Magazine article Insight on the News

Priority No. 1: Homeland Security. (the Last Word)

Magazine article Insight on the News

Priority No. 1: Homeland Security. (the Last Word)

Article excerpt

Already finger-pointing can be seen and questions heard in the vast array of congressional, intelligence and federal law-enforcement offices. "Who's at fault?" is the question, and the answer, of course, is "Not me." But as Mary Ryan, a senior official at the State Department, recently told a congressional oversight committee: There was "a colossal intelligence failure."

There is plenty of time to assign blame, but what must be done now is to prevent carnage on the scale of Sept. 11 from ever happening again. No more screwups. For example, at least two of the suspected airliner terrorists were under suspicion by the CIA before the attacks on New York City and the Pentagon, but the FBI didn't know where to find them and the State Department, which issued them visas, had no idea that the CIA or anyone else was watching them. Even if other agencies had been tipped off after the terrorists were in the United States, the Immigration and Naturalization Service wouldn't have had a clue where or how to find them.

It now is the job of Tom Ridge, America's Homeland Defense chief, to stop further deadly attacks and terror mailings while our military strikes deeply into Afghanistan to find and destroy the terrorists. Good luck to him.

Kelly Patricia O'Meara reveals in an article in this issue of Insight (see "Securing the Homeland," p. 14) that Bill Clinton played politics with these matters. While Clinton was busy dismantling the culture and morale of the U.S. intelligence and national-security services (see J. Michael Waller's cover story, "PC Security," p. 10), the former president also was busy cranking out lip-service directives about establishing an effective homeland defense. In fact, much of what Congress and President George W. Bush now have put in place was presented by Clinton in a series of Xanadu programs that were supposed to do the same thing -- that is, coordinate homeland security from the White House to prevent a major terrorist attack.

So what happened? And how will Ridge and company do any better than such predecessors at getting upward of 40 agencies, departments and other bureaucracies to communicate effectively and act swiftly? God only knows -- maybe Bush can figure it out as fast as he mastered international diplomacy, strategic response and the bully pulpit.

But as for the question of what happened, maybe we already know. Maybe, just maybe, some people in government did some bad things a number of years ago that were inherited by successive government hands who couldn't give up the secrets. Consider this: Robert P. …

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