Friday, January 1, 2010

Spy Agencies Failed to Collate Clues on Terror

I woke up to this headline in the New York Times the other day and had a great idea.

What we need in government is a central clearing house for sensitive and potentially dangerous information. This agency would be sort of a sensitive stuff tsar (I use this spelling because, for some reason czar is kind of out of fashion these days and tsar is simply an alternate spelling).

But wait! Now I recall that such an agency already exists, in fact it is an entire new cabinet department--The Department of Homeland Security. So then, if we already have a sensitive stuff tsar, why the headline, and more importantly, why the attack?

Now let me see, Mr. Peabody and I will take a ride on the wayback machine and take a look at the birth and rearing of the DHS (Department of Homeland Security in case you have forgotten).

Soon after the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001 there were a lot of people asking how all of those people could have passed through the security grid on that day. What they quickly learned was that there was ample evidence to tag all of the conspirators and keep them from boarding those airplanes. The problem was that while the FBI knew one thing and the CIA knew another thing and the DIA and the NSA each had a piece of the puzzle, no one was in place to put the puzzle together--there was no FBICIADIANSA marriage bureau in federal government.

The minority Democrats in Congress (the opposite of progress) said, lets make an agency to do that. The Bush administration said it was not needed and fought against a law that would create such an agency. Eventually enough Republicans bought into the concept and miraculously it became a Bush idea.

Immediately (well, within two and a half years) they started putting demi-tsars in place with tentacles in every three letter section of the FBICIADIANSA. But, they also found a way for other agencies to dump parts of their mission into this new and growing department. So they dumped Immigration and Naturalization, Border Patrol and those folks at the airport who peer into your bags into the new department. Logical enough, they are directly involved with security matters.

But, in order to make it the second largest department in government, and pick up a greater share of the money pie, they added some things that would have better been left alone.

First, they ripped the heroes of our shores, the U. S. Coast Guard out of their nest in the Treasury Department and dumped them into DHS. Second, they also pulled the Secret Service out of Treasury and finally took the Federal Emergency Management Agency from its perch as an executive agency directly under the President and added it to the morass. This group of agencies was always looked upon with awe and as examples of well functioning federal activities.

DHS took their funding and put it into the big pot. Each of the last three essentially saw severe budget cuts under their new masters. The Coast Guard has found ways to continue to do their sterling job without degradation of services but that may not last long. We all know what FEMA, denied direct access to the president, did in New Orleans. And now we are starting to see the chinks in the armor of the Secret Service.

It has always been interesting to me that Tom Ridge, the first Secretary of Homeland Security, a career politician and public servant gave up in about two years and the spot was filled by a horse breeder. At least now we have someone in the position with public service experience, but without more power, Secretary Napolitano can not change the culture in the FBICIADIANSA.

There is no way to un-explode the new agency, but there are ways to make it more efficient. That requires Congressional backing. Anybody want to guess if anything will actually be done about it? There will be plenty of words and virtually nothing of value will come out of it.

The New York Times should hang on to that headline, they will have opportunity to use it again. Unfortunately the next time real people will have died.

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