A few days ago retired CIA analyst Ray McGovern described why "Counter-terrorism Is in Shambles" emphasizing the lack of accountability when failures have been identified. I chimed in about the fact that government employees in the intelligence community still have no whistleblower protection (to reveal such flaws and endemic public safety problems) which is the flip side of the lack of accountability. There is therefore no antidote to the secrecy and job-jeopardy regularly invoked to muzzle employees who witness fraud, waste, abuse, and illegal acts. In recent years, these have included heinous behavior like torture, kidnapping, and illegal eavesdropping, as well as untold amounts of misfeasance and other malfeasance that create serious threats and risks to public safety. So it's actually worse than just plain lack of accountability AFTER something bad happens; there's also no protection for anyone in government to speak out ahead of time.
The poignant statement (below) of the "September 11th Advocates" (four women who lost their husbands on 9-11) and have sought answers ever since that time is one of disbelief and continuing angst. President Bush never answered their questions. Will Obama?
For Immediate Release, January 8, 2010
Statement of September 11th Advocates In Response to 12/25 Terror Attempt
It is with utter disbelief that we listen to the unfolding details of the attempted December 25, 2009 terrorist attack of Delta Flight 253.
Let us remind you, on September 11, 2001, 19 terrorists managed to evade all security measures, hijack four commercial airliners, slam them into three buildings and a field in Pennsylvania, killing 2,976 innocent people, including our husbands.
We responded by strenuously lobbying for an independent investigation to find out how on earth so many agencies could have failed in their duties to protect us, and our loved ones, from such an attack. We asked that they find and fix the loopholes that existed, in order to safeguard our nation.
After the 18-month 9/11 Commission investigation, countless systemic and human failures were uncovered, including: failure to analyze data, failure to share information, human error, failure to follow up, antiquated computer systems, too much information in the system, not enough information in the system, not enough time or people to analyze data, failure to watch list, failure to properly coordinate the watch list with other lists and visa issuance and monitoring failures. Despite all of this, the 9/11 Commissioners simplistically announced that it was a "failure of imagination" that caused the agencies to falter and allowed 9/11 to happen. Additionally, we were told that those in positions to protect us "could never have imagined this type of attack" and that "everyone is at fault, so no one is at fault."
The 9/11 Commissioners would not assign any accountability nor did they recommend that incompetent people be fired. Additionally, there was no urgency by the Bush Administration and/or Congress to make sure that common sense changes were made from "lessons learned". In response, we asked, "what will your excuse be the next time an attack occurs?" Apparently, the same excuses are being used again.
President Obama stated, "This was not a failure to collect intelligence ... it was a failure to integrate and understand the intelligence that we already had..." With all due respect to President Obama, we have heard these words before.
Watching the press briefing on January 7, 2010 and reading the summary of the White House Review of the December 25 Attempted Terrorist Attack and The Corrective Actions, left us stunned. The desperate attempt by the current administration to convince us that these problems were somehow different from the ones faced prior to 9/11 was absurd. We can tell you without a doubt, these problems are not new at all.
It was reported that on 12/25/09, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab (Mutallab), the Nigerian alleged terrorist, boarded a plane headed for the United States. Reportedly, he had no passport, no luggage and paid cash for his one-way ticket. As early as August 2009, the CIA was gathering information on a person of interest dubbed the "Nigerian". The NSA was listening to discussions of a plot involving a Nigerian man. As with 9/11, the "system was blinking red". Five weeks before this attempt, Mutallab's father, a prominent Nigerian banker, walked into the U.S. Embassy in Nigeria and alerted the CIA Head of Station that he feared his son had become radicalized. Mutallab was reportedly put on a U.S. terror watch list. However, like the 9/11 hijackers, he held a valid U.S. visa and he was not put on the no-fly list.
Are we expected to believe that after spending billions of taxpayer dollars our agencies still do not have the ability to connect the dots - especially in light of the fact that post 9/11 (December 2004 to be exact) the National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC) was created, with special analysts that were trained to understand the details of exactly this type of threat? Are we supposed to accept that almost eight and a half years post 9/11 our visa department still has an antiquated computer system and is still not integrated with the rest of our intelligence community?
Currently, many of the members of Congress, as well as former Vice President Dick Cheney, are loudly criticizing the current administration for how they are handling this latest terrorist attempt. We would like to remind them that they were in office during the years post 9/11. We would like to tell them they should be ashamed and should be held accountable. It was during this time that existing loopholes that allowed 9/11 to happen were supposed to have been fixed.
It is utterly offensive and dangerous when politicians attempt to turn a national security issue into a partisan battle over who is the mightiest terror warrior. The safety of American citizens is not a schoolyard game.
Over the course of the last eight and a half years, America was taken into two wars, costing billions of dollars, further fueling the fires of those who might want to do us harm. During this time, extraordinary measures were implemented, including changing laws to enable wiretapping, torture and holding prisoners indefinitely in specially erected, secret prisons.
As with 9/11, none of these measures were necessary to stop this attack. If the INS, FBI, CIA, NSA, State Department, airline security and both the post-9/11 newly formed Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the NCTC had been doing their jobs properly, this attempt could have been prevented. All the necessary dots of information were in the system ready to be connected and all the protocols already in place simply needing to be followed.
Throughout these past eight and a half years, we requested accountability for the individual failures that allowed 9/11 to happen. We insisted that without cleaning out the incompetence, the U.S. would remain a nation at risk. We reasoned that if the same people who failed to protect us on 9/11 remained in their jobs, they could ultimately fail us again.
President Obama has stated that he was less interested in passing out blame than in correcting mistakes, and he has made it clear that senior intelligence officials would be overseeing the reforms rather than looking for new jobs. However, it is clear that without accountability there is no impetus to prevent failures from recurring as is evidenced by this latest debacle.
Therefore, in spite of measures taken over the years reacting to whatever the latest threat (i.e. taking off shoes, allowing no liquids then allowing only four ounces of liquid), nothing has truly changed regarding air travel safety. Most importantly, nothing has changed in the way our multi-billion dollar intelligence apparatus works to protect the public. Washington continues to respond the way it always does, wasting tax dollars, this time proposing potential health-threatening, full body scanners in reaction to this last attack.
Post 9/11, billions of tax dollars have been thrown at programs and additional bureaucratic layers, such as the Director of National Intelligence (DNI), DHS and the NCTC. This wasteful spending only pretends to protect us. It does not fix what is really broken, which is the bloated bureaucracy that prevents people from properly doing their jobs and fails to fire those who are inept.
Enough is enough.
President Obama said, "The buck stops with me. I am responsible."
Real accountability, from the top down is imperative. Unless people are fired for their incompetence, this statement is meaningless. Individuals who failed in their jobs need to be held accountable and fired, that's what "the buck stops here" means.
This time it happened on President Obama's watch and when the time comes, make no mistake, the American people will hold him accountable.
Lorie Van Auken