A BuzzFlash Reader Commentary
Big Bucks for Closet Intelligence
By Margie Burns
May 24, 2002
"The fact is that the greatest crimes are caused by excess and not by poverty. Men do not become tyrants in order that they may not suffer cold." (Aristotle, Politics, Book 2)
American democracy has had an interesting couple of weeks:
- The head of the FBI admitted to the Senate Judiciary Committee that a 'Phoenix memo' last summer contained unheeded information pertinent to the attacks of Sept 11.
- The same week, U.S. 'intelligence' agencies were approved to get their biggest appropriation in history.
- Newspapers in the nation's capital -- belatedly rediscovering investigation – underreported the hearing and other pre-Sept 11 information until after huge intelligence appropriations had been approved.
On Wednesday, May 8, FBI Director Robert Mueller made his first formal appearance before the Senate Judiciary Committee. He addressed among other topics what is called the 'Phoenix memo,' sent in July 2001 by an FBI field agent, which referred to semi-training at U. S. aviation schools by some Islamist partisans. (The public has not been told about enrollment at for-profit and online English-teaching 'universities,' though such programs help in getting visas.)
The time and place of the hearing were reported erroneously ("They didn't check with us," said a Judiciary Committee staffer). The Washington Times did not report the hearing; the Washington Post gave it a political-horse-race spin, on page 29.
On domestic security, derailing discussion seems to be the name of the game. The hearing, "Reforming the FBI in the 21st Century," was effectively boycotted by Republicans. Of the nine GOP committee members, only Mike DeWine (OH) was present for a time; after he left, Jeff Sessions (AL) came on shift, also leaving early. Now, of course, congressional Republicans are piling on the FBI and deflecting criticism from the White House.
Most committee Democrats were present, not including Charles Schumer (NY) -- who arrived conspicuously late and bypassed the intelligence topic, opting to bring up DC federal gun laws. After strolling around, exiting briefly and returning, and smirking and chatting to chairman Patrick Leahy (VT) while the well-prepared Russell Feingold (WI) was questioning witnesses, Schumer also left early. Lucky for this man he represents a state registered two-to-one Democrat. (Typically, Schumer got the good press coverage.)
Dianne Feinstein's (D-CA) questions regarding who got the Phoenix memorandum, whether its recommendations were implemented, and who made the key decisions have not been answered; initially, they were not reported.
A few concerns rise from this picture:
- The FBI is bearing too much of the blame. The hijackers' home countries and their ruling cliques ought to be filling in some intelligence gaps here, but that's not happening. Instead, the FBI is being lambasted in the media-conglomerate press -- while the CIA gets off lightly. Coincidentally, the FBI is also our biggest agency that investigates white-collar crime, something the CIA has never been accused of targeting.
- Politicians and press are parroting "the openness of our society," as though hijackings were a direct result of democracy. You'd think that with private computer access including email, credit cards and phone cards arriving in the mail, cell phones, online airline tickets, private language courses, costly flight training, and commercially available ID forgeries, a list of factors might include commercialization. Also, hijackings are fomented by the world's least open societies.
- Current proposals all seem to want intelligence centralized from a DC location, and rewarded for its mistakes with more billions. Why is this a good idea, when the good intelligence tips came from field operatives, and the neglect came from above? Wouldn't it make for politically motivated investigating? And isn't it 'Pearl Harbor thinking' to put all your eggs into one easy cyber-target?
- Current proposals are also geared to more elaborate, more exotic, and more expensive military bulwarks. What the hijackers did was equivalent on a larger scale to a housebreaker's using flammables from under your kitchen sink against you, yet the official response is always 'Let's put more flammables under our sink.' Hardly a word about prevention by reduction, dispersal, tapering off -- toxic waste, munitions, medical waste, etc.
Domestic security is a matter of public health and public safety; it requires public hearings. Impartial investigation cannot be assumed from closet hearings. The public should be let know what's going on, the Democrats must demand public awareness from a stonewalling administration, and the press should be calling for it with one voice.
What, exactly, would have been wrong with the public's knowing about the September 11 plots beforehand?
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