What Is Still Keeping Donald Rumsfeld Up Late At Night? - It Isn't Letterman.
by Austin Bay
When the issue is the efficiency, competence and foresight of
U.S. intelligence agencies, one hopes the passage of 365 days is more than a
Of course, Sept. 11, 2001, is the critical mark on that time
line. Its tragic spike moved "the intelligence issue" from the theoretical
and obscure to the immediate and focused.
The pros, however, were well aware of America's intelligence
deficiencies prior to 9-11.
During his Senate confirmation hearings in mid-January 2001,
then-Secretary of Defense-designate Donald Rumsfeld was asked if he could
name "one thing" that "kept him up at night" more than any other specific
threat, terror or trouble the Pentagon confronts.
Rumsfeld's answer was "intelligence."
Rumsfeld made the comment prior to his elevation to media star.
As far as Oprah, Geraldo and the TV squawk show gang were concerned, what
kept Rummy tossing and turning at night wasn't news.
I watched those hearings on C-SPAN, America's real window on
government. Let me quote from a column I wrote right after that hearing:
"Rumsfeld's response fingered what is the major American foreign policy and
defense weakness, even in this era of extraordinary American economic,
political and military strength. ... America's "intelligence vulnerability"
is intricate, detailed and complex. The penalty for intelligence failure,
however, is often cruelly simple. In the defense business, what you don't
know will kill you. To draw an even finer bead, what you know but understand
poorly, or what you know well but fail to use decisively, will also cost you
in blood, money and political capital."
Sept. 11 was that cruel simplicity, so blunt a horror.
Give the Senate committee scrutinizing Rumsfeld's nomination an
"A" for asking the right question and Rumsfeld an "A" for the right answer.
However, does the intelligence community (CIA, FBI, DIA, NSA) collectively
rate an "F" for Sept. 11?
I sense a reluctance on the part of Congress to investigate the
"intelligence failure," perhaps because the intelligence failure has
numerous political roots that quickly and uncomfortably tangle with, well,
While the United States has first-class intelligence talent, for
the last two decades the best and the brightest have had to think twice
about intel careers. Pay's an issue; so is prestige. Some point to
Stansfield Turner's decapitation of the CIA during the Carter administration
as a source of decline.
The covert career also extracts personal costs. Operating in
dark alleys and hard corners requires moral trade-offs, like paying
Guatemalan thugs for tips. Enter congressional and executive-branch zealots
who crucified CIA pros for keeping such thugs on the payroll. However, thugs
know thugs. Ten thousand bucks can elicit information that saves a hundred
thousand lives. The terrorist incidents CIA thwarts don't make the news.
Professional credit is hush-hush. Spies can't get on Larry King and gush
about success. The lives lost due to "intelligence failures" -- well, that
elicits wall-to-wall media coverage.
It also appears the Clinton administration must bear a high
degree responsibility for the "intelligence failure." Particularly troubling
are the allegations made by Sudanese businessman and former Clinton campaign
contributor Mansoor Ijaz that a deal to extradite Osama bin Laden was
completely fumbled by Clinton. Writing in the Los Angeles Times last month,
Ijaz concluded "Clinton's failure to grasp the opportunity to unravel
increasingly organized extremists, coupled with Berger's assessments of
their potential to directly threaten the U.S., represents one of the most
serious foreign policy failures in American history." I suspect Congress is
tired of investigating Clinton. Political fatigue, however is no excuse for
dereliction of duty.
Has U.S. intelligence improved since 9-11?
Our knowledge of Al Qaeda specifically and global terrorism in
general has improved dramatically. That "increased granularity," however,
proceeds from (1) focusing our high-tech intel assets (satellites,
electronic surveillance, etc) or (2) getting cooperation from once-reluctant
sources who, either out of fear or sudden good judgment, now wish to talk
(this group runs the gamut from Taliban and Al Qaeda prisoners to the
Our larger deficiencies, however, still hinder the intelligence
effort: (1) aging high-tech collection capabilities; (2) low morale in the
intelligence community; (3) too few qualified, multilingual, culturally
savvy human spies; (4) the legacy of ill-conceived policies that crimp
intelligence gathering, analysis and dissemination; and (5) the legacy of
poor leaders who failed to act on good intelligence information in timely
and decisive fashion.
Given 9-11's tragedy, it's time American leaders exhibited the
political spine to correct the problems and get Don Rumsfeld a good night's
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