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Why Security Was So Poor On 9/11/2001

I am one of those peculiar people who likes to read government reports. I do this because sometimes things are hidden there in plain sight, so to speak. A particularly salient example is a GAO report from September 1997 carrying the title "COMBATING TERRORISM: Federal Agencies' Efforts to Implement National Policy and Strategy" (GAO/NSIAD-97-254) . The paper is a useful look into what the Clinton Administration considered effective defense against Terrorism.

I begin with the Executive Summary, which contains two key statements. Right there on page 2, this paper identified President Clinton's Presidential Decision Directive 39 (PDD-39) as the "central blueprint for the U.S. counterterrorism strategy". So I take you now to Appendix 1, where the unclassified abstract of PDD-39 was to be found. The opening sentence reads "Terrorism is both a threat to our national security as well as a criminal act". Tying terrorism to crime from the beginning thereby tied the hands of government agencies right from the start, as it compelled warfighting offices to defer to criminal process agencies, and made no provision whatsoever for immediate or effective retaliation on terrorist organizations which attack the United States, its interests, allies, or citizens. The Policy vaguely directs that the U.S. Government will "make no concessions to terrorists", and will "expand the program of counterterrorism" and will "reduce vulnerabilities affecting U.S. airports, aircraft/passengers" (huh - that worked out real well, didn't it?) and promises to "exclude/deport persons who pose a terrorist threat". Yes, that's right - no promise to arrest terrorists attempting to enter the United States or who are already here and present a threat - just show them the door and hope they stay out? The policy did have an idea of what to do if a 9/11-type attack occurred; the Policy promised that "If large scale casualties and infrastructure damage occur, the President may appoint a Personal Representative for consequence management as the on scene Federal authority during recovery". The feeling I get from PDD-39, is that Bubba didn't take terrorism seriously at all.

(continued)

The Executive Summary also made a point of stressing that "certain acts of terrorism are federal crimes no matter where they are committed". Ooooh, so if Bubba had been President on 9/11, Osama and his boys, well, they could have been charged with a crime. Hooo boy, that sure made them think twice, huh?

But wait, it gets better. On page 3, the report explains that in order to establish effective control and direction of counter-terrorism work, "various interagency groups have been formed to coordinate the efforts of the more than 40 federal agencies, bureaus, and offices that combat terrorism". Ok, besides guaranteeing the consumption of vast amounts of coffee and pastries, does anyone seriously believe that these 'interagency groups' got much accomplished? I note that no hierarchy of authority is referenced between them, nor any timeline for recommendations and implementation.

The report says that the NSC has responsibility for combating terrorism. But when you start digging into the details, the job changes quickly. On page 3 the report observes that the actual decisions are made by an "Interagency Working Group on Counterterrorism, led by the State Department". Yes, the State Department.

The Report explains that terrorist incidents would be addressed by the assignment of a "lead agency" in each case. For Domestic events, the FBI is the lead agency, and for foreign events, the State Department takes charge. Got that? The Embassy bombings would warrant a diplomatic protest and 9/11 would mean hoping for extradition after a grand jury heard the case. A less pragmatic response is hard to imagine.

It gets worse. The Report, and remember this is a report specifically written to address what the United States would do to prevent or respond to a terrorist attack, has no coordinated plan ready in advance to respond to an attack. Instead, the Report simply says that "some federal agencies respond to a crisis and seek to bring the perpetrators to justice, other agencies manage the consequences of an incident" (page 5). With that in mind, the chaos in New York on 9/11 makes a grim sense.

The Report has a flow chart of command authority on page 21. It's worth noting that there are six layers of people between those making a decision and those who would carry it out, and that this Report puts the National Security Agency, CIA, Secret Service, ATF, and Customs at bottom rung of the ladder, with no authority of their own in a crisis or direct access to the President or the National Security Advisor, who is not even listed on the chart as a source or recipient of information in a terrorist crisis.

In addition, none of the Working Groups, regardless of their experience or skills, is given direct access to the NSC or the White House, but are required to submit their advice through a bureaucratic channel (page 23).

The Report, on page 24, then revealed a true shocker - results of the Working Groups are included in reports developed into talking points, to be discussed with other members of the G-8. That means that concerns and policy development for the National Security of the United States could be and conceivably was discussed with members of the governments of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom, and Russia. Note that as of 2001, at least four of these seven countries were in contact and cooperation with enemies of the United States, and were opposed to American policy in several key venues.

I pause here to have a laugh at Al Gore; the Report notes on page 28 that the White House Commission on Aviation Safety and Security, "known as the Gore Commission", "called for (1) developing an automated passenger profiling system, (2) increasing the frequency of passenger inspections, and (3) increasing reliance on canine teams and equipment to detect explosives". So Gore can just shut up about privacy rights.

So, just what would happen is a terrorist group committed an act on U.S. soil and the mastermind was hiding outside the U.S.? On page 54, the Report assures us that "the U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia, together with the Department of Justice ... ordinarily prosecutes the offense. When terrorist suspects are located overseas, an indictment is usually obtained in a U.S. court before their apprehension, if possible." Well, it's certainly nice to know that even after committing an atrocity on U.S. soil, the rights of terrorists would be so carefully protected in American courts.

The Report is a masterpiece of bureaucratic falderol and political garbage. Nowhere is terrorism plainly recognized for what it is, an act of war against the United States which demands an immediate and effective deterrence, and failing that unlimited response potential. When pirates raided U.S. freighters, President Jefferson sent in Marines to Tripoli. When Mexican bandits raided American territory, President Polk sent the Army in. With that in mind, Bush's response to 9/11 was not only effective and constitutional, but historically consistent, morally sound and necessary. This Report shows us that Clinton/Gore were neither serious nor competent to address the peril.

(I initially published this article on March 29, 2006 on my personal blog. In the light of recent events, it seems necessary to repeat myself.)


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Comments (20)

Who was in charge of securi... (Below threshold)
Publicus:

Who was in charge of security on 9/11/2001?

Who was responsible for sec... (Below threshold)
Publicus:

Who was responsible for security on 9.11.01? Are we holding those people responsible? Or are we passing blame on people who are out of power? Are we, five years later, blaming an administration who has long been out of power for all of our problems?

Not all, just this one.... (Below threshold)
914:

Not all, just this one.

I think it is sort of silly... (Below threshold)
jack oneil:

I think it is sort of silly to try to back track this now. Go read this and channel the anger and emotions you feel toward ridding the world of these "people". I don't care about what they did in the past, I want BOTH sets of elected officials to get off of there damn horses and stop posturing and preening; just do something already!

http://www.opinionjournal.com/columnists/pnoonan/?id=110008909

Reprehensible revisionist h... (Below threshold)
astigafa:

Reprehensible revisionist history, like the claim that F.D.R. destroyed the economy by putting people to work for the government.

Go back to your flat earth; the edge is calling.

It's official. Bill Clinton... (Below threshold)
smitty:

It's official. Bill Clinton has now spent more time trying to block a movie than he did fighting terrorism.

If you are so delusional th... (Below threshold)
dr lava:

If you are so delusional that you blame anyone other than the fool that was president on 9/11/2001 for the events of that day maybe it's time that your families get you some help.

If you have any doubts about what has happened in our country over the past 5 years. Go here:

http://cooperativeresearch.org/project.jsp?project=911_project

Great post. And accurate. ... (Below threshold)
Jo:

Great post. And accurate. Eight years versus 8 months. No comparison.

George's War Strategy -... (Below threshold)
scooterlibby:

George's War Strategy -

"I don't know where Bin Laden is and, frankly, I don't think about it much."

The anger should be directe... (Below threshold)
VagaBond:

The anger should be directed at the SOBs who flew the planes into the WTC. Get this straight. We are all at fault. Did we all not know of the bombings over the years? the WTC? The Cole? We were worried about other things.

WTC was our wake-up call. I care less about placing blame at this point and more about fixing the problem and winning this war on terror.

Timeline----help the sky is... (Below threshold)
jhow66:

Timeline----help the sky is falling!!!! (I know because I just spoke to ET)

VagaBond - I care.. more... (Below threshold)
scooterlibby:

VagaBond - I care.. more about winning this war on terror.

Good point. But...

How will you know when "this war on terror" is won? Who surrenders? Who's dead? Islam? The IRA? The Americans who targeted civilians during Vietnam? Timothy McVeigh?

Best of luck in your war against an abstract idea.

"Who was in charge of secur... (Below threshold)

"Who was in charge of security on 9/11/2001?"

I think the point being made in this post is that the Clinton Administration had no plan to deal with a major terrorist event (unless you consider what Kerry calls a "plan"). Bush knew right off the bat that this was not a criminal act, but an act of war.

Does anyone think, if Gore was in office, that Libya would have given up its WMD programs when the State Department would have charged OBL with a crime? Would AQ be putting up a last stand in Afghanistan and Iraq or be on the offensive in the U.S.?

And who put the walls between the intellegence agencies? It wasn't Bush. It would take more than 8 months to clear the garbage piled up for 8 years.

How many terrorist acts against U.S. assets from 1993 to 2000?
How many from 2001 to present?

Clinton was good at the military running away with its tail between its legs. The Dems are trying to make that happen again.

OC Chuck - why you are wron... (Below threshold)
Lincoln's Ghost:

OC Chuck - why you are wrong...

Richard Clarke makes a strong case in "Against All Enemies" that Clinton was very attentive and proactive in responding to Al Qaeda as an emerging threat. And that Georgie W. was in fact quite incompetent and ignorant in dealing with Al Qaeda even though, by that time, they were a CLEARLY ESTABLISHED THREAT.

Do you have a more informed insider account than Richard Clarke's?

If so, let's hear their account.

If not, I'll assume you are just another conservative whose "facts" are actually empty demagoguery and fantasy-wishes with no relation to actual reality.

Some call it lying.

Good luck in Nov.

In the 3 months prior to 9-... (Below threshold)
dr lava:

In the 3 months prior to 9-11 there were many warnings and the Secret Service to measures to protect the president. They put him on a boat in Genoa at the G8 in July because of the "planes hitting buildings" intel. On 9-10 anti-aircraft guns were mounted on the roof of the hotel in Sarasota where he slept the night before the attacks. There were many many warnings:

http://cooperativeresearch.org/project.jsp?project=911_project

But the one that is the most devastating to me is the PDB of Aug. 6. Bush would not have had to do anything. If he would have gone on TV and told the American people what intel he had received we, the people, would never have allowed it to happen. Remember the story actor James Woods tells about his flight with the plotters? I believe if the public had been frightened by Bush, as he is so expert at doing now, we could have stopped this attack.

The question is asked why security was so poor on 9-11? Its the same reason the response to Katrina was criminally incompetent. It is the same reason we have a disaster in Iraq.

"Who was in charge of secur... (Below threshold)

"Who was in charge of security on 09/11/2001?"

Ahhh, that would be the frat boy, and Condi.
Now I bet if those Al Qaeda blokes were planning an attack on Bloomingdales or the oil fields of Texas, the plot definately would have been uncovered.

Was girlfreind shopping in Bloomingdales or Saks for shoes, when Katrina hit?

But I digress. Condi was warned of a possible 911 style attack, and she poo pooed it. Clinton's administration deserves some blame as well. But only a moron would argue that this administration is not primarily responsible for those events on that day.

D.J., it appears you have s... (Below threshold)

D.J., it appears you have struck a nerve.

When the moonbats and Clintonistas start sputtering and frothing at the mouth as several do above, it means you hit them close to home.

Keep up the good work. The more the vermin are rattled enough to speak up, the more they prove to the general public what despicable excuses for human beings they truly are.

So, Clinton WAS to blame fo... (Below threshold)
MikeSC:

So, Clinton WAS to blame for the first WTC bombing then, eh?
-=Mike

The question is a... (Below threshold)
Mike:
The question is asked why security was so poor on 9-11? Its the same reason the response to Katrina was criminally incompetent.

That's the first time I've heard that loony left conspiracy (that Naigin and Blanco were behind 9/11).

I think he's blaming the Ar... (Below threshold)
MikeSC:

I think he's blaming the Army Corps of Engineers.
-=Mike




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