The call for a major overhaul of the U.S. intelligence system has been loud and bipartisan since the day the World Trade Center was reduced to rubble. But more than three years later, the issue of how to get it done remains politicized to a degree worthy of the bent and beleaguered system itself.
This week, some Republicans have been seeking to strangle a major intelligence reform bill that has strong bipartisan backing, including that of Kansas Sen. Pat Roberts, the Republican chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee. Roberts and others are now calling on President Bush to intervene after a final vote on the bill was blocked over the weekend by a junta of Pentagon allies in the House. (The Pentagon currently monopolizes the nation's intelligence budget and has authority over many intelligence issues; it's widely understood that Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and his team are aiming to keep it that way.)
Frank Gaffney, president of the Center for Security Policy, calls the sputtering intelligence bill "a well-intentioned but ultimately counterproductive plan -- one that purportedly addresses problems with the excessive bureaucracy and insufficient competitive intelligence collection and analysis, yet in ways certain to result in more of the former and less of the latter." He says the heroes of the day are Air Force Gen. Richard Myers of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Republican Reps. Duncan Hunter of California and James Sensenbrenner of Wisconsin, some of the key players in knocking the bill down.
Whether or not the bill is adequate, Gaffney seems comfortable with the idea that there's no hurry to overhaul the intelligence system.
"In the days ahead, there surely will be demands that Congress force the intelligence bill through in December. Democrats will argue that would be the sine qua non of bipartisan cooperation: Unless the president imposes lockstep discipline on his party, he invites even more aggressive use of obstructionist tactics by the opposition. The press will make hay with Mr. Bush's seeming inability to bend Republican congressional leaders and rank-and-file to his will. And within his own party, some will contend this legislation is necessary, if not to prevent a future terrorist attack on our homeland at least keep Republicans from being blamed for it. The truth is very different. The president, the nation's security and that of the American people will be better served if intelligence reform is undertaken next year in a more deliberative, patient and orderly way."
In the meantime, there's been an exodus of veteran spooks from the agency, and an unprecedented torrent of insider criticism. Nevertheless, many on the political right have applauded President Bush's newly installed CIA chief, Porter Goss, as the right guy to help get the reform job done from the inside.
The Heritage Foundation's Peter Brookes, a former CIA and Naval Intelligence officer, says the steely Goss arrived with a properly sharpened hatchet.
"When a new CEO takes over a failing company, it's not at all uncommon to fire (or force out) a couple of senior people. After all, senior management is responsible for an organization's poor performance, so why keep the deadwood around? Sure, lopping off heads can be a risky strategy. But it certainly makes the rest of the employees stand up and take notice. And it sends a clear message: 'Things are going to change. Get with the program -- or get out' ... Reforming an agency the likes of the CIA in today's national-security environment is no job for Melvin Milquetoast."
In terms of accountability, Brookes adds, "The CIA is responsible for some of this nation's most significant intelligence lapses -- 9/11 and Iraqi WMD (or lack thereof) come quickly to mind. It's high time to hold people responsible for their failures."
It's intriguing that Brookes holds the CIA accountable for only "some" of the most significant failures -- perhaps a tacit acknowledgment that the Bush White House, too, has made some critical misjudgments in the last four years. Brookes also insists that "despite what you hear in the liberal media, Goss's move to hold people accountable is getting rave reviews within the CIA." Apparently that's even though "Director Goss has failed to fully articulate a comprehensive vision for the CIA yet."
Following last Friday night's basket-brawl in Detroit, NBA Commissioner David Stern didn't go far enough in punishing the players involved, says the Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson, according to the Conservative Voice, a Web news outlet. The African American minister is the founder and president of Brotherhood Organization of a New Destiny, a group whose "Black" List aims to "expose Hollywood's most anti-American black celebrities," including Whoopi Goldberg, Danny Glover, Will Smith and Spike Lee. Presumably Indiana Pacers Ron Artest, Stephen Jackson and Jermaine O'Neal may be added to it: "They should be banned from the league," Peterson says. "They should also have criminal charges filed against them. Artest is 6 feet 7 inches tall and weighs in at 247 pounds -- he could have killed someone. There was no excuse to justify his behavior. He and his teammates behaved like thugs, not professional athletes."
Peterson blasts Stern and the NBA for selling out big-time.
"The NBA has lowered their standards for money and entertainment value; we're now witnessing the results. Unless the league raises their standards, fans can expect things to get worse. We may eventually witness a stabbing incident just like the one at the recent Vibe Awards.
"Players today are coddled from college all the way to the NBA. Most come from single parent households without fathers. As a result, they're angry and have no respect for themselves or anyone else. They need serious counseling to help them overcome their anger."
Peterson has quite a political teammate in Rush Limbaugh. Whenever there's a sports controversy to exploit in the name of the right-wing social agenda, the radio icon loves to don his deep-thinker jersey and slam-dunk himself into the fray. There were his insightful comments during last year's hoopla over black NFL quarterback Donovan McNabb, when Limbaugh used some race-baiting cover to go after the "liberal" media.
On Monday's broadcast of the Rush Limbaugh show, the Pacers-Pistons melee put the same bounce back into the culture warrior's game.
"This is the hip-hop culture on parade. This is gang behavior on parade minus the guns. That's the culture that the NBA has become," Limbaugh said, playing up his "courage" in saying so, while noting that his take was sure to be "tagged as racist."
Then he offered some additional "perspective" by calling the bout of violence a veritable insurgency.
"We have a sports culture that practically encourages this and promotes it, by rewarding the most obscene behavior with the most television time and the most attention, and the most appearances on the highlights reel, and so one thing feeds off the other. So I don't know what they're going to do to get hold of it. I think, just put it in perspective. As I said before the last hour ended, 'Just rename the city of Detroit to New Fallujah, Michigan,' and then what happens at the palace of Auburn Hills will be understood by everybody who goes there."
Extending his helpful Iraq metaphor, Limbaugh put his own unique spin on America's en vogue red-state, blue-state national melodrama.
"By the way, has anybody noticed all these outbreaks, all this violence, all this stuff happens in blue cities, ladies and gentlemen? I mean, you don't see this happening in Charlotte. You don't see this sort of stuff happening. But you do see it happening out of Miami; you do see it happening in the blue cities out there. So, you know, call L.A. 'New Mosul, California.' You could call New York 'Baghdad, New York,' and this helps people put this in perspective."
He must have missed the ugly brawl that marred the Clemson-South Carolina college football game, played Saturday in Clemson, South Carolina -- a state so red it fired the first shots against the Union in the Civil War. Maybe to put things further in perspective Limbaugh will henceforth refer to Clemson as "Ramadi, South Carolina"?
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