Monday 11 January 2010

A Glimpse of the Current National Security Mess in America

by Trowbridge H. Ford

The appointment of former Acting DCI John McLaughlin by National Intelligence Director Admiral Dennis Blair to head a body of experts to make recommendations on how to improve national security is hardly surprising, but it just illustrates yet again that the system is broken, starting with the officials who are running it. The tasks are to make recommendations about how to prevent another military shootout, like what Major Nidal Hasan committed at Fort Hood on November 5th, and to make sure that another airline suicide bomber, like Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, doesn't succeed next time. The problems are really proving beyond the capacity of anyone to connect all the assorted dots coming out all over the place, though the personnel in charge, despite the protests by the President to the contrary, seem to have been glaringly inadequate from the outset, making one suspect that systematic intelligence change has joined the agenda increasingly. McLaughlin should have gotten Blair's job in the first place, and Department of Homeland Security Director Janet Napolitano and current DCI Leon Panetta are just political hacks who would never have gotten their positions if it was not for political influence in the making of such appointments then in Washington.

Why McLaughlin would take the task when he has been kicked in the face by the politicians so many times in the past is beyond me. He was passed over by Clinton when a replacement for John Deutch had to be found when his security failures forced his retirement. His replacement, George Tenet, was such a political hack that he conspired with Oklahoma Democratic Senator David Boren to have 15 unarmed CIA agents, it seems, capture the 9/11 suicide bombers, thinking that they were merely highjackers who could be restrained, once all four highjacked airlines got to LA. Of course, instead of Tenet, along with Boren, getting not only sacked but sent to prison for this gigantic failure, he was kept on to keep the agenda of preventive wars going, only to be obliged to resign when his lies about Saddam's WMD were most belatedly disclosed.

Then, instead of McLaughlin finally taking the helm at Langley, long-time political hack Porter Goss was obliged to take the post who then just passed its running over to other hacks, especially Pat Murray. When Goss was conspicuously absent even from headquarters, it was determined that he and Executive Director Kyle 'Dusty' Foggo had been spending too much of their Agency time with most compliant whores, going all the way back to the infamous StB double agents Hana and Karl Koechers.

Under the circumstances, it was hardly surprising that NSA Director General Michael Hayden took over at the CIA, as it had been doing most of the Agency's work since 9/11, as James Bamford has detailed in The Shadow Factory. To make up for the intercepts of calls that 9/11 suicide leader Khalid al-Mihdhar had made in San Diego and had received from the ops center in Yemen which had been collected but not passed along to the FBI, CIA and other agencies - what was apparently a cover up for what his boss Tenet at CIA had arranged with his 15 unarmed agents on the last three planes failing to regain their control - he had NSA go all out in secret eavesdropping on all communications in and out of the country aka the "special collection program" despite its infringements of personal freedoms, and being steps towards a police state. Little wonder that the most accommodating Hayden did not survive as DCI when the Bush administration was replaced by Obama's.

To the surprise of nearly all, he picked Leon Panetta, not the retired McLaughlin, as Hayden's replacement. McLaughlin had had a too close relationship with the political officials, especially Tenet and Vice President Cheney, to survive any transfer of power. Panetta, a former Congresssman, head of Clinton's Office of Management and Budget, and then his Chief of Staff, knew all about the dirty side of the Clinton administration by keeping DCI James Woolsey from ever meeting the President, and his appointment appeared a concession to them, especially to Hillary for stepping aside when the Democratic election of a President stood in the balance over how the New York delegation and subsequenct ones voted at the Convention. She could well have won the nomination if the process had continued with the vast majority of the super delegates' preferences yet to be determined as the rules required.

Panetta had always been in favor of Hillary, contributing $2,000 to her campaign, and complaining about the conduct of her campaign from the outset, especially by the former President, as if he should have been running it. Penatta would have made sure that Bubba did not call Teddy Kennedy, asking for his endorsement of Hillary because Obama was little more than a waiter.

And Panetta's appointment was not lost upon fellow Democrat and fellow-Californian Senator Diane Feinstein when she got wind of it, complaining about not having been consulted about it, and stating that she would have preferred the nomination of an intelligence professional, like former Deputy Director McLaughlin. Her complaint seems well justified in terms of how the Agency has been run by Panetta, more interested in repeating the daring-do of its former cowboys as if he wants to preside over its demise rather than make sure that serious assessments of real threats are made - as the recent suicide killings of its agents in Afghanistan while the airline fiasco was occurring in Detroit more than amply demonstrated. As a former Agency official told Bamford: "Because of the 'need to surge hundreds and hundreds at CTC (Counterterrorism Center), there's nobody in these area divisions anymore, everybody's working the CT target. Africa Division is smaller now than the number of people we have in Baghdad, The entire division.' " (Quoted from p. 156.) It was from Nigeria that Umar set out on his suicide mission.

The situation is hardly better where the Agency is fully operational. In Afghanistan, overworked, often recalled, retired volunteers risk their lives, handing out money to the natives in the hope of their telling them where Osama and the Taliban leaders are located, so they can be killed or captured with the help of GPS, but it isn't working. It was bound to result in the recent tragedy as little has been done to fix the amateur operations. The Baghdad contingent is four times the size of what was originally planned, and it is just sitting around, reminiscent of what happened in Saigon during the final days of the Vietnam War. "Despite the surge," Bamford explained, "quantity did not translate into quality. Many of the new arrivals had little or no training in the right languages, interrogation skills or tradecraft." (p. 157) Because of the lack of human intelligence, especially from the CIA, the National Security Agency is just becoming more and more depended upon in counterterrorism while it is becoming less and less accountable.

The appointment of Napolitano to be the third head of the Department of Homeland Security seems to have been one to make sure that the system didn't work. Given her political career, especially in Arizona as federal attorney, its Attorney General, and Governor, she has had almost no experience in security work, and her appointment must be seen, like Panetta's, as a favor to the Clinton camp. She has been particularly concerned about right-wing domestic groups, recruiting disgruntled veterans, to carry out terrorism - a continuing concern of hers since the 1995 bombing of the FBI office in Oklahoma City - and about Canada's alleged allowing foreign terrorists to enter the States without much trouble. Her response to the attempted destruction of Northwest Flight 253 over Detroit, stating to CNN's Candy Crowley that it showed that the security system worked well was so contrary to the facts that not only her own position is now in doubt but also the DHS unless it is vastly changed.

Which brings us to the National Intelligence Agency and Admiral Blair's qualifications to be its third Director. Blair, a long-time Clinton crony since they were Rhodes Scholars together at Oxford, is a gung-ho Navy man, more desirous of socking it to an alleged enemy than just making sure that disasters don't occur. Blair's experience as Commander of the Pacific Fleet at the end of the 1990's and into the Bush administration, showed that he was more interested in bloodying China's nose rather than making more amicable relations. He did spare words when telling Chinese counterparts who owned their airspace and surrounding waters when it came to Taiwan, and demonstrated it by causing the forced landing of an EP-3E reconnaissance flight on China's Haman Dao island on April Fool's Day 2001, the first interantional crisis of the new Bush administration. SoD Donald Rumsfeld ordered Blair to make a detailed report of the apparently completely unnecessary operation. Since Blair had authorized the missions, recommending that they be resumed immediately, he tried to keep his findings from Rumsfeld - what led to his being finished at the Pentagon, whatever happened to the missions. (For more on this, see Bob Woodward, Bush at War, Part III: State of Denial, p. 28ff.)

In short, McLaughlin's appointment seems a belated recognition by Obama that the old organization has to be rebuilt while the squabbling Clinton people are sent to the sidelines. While most of the CIA is joined with the NIA, and much of the DHS is moved to the FBI, Blair, Panetta, and Napolitono will be forced to resign. The President is no longer under the direction of the former President's gung-ho cronies, thanks to the new revelations about their attitude towards him, and a serious effort to end the traditional intelligence in-fighting among the various agencies will finally be attempted.