Put the Marx Brothers in Charge

The new Robb-Silberman report on U.S. intelligence capabilities should, but won’t, enrage Americans. Too long at 600-plus pages for most to read, the report completes the destruction of the intelligence community – especially the CIA – begun by Congress’ Goss-Graham inquiry and the wrong-headed, dissembling Kean-Hamilton Commission.

Like a French farce’s final act, Robb and Silberman show the Republic is run by men and women who will inflict any amount of pain on America to avoid harming one of their own. This federal-level group amounts to an unaccountable, murderously cynical aristocracy of power. Cowardly senior bureaucrats and policymakers have failed to act on good intelligence or misused bad intelligence; congressional oversight committees ask puerile questions – it’s politically safer not to know – and deceitful senior bureaucrats dutifully give non-answers; and presidents abscond with the constitutional prerogative to declare war from the pliant, derelict federal legislature.

The aristocracy’s shamefulness came home to roost on 9/11 and in Iraq. Those responsible reached for the most reliable of all whitewashers – the blue-ribbon special commission. These panels have been stocked only with those who will reliably chant: “We are not here to point fingers.” Believing Americans are inattentive yokels, the commissions take testimony, ignore or bury the truth, and issue reports exculpating those who appointed them. What caused 3,000 dead on 9/11; 1,500-plus dead in Iraq; the failure to eliminate bin Laden; and the calamity-in-the-making of open borders and unenforced immigration laws? Why the intelligence community’s “structure,” of course! Americans are to believe that antiquated structure – an inanimate object – caused multiple U.S. defeats. Case closed; aristocracy safe; and Americans – like Union troops at Cold Harbor – pinning on name tags to identify their corpses after al-Qaeda’s next strike.

The recent commissions have ensured federal officials – elected and appointed – and their senior bureaucrats are inviolably protected by one rule: No one is responsible for anything at anytime, ever. This phrase should be placed on the Great Seal and used to prepare America’s obituary. Though too late to make a difference, let’s review several “serious” problems Robb-Silberman identify, but for which no one is responsible.

  • Dissent/debate not present in the intelligence community. This is not caused by “structure.” Leaders alone promote debate or suppress it. The 1996 report detailing al-Qaeda’s state-like effort to acquire WMD was suppressed for many months by senior CIA officers. They then wanted no debate on al-Qaeda’s WMD program.

  • CIA officers doubted primary Iraq WMD source “Curveball,” and military analysts were skeptical of Iraq having UAVs to disperse chemical or biological weapons. “Structure” did not keep these analyses from the White House; senior managers did.

  • The FBI does not share information with the intelligence community. Again, fault lies not with “structure,” but with the astonishing, pathetic, and perhaps negligent failure of Judge Freeh and Mr. Mueller to purchase a reliable computer system.

  • The intelligence community lacks the expertise on Islamic extremism it had on the USSR. Is this a “structure” problem, or the failure of three directors of central intelligence – Woolsey, Deutch, and Tenet – who seem not to know the term “Islam” and mandated no training on the issue? Also, why have we expanded the intelligence community if, as the Robb-Silberman report says, there are no experts for thousands of new jobs?

  • No “red teams” – experts who simulate enemy forces – challenged prewar intelligence on Iraq. “Structure” creates nothing; managers create red teams. It is an aberration in community practice not to have had Iraq intelligence red-teamed before the war. The absence of red teams means intelligence community leaders knew the analytic answer they wanted, or were told by administration officials the answer to deliver.

How’s them apples? The Robb-Silberman report is the third coat of whitewash meant to make Americans think effective intelligence reform is underway. The commissions have produced institutional chaos and debilitating bureaucratic growth, not movement toward reform that builds on intelligence-community strengths and better defends America. In a successful effort to protect their patrons in the aristocracy of power, the commissioners let the culpable escape. Worse, they saddled America with the absurd intelligence community “structure” demanded by the uninformed 9/11 families, installed by a Congress and president who followed polls, not conscience, and led by many of the same bureaucrats who got us to 9/11 and Iraq.

After the commissions’ failures help al-Qaeda detonate a nuclear device in the United States, Americans must ensure the next commission has individuals animated by the spirit of those anti-aristocratic paragons, the Marx Brothers. For Americans, trusting their children’s and nation’s future to Groucho, Chico, Harpo, and Zeppo will be infinitely preferable and safer to relying on more commissioners like Goss, Graham, Hamilton, Kean, Robb, and Silberman.

Author: Michael Scheuer

Michael Scheuer is a 22-year veteran of the CIA and the author of Imperial Hubris: Why the West Is Losing the War on Terror.