February 1, 2010
The Most Important Story You Didn't See Last Week (and Probably Won't Ever See)
A Senate hearing last week confirmed the public's worst concern about Barack Obama: that when it comes to national security, Obama hasn't just been asleep at the switch -- he hasn't even bothered to find the switch.
"I do not think he [Obama] has a firm grasp yet on the intelligence community," 9/11 Commission Vice-Chairman and former Democrat congressman Lee Hamilton told the Senate Homeland Security Committee.
This, even though Obama has been in office for over a year now.
"We were not paying close attention in this area," commission Chairman Thomas Kean testified at the hearing into intelligence lapses prior to the Christmas Day attempted airliner bombing. Kean noted that Obama has instead been focused on such issues as health care and cap-and-trade.
The two men have historically been circumspect about making politically charged statements, but they painted a portrait of an intelligence community, America's first line of defense against its jihadi enemies, that is devolving into disarray under Obama's leadership -- or lack thereof.
"It's my impression that the intelligence community is new, relatively new to the president," Hamilton said, adding, "I'm pretty strong in my thought that he has to step in pretty hard here. Or some of these tensions that have surfaced will exacerbate."
"He's gotta stay on top of this," Kean pleaded. He also called the Christmas Day attempted attack "a wakeup call."
We got distracted a bit, I think. Everybody from the president on down got distracted, and we weren't paying full attention to this area, and so these things were allowed to develop, cracks were allowed to form and things got a little off track.
And Kean left little doubt that Obama must start taking the terrorist threat seriously.
I assume that they're actually going to follow the statements, and that he is now going to pay strict attention to this problem. And no matter what else is going on, he's going to be, his leadership is going to be called for in this area and he's going to, I assume he's going to exercise it. But it's not gonna happen without that. I mean, he's gotta stay on top of this.
"The burden is on the president," Hamilton said, "to be very specific as to who's in charge of the intelligence community. The president's leadership is the key. It's crucial and must be continuing or we run the risk of mission confusion."
The two men were blistering in their criticism of the Obama administration's handling of the would-be Christmas Day undy-bomber.
Kean said that when he learned that Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab had been Mirandized before intelligence agents could interrogate him, "I was shocked. And I was upset. It made no sense whatsoever to me that here is a man who may have trained with other people who were trying to get into this country in one way or another, who may have worked with some of the top leadership in Yemen and al-Qaeda generally, and we don't know the details of that, who may know about other plots that are pending and we haven't found out about them.
This is not just about prosecuting an individual. This is protecting the American people. And decisions of this kind should never have been made without the full input of the greater intelligence community, particularly the DNI [Director of National Intelligence] ... and the fact that this was done without that kind of consultation was to me upsetting and shocking ... I just don't believe this individual should have been given all these rights or the lawyers before being questioned fully.
I think we have to be guided by the principle that we have to get all the intelligence we can from these people. That's the principle. There did not seem to be a policy from the government as to how to handle these people. This is a difficult business: interrogating people. And you better make sure you have the right people asking the questions.An awful lot is at stake in finding out all you can.
Hamilton added, "These people present a real challenge for us within our constitutional system. The problem is you've got a detainee, you can't prove a criminal charge against him, let us say, at the same time he could kill you. It doesn't fit in the American constitutional system. And we haven't figured it out yet. ... This is an area where the legislative branch and the executive branch have failed. Flat-out failed."
When asked if Congress could spur the necessary changes with new laws, Hamilton placed the responsibility directly on the Obama administration. "The threat is out there now. The flaws have been revealed. You've got to deal with those flaws right now. You can't wait to change the law."
Kean slammed the administration's decision to try 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in New York, a decision from which Obama is now apparently backtracking. "Regardless of how we feel about whether that trial should be going on in New York, again I gather that the Attorney General did not consult any member of the intelligence community before making that decision, which also has security implications. So I think we've got to get our act together."
And, despite the Obama administration's attempt to -- what else? -- blame Bush for the intelligence failings, the commission chairmen testified that 80% of their panel's recommendations have been implemented since they made them.
Almost all of those changes happened during the Bush administration.
The major exception? The recommendation that the commission called among the most important: reform of congressional oversight of the intelligence community. Yet Congress, which has been in the control of Democrats for the majority of time since the 9/11 Commission urged the changes, has failed to implement them.
"We ought to go back at it," Senator John McCain told his colleagues on the committee. "And we ought to keep going back at it until such time as we shame our colleagues into being more concerned about national security than they are about turf."
The picture that emerged from the hearing was of a president uninterested in national security, more concerned about health scare and cap-and-tax than in preventing what his Homeland Security chief infamously called "man-caused disasters"; of an administration more busy fighting turf wars than waging the real war against Islamic terrorists -- whom Obama refuses to even call by that name; of a Commander-in-Chief who doesn't take seriously his most essential job of protecting this country's citizens, more focused on extending terrorists these citizens' rights than he is on gathering the intelligence needed to keep Americans safe.
The Obamedia all but ignored the hearing, of course. It was more important for them to protect their anointed One...even if folks' lives are at stake.
William Tate is an award-winning journalist and author.