Bob Graham on fighting terrorism

A five-point plan, an insight about GWB’s lack of curiousity and what it costs us, and an excellent shouldawouldacouldamighta about how 9-11 could have been prevented.

Sen. Bob Graham’s talk to the Council on Foreign Relations is full of good nuggets.

Graham reports a conversation with a CentCom commander in February 2002 about resources being pulled from Afghanistan to support the Iraq effort, and agrees with Richard Clarke that Iraq was mostly a distraction from the war on al-Qaeda.

He lays out a serious plan for fighting al-Qaeda, only somewhat marred by his apparent endorsement of what Andrew Jackson did to the Seminoles. (The current term would be “ethnic cleansing.”) The plan consists of:

1. Going on the offensive.

2. Forcing the intelligence community to adapt to the current situation.

3. Getting back on good terms with our allies.

4. Enlising local law enforcement in anti-terror intelligence-gathering.

5. Opening up the secrecy system and telling the truth.

Graham strikes just the right tone in his criticism of the President:

But there is no indication that the president is sufficiently curious to begin to ask the right questions or make the right judgments as to which of these many evils is the greater threat to the lives of Americans.

Graham also makes a point that may be old hat to those more conversant with this material than I, but struck me as original: given the evidence that was available about al-Qaeda’s potential use of airplanes as missiles, why weren’t the cockpit doors locked? That could have been done at any time up to the morning of 9-11.

I happen to be a pilot, so I know a little bit about airplanes. I know that one of the things you’re taught to do is that if you should ever be hijacked, don’t resist–get the plane on the ground and let the people who are professionals deal with the hijackers. That’s been the standard of behavior for U.S. commercial airline pilots. So it was not surprising that the first three planes were taken down almost without any resistance. It was only the fourth plane, where they had heard the radio broadcast of the first three, that somebody awakened to the fact that this is different than the hijackings that have occurred in the past. These people are using this plane as not just a means but an end, and therefore they resisted.

We did things like allow fairly open access between the cabin and the cockpit based on that theory–“Let the hijackers come in and we’ll talk about it; get the plane on the ground.” I think that once this administration understood the degree of vulnerability we had from a new use of airplanes as weapons of mass destruction, they had an obligation to tell the FAA [Federal Aviation Administration] and the commercial aviation industry of this so that they could have gone about the business of redeploying their past practices in order to meet this new threat. Now, would that have avoided September 11? I don’t know. But it would have been an intelligent thing to do in any event.

Note that the Bush team doesn’t face that last criticism alone; we now know that enough information was available before the change of administrations so that the Clinton team should reasonably have thought of this. Of course, it’s always easier to be right in retrospect, but I’m impressed with the quality of Graham’s thinking.

Are we absolutely sure that keeping a diary and running a bad campaign contitute the Unforgiveable Sin? Kerry-Graham sounds like a very strong ticket to me.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: Markarkleiman-at-gmail.com