FBI Birthday Gifts

The FBI turns 100 this month. Here are 5 gifts I’d love to get the Bureau:

1. An electronic case file system that actually works.

2. Phone books that stop labeling analysts “support,” the catch-all category for non-agents that lumps analysts with secretaries, janitors, and mechanics.

3. Filling the 38% of international counter-terrorism supervisor positions that are currently vacant.

4. Filling them with counter-terrorism experts. Short video training sessions don’t count.

5. An honorary picture of Bassem Youssef in every FBI field office and HQ. Youssef, the Bureau’s highest ranking Arab-American agent, gave hair-raising whistleblower testimony before Congress a few weeks ago.

Stalinism in the White House

Finishing up John Lewis Gaddis’ The Cold War: A New History, a passage on the Marshall Plan resonated with me, in chilling fashion.

Gaddis observes (pp. 103-104) that the exhausted Soviet Union could never have competed with the Americans in resuscitating European economies after the Second World War:

The Americans had another advantage, however, that had nothing to do with their material capabilities: it was their pragmatic reliance on spontaneity. . . . They were impatient with hierarchy, at ease with flexibility, and profoundly distrustful of the notion that theory should determine practice rather than the other way around.

It did not unduly disturb Truman and his advisors, therefore, when the American military authorities in Germany and Japan reqrote their directives for the occupation of those countries to accommodate the realities that confronted them. . . . Nor, staunch capitalists though they were, did Washington officials object to working with European socialists to contain European communists. Results were more important than ideological consistency.

The next time some neoconservative starts comparing George W. Bush with Harry Truman, keep this passage in mind. One could describe the current White House in many ways, but “pragmatically focused”, “results over ideology”, and “accommodating to realities on the ground” would not be the phrases that come to mind.

But Gaddis does present something that does raise the shock of recognition:

The Soviet Union under Stalin, in striking contrast, suppressed spontaneity wherever it appeared, lest it challenge the basis for his rule. But that meant accepting the proposition that Stalin himself was the font of all wisdom and common sense, claims his acolytes made frequently. . . So this was what the aspirations of Marx and the ambitions of Lenin had come down to: a sytem that perverted reason, smothered trust, and functioned by fear.

No, George W. Bush is not Stalin. But the insistence on secrecy and centralized control, perfected by his Imperial Vice President, the claim that it is always right, the assault on science and professionalism, and the demand for untrammeled power resting on absolute trust, bears a frightening resemblance to regimes past.

The issue here isn’t whether the current administration will destroy our democracy: I don’t think it will, partially because of last year’s elections. Rather, recall the Gaddis’ point is that the Soviet Union could not compete internationally with its ideological adversary precisely because of its ideological inflexibility. The facts did not conform to the theory, and were thus disposed of.

Radical Islam is not the ideological threat that fascism was, but it is a serious threat nonetheless. It competes with us throughout the 1 billion-strong Muslim world (and thus large portions of Europe as well). And the rigidity of the Bush Administration–its insistence on pursuing torture even when it doesn’t work and alienates our allies, its conflation of different threats, its inability to come up with ways to attack radicalism outside of military force–is making it stronger and stronger.

The 9/10 President: Whatever Happened to Homeland Security?

I have just finished reading Stephen Flynn’s wonderful new book, The Edge of Disaster, which is an excellent introduction on homeland security and disaster recovery issues. Three facts about current policy stand out:

1) Under the Bush Administration’s budgets, there is far more money spent by the Pentagon protecting its own domestic military installations ($16.5 billion) than protecting the rest of us.

2) In 2002, as part of the legislation creating the Homeland Security Department, Congress directed the administration to construct a list setting priorities for protecting critical national infrastructure: which energy facilities, utilities, bridges, ports, water and other crucial services are most at risk of terrorist attacks and what are the plans for protecting them. Five years later, the Administration still has not developed this list.

3) There was one important pre-9/11 success story: Project Impact, in which the federal government helped fund and worked closely with local governments in developing resilient systems that could provide services in the wake of disasters and terrorist attacks. It was cancelled by the Bush Administration.

Feeling safer yet?

Feeling Safer Yet?–Part I

With the Democrats’ acquisition of subpoena power, we will start learning in nauseating detail just how badly the Bush Administration has undermined American national security (thus, the new category). Already, we’ve been getting dribs and drabs, including this overlooked nugget from an excellent piece in TAP by Lawrence Korb and Max Bergmann, pointing out that there are no troops left to “surge”:

Currently there are no active or reserve Army combat units outside of Iraq and Afghanistan that are rated as “combat ready.” To ensure that troops fighting in Iraq have the equipment they need, units rotating out of Iraq have been leaving behind their equipment for units taking their place. The units that return home are so depleted that the Marines have been referring to this phase as the “post-deployment death spiral.” The additional units sent to Iraq would not have enough body armor, radios, and armored vehicles or training (since without equipment, non-deployed units cannot train properly).

In an effort to equip these additional units, equipment would have to be taken from troops stationed in places like Korea and National Guard units in the United States. This would leave the country dangerously exposed, without sufficient force strength to deter potential adversaries from possible aggressive action.

NO active or reserve Army units outside Iraq and Afghanistan that are combat ready? None? Recall that candidate Bush attacked Clinton in 2000 for inadequate readiness, a charge that (like virtually all public statements he has made) was a lie.

We can place too much emphasis on the readiness measurement, but this does appear to be evidence that Bush has violated his oath to “defend” the Constitution. His best excuse here is that the oath does say that he will do so “to the best of my ability.” Talk about the soft bigotry of low expectations.