January 2, 2010
Dad's AdviceBy Jim Ross Lightfoot
My dad told me many years ago that you can't fix a problem unless you know what caused it.
Careful reading of The 9/11 Commission Report explains in detail the information that slipped through the cracks and prevented law enforcement from taking preventative actions. In fact, Chapter 8 is entitled "The System Was Blinking Red." We had the information, but it was not shared with the appropriate authorities.
In the recent attempt to blow up a Northwest Airlines flight, according to numerous press reports (and confirmed from U.S. government sources), Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab's name was on a watch list for the last two years as a person who was either involved in terrorism or had suspected ties to terrorist organizations, yet he was permitted to board a flight with a one-way ticket to Detroit.
Once again, we hear that the CIA knew about this bad actor in November. But did they tell anyone? Was the information shared? Was the information juxtaposed against info held by other agencies? No.
Do you see a pattern here? It is not rocket science; the info is available, but is not shared in a manner that allows for cross-checking.
Dad would say that lack of information-sharing is the problem, period.
And how did the government react to 9/11? In my humble opinion, with a huge waste of time, people, and money -- to shift all the deck chairs and create the Department of Homeland Security. DHS is a sham, created as a political expedient by the Bush folks because they had to "do something." The terrorist problem is still here.
DHS is akin to malpractice in the medical profession -- treating the symptoms but ignoring the root of the disease. Reactive rather than proactive strategy seems to be the order of the day.
Information-sharing. Please say it with me slowly: Information-sharing.
The information was there. No one wanted to share it.
Instead of shifting the deck chairs to create the Department of Homeland Security, wouldn't the country have been better-served by a small group of people (no more than fifteen) -- representing the intelligence branches of the CIA, FBI, DEA, Customs, Immigration, Border Patrol, NSA, Secret Service, ATF, Marshal Service, and the other intelligence-gathering services -- put together as a clearing house and correlation point for all the intelligence data gathered? I realize that this is a big request for the FBI and some of the other agencies -- to put their universe-sized egos aside and become cooperative players in protecting the country and not just their own turf -- but that is what we are paying them to do.
We can never hire enough TSA people or buy enough metal detectors and x-ray machines to make our airports totally safe. That is a lost cause.
As a country, we would be far better-served if a portion of the millions spent on DHS had gone to purchase new and innovative software that can correlate thousands of sources of information in seconds. The money used to hire hundreds of additional TSA inspectors could instead have been used to rebuild and improve our network of human intelligence-gathering. After all, a satellite can show us a terrorist's cave, but it takes a real live human to tell us what is going on inside that cave.
Shared information could have prevented 9/11 and stopped the terrorist incident with the Northwest Airline flight. It will continue to be the Achilles heel of our security efforts until someone is willing to step up and force the agencies and Congress to be accountable.
Of course, getting re-elected is the primary objective on Capitol Hill, so I don't look for any backbone to be displayed. It will remain business as usual...stay politically correct and throw money.
James R. Lightfoot served in Congress six terms, starting in 1985 and retiring in 1997. As Chairman of the Subcommittee on Treasury, Postal and General Government (TPS) of Appropriations, he had jurisdiction over 40% of Federal Law Enforcement (Customs, Secret Service, ATF, FLETC, and IRS enforcement).