African-American to be elected chairman of the Republican National Committee, Michael Steele has had to endure one controversy after another -- some of which were of his own making with his repeated episodes of off-the-cuff remarks. Hard-line conservatives -- who never wanted him to be chairman in the first place -- have constantly challenged his authority, succeeding in stripping him of powers that GOP national committee chairmen before him had long enjoyed unfettered. Now, midway through his two-year term, Steele's future as party chairman is becoming increasingly cloudy, as he has come under fire for allegedly using his position for personal profit, charging up to $20,000 in speaking fees. (Photo courtesy

(Posted 5:00 a.m. EST Monday, January 4, 2010)


When Michael Steele was elected the first African-American chairman of the Republican National Committee nearly a year ago, it had appeared at the time that the GOP -- having suffered two consecutive shellackings at the ballot box in which voters shunned Republican candidates the way Superman shuns kryptonite -- had finally decided to make a clean break from the regime of conservative, white and mostly Southern males that had dominated the party for more than 30 years.

"We have been misdefined as a party that doesn't care, a party that's insensitive, a party that is unconcerned about minorities, a party that is unconcerned about the lives and the expectations and dreams of average Americans," Steele told reporters in a news conference following his election.

"Nothing could be further from the truth," he continued. "I'm saying enough's enough, that day is over. This is the dawn of a new party moving in a new direction with strength and conviction . . . It's time for something completely different."

Steele vowed that under his leadership, "We're going to say to friend and foe alike, we want you to be a part of us." And, in a remark that some in the mainstream media interpreted as a warning to party conservatives, he added, "To those of you who will obstruct, get ready to get knocked over."

Instead, it was Steele who got "knocked over" -- again and again -- by party conservatives in the most tumultuous tenure by a Republican national chairman in the party's history.

Now, midway through his two-year term, Steele's future as GOP national chairman is becoming increasingly cloudy. And the conservative GOP establishment, figuratively speaking, is out for blood -- Steele's blood.


At least two of his predecessors, Frank Fahrenkopf and Jim Nicholson, have sharply criticized what they say is Steele's attempt to personally profit from his speaking engagements at colleges, trade associations and other groups, raking in as much as $20,000 in honorariums, or speaking fees.

"Holy mackerel!" exclaimed Fahrenkopf in an interview with The Washington Times. "I never heard of a chairman of either party ever taking money for speeches. The job of a national chairman is to give speeches. That's what the national party pays him for."

As chairman, Steele earns an annual salary of $223,500.

Nicholson, also interviewed by the conservative daily, said the job "demands so much of your time that you can work 24/7 and not get everything done, so taking time out to speak for the benefit of one's own bank account is not appropriate."

Fahrenkopf served as RNC chairman under President Ronald Reagan from 1983 to 1989 and is now chief executive of the American Gaming Association, the national trade association for the commercial casino industry. Nicholson was party chairman from 1997 to 2000 and served as Secretary of Veterans Affairs under President George W. Bush from 2005 to 2007. He is now a Washington attorney.


That Steele would find himself embroiled in a controversy over getting paid for his speaking engagements is only the latest in a string of brouhahas that have marked his tenure as party chairman from the very beginning.

Even his election last January, hailed as a historic turning point for the GOP just days after President Obama's inauguration as the nation's first African-American chief executive, came after a campaign within the party riven with charges of racism -- a contest that an Ohio state GOP chairman called "the dirtiest ever."

Hard-line party conservatives -- who never wanted Steele to be chairman in the first place -- fought tooth and nail in a bitter, albeit unsuccessful, campaign to defeat him with nasty innuendo.

Steele was forced to face down vicious accusations -- often made anonymously -- that he did not possess a true conservative philosophy and that he was actually a social liberal, citing Steele's past association with the Republican Leadership Council, which he co-founded with former New Jersey Governor Christie Todd Whitman.

A moderate who served as the head of the federal Environmental Protection Agency during Bush's first term, Whitman's outspoken support for abortion rights infuriated many social conservatives.


Then there was the memorable back-and-forth in March between Steele and right-wing radio talk-show host Rush Limbaugh -- whom many Democrats and liberals believe is the real boss of the GOP -- when Steele criticized Limbaugh while appearing on CNN's now-defunct "D.L. Hughley Breaks the News" on February 28. "I am the leader of the Republican Party," Steele told Hughley. "Rush Limbaugh is an entertainer. His whole thing is entertainment. Yes, it's incendiary. Yes, it's ugly."

Limbaugh roared back on March 2 with a blistering smackdown of Steele. "It's time, Mr. Steele, for you to go behind the scenes and start doing the work that you were elected to do, instead of trying to be some talking-head media star," Limbaugh thundered. "If it's your position as the head of the Republican National Committee that you want a left-wing Democrat president and a left-wing Democrat Congress to succeed in advancing their agenda . . . I think you have some explaining to do. Why are you running the Republican Party?"

And Steele's response to Limbaugh's verbal whacking of him? Appearing March 4 on Sean Hannity's Fox News Channel show, Steele said he had a private conversation with Limbaugh and denied that his comments on CNN were intended as an attack on talk radio's undisputed godfather.

"It's all good. . .We're past this," Steele told Hannity. "It was clearly a misunderstanding. My intent was never to go after my friend. I like Rush. He's an important conservative voice for our party and for 20-plus years, he's been holding that line."


Although they failed to block Steele's election as GOP chairman last January, party conservatives have waged an unrelenting war to undermine his authority in the year since -- and partially succeeded.

Steele was forced last spring to sign a secret pact with party conservatives in which he agreed to submit to controls and restraints on how he spends millions of dollars in party funds and contracts. For decades, the RNC chairman enjoyed almost unrestricted authority over how to spend the party's funds.

The so-called "good governance" agreement imposed restrictions on Steele's authority to conduct the Republican National Committee's business -- including contracts, fees for legal work and other expenditures. Steele agreed to cede some of his authority after several conservative committee members threatened a "no-confidence" vote against the chairman at a special RNC meeting in Washington that was scheduled to convene in late May.


Steele's style as party chairman has even ruffled the feathers of Republican leaders of Congress -- so much so that they told him in no uncertain terms in a closed-door private meeting in September to quit meddling in public policy matters.

According to, citing several sources, the GOP congressional leadership issued their blunt warning to Steele amid a heated discussion at the Capitol Hill office of House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) "about the roles of congressional leadership and Steele."

The Republican congressional leaders were furious with Steele for proposing a "health care bill of rights" for senior citizens without consulting them. They told Steele point-blank to concentrate on the governors’ races in New Jersey and Virginia and other political matters and leave the policymaking to the GOP lawmakers.

That didn't sit well with Steele, according to the sources, who said he was responding to questions asked of him about where the Republican Party stood on a variety of issues and that he was determined to continue fighting and aggressively defending the party.


The controversy over Steele's speaking fees could end up jeopardizing his chances of being re-elected GOP national chairman a year from now. According to The Washington Times, Steele charges between $8,000 and $20,000 per speech, plus first-class travel and lodging expenses.

Harry Sandler, whom the paper identified as a person who manages some of Steele's bookings for the American Program Bureau, a private booking agency, said that the GOP chairman usually charges between $10,000 and $15,000 per speaking engagement.

Sandler said Steele was paid about $15,000 for a speech in September at Philander Smith College in Little Rock, Arkansas. Steele has an upcoming speaking engagement at DePaul University in Chicago, for which he will be paid $12,500.

Steele's office sought to downplay the controversy. An RNC spokeswoman dismissed it as "silly," claiming that many past party chairmen -- both Republican and Democrat -- "have regularly received outside income."

But coming just weeks after yet another feud within the party -- this time over a leaked proposal by conservatives to pull the financial plug on Republican candidates who don't support core conservative party principles, including opposition to abortion and same-gender marriage -- it's now an open question as to whether Steele can win a second two-year term in 2011 as GOP national chairman.

That, of course, assumes that he even wants to keep the job. Especially after he told CNN commentator Roland Martin on his weekly syndicated TV show "Washington Watch" in November that that he's experienced fear from white Republicans because he's black.

Responding to Martin's criticism of white Republicans as being "scared of black folks" and that he faces a tough job at drawing black voter support for Republicans, Steele acknowledged that "I've been in the room and they've [white Republicans] been scared of me and I'm like, 'I'm on your side.'"

With all the grief that Steele is getting from party conservatives, one wonders how much longer he'll remain on their side.

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Volume V, Number 1
Copyright 2010, Skeeter Sanders. All rights reserved.


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