EDIT of 9 Jan 10: Note seven comments from retired senior officers.
Critique of the CT Summary for the White House
This is a negligent piece of work that fails to include all that is known merely from open sources of information, but more importantly its judgments are misdirected. This incident remains incompletely investigated until the person who video-taped events on the airplane comes forward and is identified.
Where we differ:
1. It was passengers who restrained the individual, not the flight crew, as is stated in the first paragraph.
1) Does not identify the primary error. The Embassy officer (or CIA officer) who interviewed the father did not elevate the matter. The same kind of mistake occurred when the Taliban walked in and offered us Bin Laden in hand-cuffs.
2) The absence of a machine-speed cross-walk among US and UK visa denials is noted, but the weakest link is overlooked. The Department of State either didn’t check their visa files or, as has been remarked, may have failed to get a match because of misspelling. The necessary software is missing. State continues to be the runt in the litter (we have more military musicians than we have diplomats) and until the President gets a grip on the Program 50 budget, State will remain a dead man walking.
3) Another point glossed over: the intelligence community, and CIA in particular, did not increase analytic resources against the threat. Reminds us of George Tenet “declaring war” on terrorism and then being ignored by mandarins who really run the place.
4) “The watchlisting system is not broken” (page 2 bottom bold). Of course it is broken, in any normal meaning of the word “system”. John Brennan is responsible for the watchlisting mess, and this self-serving statement is evidence in favor of his removal. If we are at war, we cannot have gerbils in critical positions (quoting Madeline Albright).
5) “A reorganization of the intelligence or broader counterterrorism coummunity is not required…” at the bottom of page 2. Reorganization, in the sense of moving around blocks on a chart, may not be required, but the entire system is broken and does need both principled redesign and new people the President can trust with the combination of balls and brains and budget authority to get it right. Thirteen years after Aspin-Brown we still have not implemented most of their suggestions; the U.S. intelligence community is still grotesquely out of balance; and the Whole of Government budget is still radically misdirected at the same time that our policies in the Middle East are counterproductive.
6) Page 3 says there are no barriers to information sharing. While technical access has indeed undergone significant modification, sharing in functional sense does not occur nearly to the level that it should. This statement shows how badly the problems have been framed, and in a way that leads to complacency.
7) The attempt to slam CIA in favor of NCTC is unacceptable. NCTC is supposed to be doing the all-source analysis and connecting the dots, and it failed. The report fails to point out that the REASON most of the dots were not connected is because analysts are still working from paper files and doing cut and paste within the physics of an 8-10 hour day. We still do not have machine speed connectivity among all the systems; we still do not have human linguists (and available commercial software) capable for catching and connecting mis-spellings in real time.
8) On the last page, page 6, the statement that “‘Information sharing’ does not appear to have contributed to this intelligence failure; relevant all-source analysts as well as watchlisting personnel who needed this information were not prevented from accessing it” is in our judgment a stake in the heart of the author of this summary, who is mis-leading the President.
The next to last paragraph is John Brennan’s epitaph for this is precisely what he has been responsible for creating these past number of years.
“There was not a comprehensive or functioning process for tracking terrorist threat reporting and actions taken such that departments and agencies are held accountable for running down all leads associated with high visibility and high priority plotting efforts….”
This is an inconsequential generic memorandum that can be summed up in one sentence: do your jobs. It also assigns responsibility for alleged accountability to the one individual whose job this has been for the past number of years, thereby confirming that in this Administration, accountability is an unprecedented term.
Well-intentioned but without effect–nothing changes in design, budget, culture, or senior-level accountability. The President is being soothed by hacks who will get to keep their jobs. This should be seen as a mess requiring a new and much more serious round of change. We respectfully offer the references below as a starting point. Nothing less will do what needs to be done.
Well-intentioned and without effect–nothing changes and most especially the budget authorities and the senior-level accountability. McLaughlin is a status quo ante validator, not a change agent.