OP-EDS

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February 3, 2004

The great American security debate

America is on the verge of a great security debate. The 9/11 commission's preliminary findings and the recent David Kay report on weapons of mass destruction in Iraq have raised significant questions and doubts about America's security apparatus. Of course we've had these doubts for some time—9/11 was a big wakeup call—but we also missed the signals for nearly a decade prior to the attacks. In a column I wrote in November 2002 laying out my case for the Iraq war, I discussed what I considered the "true message and warning that was September 11," and how America had not responded effectively—in terms of military action and intelligence—to Al Qaeda's previous attacks. I supported our campaigns in Afghanistan and Iraq because I thought those could be the effective responses we were looking for. I still stand by those decisions, but I now realize that we cannot effectively respond to a threat if we don't know the details of the threat itself.

September 11th showed us with complete certainty that our security and intelligence systems do not work as well as they are supposed to or as well as we thought they were working. The 9/11 commission's reports show that, in early 2001, routine intelligence memos floated around the FBI and the CIA citing the possibility that Al Qaeda might try to use planes as missiles and that suspects might already be in the country training. However, these memos never reached the desks they needed to. This picture isn't right, and obviously something needs to change.

President Bush's creation of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and other airline security measures taken since 9/11 are a good start in that they show recognition of the problem, but they are not nearly enough. America needs more than just a tune-up. We need a complete overhaul of our security, intelligence, and immigration agencies that will put them all under one roof (as the DHS ineffectively attempted). The idea that each agency should do their own thing and not look over the others' shoulders is absurd. The CIA needs to know everything the FBI is doing, and vice versa. That way, information collected from abroad by the CIA can be used by immigration and customs officials at our borders and by the FBI when domestically tracking possible terrorist activity.

America is facing a great problem that needs to be fixed now. For it to be fixed successfully, the endeavor must secure support from both sides of the aisle. The Bush administration must run a more transparent White House and give investigators unhindered access to intelligence documents, knowing full well that the findings may not make them look great. In addition, angry anti-war Democrats have to stop blaming Bush for security lapses that existed before he became president and drop the radical left-wing conspiracies that claim Bush was warned about 9/11. The failure of our intelligence agencies to predict and prevent Al Qaeda's plans began when we failed to react sufficiently to the first World Trade Center attack in 1993 and the bombings of our African embassies in 1998. The 9/11 attacks were complex, and the planning stages took place well before Bush took office in 2000. I'm certain that there are intelligence briefings from before 2000 that talked about the possibility of terrorists using planes as missiles as well. Bush let 9/11 happen no more than Clinton did or Gore would have had he taken office in 2000.

This is an American problem, not a Democrat or Republican problem. Both sides need to suck it up and cooperate, or America will be facing much greater problems in the very near future.