Bush Intelligence Plan Meant to Blunt Tough Questions


WASHINGTON, D.C., JUNE 7—President Bush’s proposal for a new homeland security department amounts to dropping a fragmentation bomb on Congress to bust up growing demands for an inquiry into who knew what when about 9-11.

Put forward in a national address Thursday night, Bush’s idea for a centralized anti-terror agency will cause members of the Capitol Hill intelligence committees, who already are bickering among themselves over what their inquiry is about, to get consumed with covering their asses and maintaining control over the spy corps they now supervise. The Senate Judiciary Committee, the one congressional committee somewhat likely to take a serious look at the management of the FBI, will now be taken up with parceling out sections of the Justice Department, such as the Immigration and Naturalization Service, and other agencies with judicial functions.

Most importantly, it puts Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle’s call for an independent investigatory commission on the sidelines. As his party’s leader on the Hill, Daschle must now concentrate on Democratic responses to the Bush plan, along with managing turf battles. And he will have to rejigger his own underground campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination. His main competitor, Senator Joe Lieberman, is already taking credit for the new homeland department, since he proposed the same thing before the president took over the notion.

Despite all the political heavy lifting the proposal will do for Bush, there remain key security concerns that will go untouched:

  • Bush’s idea won’t change intelligence gathering from the FBI, CIA, and National Security Agency. These three don’t adequately share information as it is. They will have no reason to change their ways under the Bush proposal.

  • It won’t take the law enforcement away from the FBI, which will now have to operate with added layers of bureaucracy. Reports such as whistle-blower Coleen Rowley’s memo about pre-9-11, or Kenneth Williams’s early warnings about terrorists training at flight schools, will be even less likely to see the light of day.

  • The new department would leave the task of spying where it is—with the CIA, which has a hard time speaking and reading the languages of countries it is spying on, and with the FBI, which under Attorney General John Ashcroft’s reorganization will have more and more power. The NSA stays the same supersecret operation that nobody knows anything about.
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