Monday, December 28, 2009

Intelligence Failure?

Accusations of yet another intelligence failure will undoubtedly be raised as we digest the near-miss of another airborne terrorism act just last week. Experts and amateurs will delve into the many aspects of this latest security breakdown: why did 'Umar Faruq 'Abd al-Mutalib hold a multiple-entry U.S. visa, how could he be listed on a watch list yet not raise enough concern to merit a second look by airline or airport security, did the British fail to share their visa denial to him with U.S. security officials or was this ignored, why did the fact that he paid cash for expensive air fare not raise any extra scrutiny, and lastly, why was he not subject to additional scrutiny after his own father reported his serious concerns to Nigerian and U.S. officials? Any one of these "red flags" should have raised security concerns and caused additional scrutiny before being allowed to board a U.S. carrier. I am also troubled with the hasty assertions by various officials that this individual acted alone, long before the investigation is completed, similar to hasty early claims that U.S. Army Major Nidal Hasan's act at Fort Hood was not terrorism.

These and many more issues will continue to be debated as the investigation progresses. So I will raise only one aspect of this incident (similar concerns apply to Major Hasan's act): eight years after the terrorism attacks of 9/11 we still don't seem to connect the dots. Are we faced with a systemic failure of the very system designed to protect our citizens from terrorism? Is Congress's 2004 Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act, passed in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, already obsolete or merely ignored? Has it not eliminated those crucial barriers between the intelligence and the law enforcement community? I have raised the question about acceptance of the provisions of this Act in previous blogs and can't help but raise this concern again.

Relevant congressional oversight committees must review the effects, accomplishments, and gaps in the 2004 Act now. How are intelligence, law enforcement and homeland security organizations coordinating their activities and sharing relevant actionable information? Is the Director of National Intelligence functioning as provided for in the Act? What are the systemic and political barriers to effective homeland security and prevention of terrorism? Is politicization impacting negatively on effective intelligence sharing?

Monday, December 14, 2009

CIA director balances spy agency, Washington politics

An AP article last week about CIA Director Leon Panetta's continuing efforts on behalf of his agency and appeasing Congress merely reinforces my previously offered opinion that he is miscast in the role of CIA director. Clearly his professional qualifications, the expectations the president has of him, and his efforts to date make it quite clear that he should be the Director of National Intelligence (DNI), who is the President's intelligence advisor and is charged with oversight of all US intelligence agencies and liaison to Congress.

Mark Lowenthal's comment that "One of the things that's unique about CIA is that this is the president's agency. They don't work for anybody else. If they are not effective, the person who gets hurt here is the big guy." is disappointing from an intelligence professional of his stature. He seems to ignore that the 2004 Intelligence Reform Act removed the director of CIA as the principal US intelligence commubity leader in his comments. It also points to the fact that the IC, and perhaps the administration, has not fully grasped or accepted the DNI concept instituted by Congress in 2004 (see my previous comment on this topic).

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Chris Matthews and "The Enemy Camp"

by Rick Francona

After President Obama's address to the nation last night explaining his strategy for the war in Afghanistan, MSNBC commentator Chris Matthews surprised viewers with his characterization of the United States Military Academy, more commonly known as West Point, as "the enemy camp." He further described it as the venue used by former Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz to "rabble rouse the 'we're gonna democratize the world' campaign."

Interesting choice of words to describe the alma mater of some of America's greatest leaders. The audience last night included serving officers and non-commissioned officers, plus the entire 4000-strong Corps of Cadets. These people are not the enemy, Chris, these are the men and women who have led and will lead the troops that fight America's wars.

President Obama is the commander in chief. If the military academy that trains his officers is "the enemy camp," he has a serious problem. Actually, if that is the case, we all have a serious problem. I do believe that Mr. Obama faces a variety of problems, many of his own making. For example, read my comments on his ill-advised Afghanistan policy, Taliban analysis of the Obama speech.

Chris Matthews is an Obama fan - he makes no attempt to disguise that fact. He is known for his "thrill up his leg" comment during the 2008 campaign. His exact words: "I have to tell you, you know, it's part of reporting this case, this election, the feeling most people get when they hear Barack Obama's speech. My, I felt this thrill going up my leg. I mean, I don't have that too often." He also has cried on the air during an Obama speech, and has compared the President to Jesus Christ.

During my five year stint with NBC News (NBC, CNBC and MSNBC), I appeared periodically on Hardball with Chris. I have joked that I liked being on his show because he asked the questions, then he answered the questions - easy money! I did appreciate his coverage of the Abu Ghurayb issue, as he allowed me to provide what I thought was in-depth analysis of the underlying causes for the breakdown in the chain of command that led to prisoner abuse.

That said, I think Chris's recent comments are out of line. The United States Military Academy Corps of Cadets is made up of some of the finest young people this country has to offer. They have chosen to serve as officers in the armed forces of their nation during a time of war - most of them will soon find themselves in harm's way, at our behest. They are our sons and daughters - they are not the enemy.