The First Step Is Admitting You Have A Problem
It may have taken President Barack Obama two weeks to deliver a speech on the failed Flight 253 bomb attack without blaming President Bush, but he should still be commended for finally owning up for the massive intelligence failure. President Obama told the American people yesterday: “The U.S. government had the information . . . to potentially uncover this plot and disrupt the attack. Rather than a failure to collect or share intelligence, this was a failure to connect and understand the intelligence that we already had. … Ultimately, the buck stops with me . . . and when the system fails, it is my responsibility.”
But while the President is right to admit the system failed and that it is his fault that it did, he is still clueless about why. The President promised he would direct “our intelligence community immediately begin assigning specific responsibility for investigating all leads on high-priority threats so that these leads are pursued and acted upon aggressively — not just most of the time, but all of the time.” And he added: “In addition to the corrective efforts that I’ve ordered, I’ve directed agency heads to establish internal accountability reviews, and directed my national security staff to monitor their efforts.”
But this failure of our intelligence system was not just about lack of accountability. It was about empowerment - or more specifically the lack thereof. The system simply moved too slowly because there was a lack of urgency about the war on terror. Intelligence personnel were not empowered to employ their ingenuity and resourcefulness to connect the dots. Adding layers of “internal accountability reviews” will only make the bureaucratic stupor worse. It is people’s resourcefulness and initiative that will stop the next terrorist attack, not a bureaucratic process.
And from the day he stepped into office, President Obama’s actions have done nothing but kill the initiative and morale of our intelligence employees. From day one, he made it clear that he believes the war on terror is a civilian criminal justice problem to be managed, and not a war to be won. That is why he took the responsibility for interrogating detainees from the CIA and gave it to the FBI. That is why he has failed to seek the renewal of key investigatory authorities authorized under the USA Patriot Act, instead settling for a six-month extension tacked on to the Defense appropriations bill. It is why instead of promising victory in Afghanistan, he sent fewer troops than were required and gave al Qaeda a set date for our withdrawal. It is why he has failed to approach Congress with legislation establishing a legal framework for handling terrorism detainees. It is why he is pushing for Khalid Sheik Mohammed to be prosecuted in civilian court despite his previous guilty plea in a military tribunal. And most demoralizing of all, President Obama has allowed Attorney General Eric Holder to re-investigate nearly a dozen CIA interrogators and contractors for their past efforts in the war on terror.
This is an issue of leadership. The President of the United States sets the tone and then the message filters down. Our intelligence personnel failed to follow-up on the leads that could have prevented Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab from even boarding the plane because their leader had sent the message that fighting the war on terror was not a high priority. Finally, it now seems that the President is ready to start acting like protecting the American people is not just a duty: it is his first duty.