Wednesday, May 26, 2004
America deserves better # 10
A couple of you have asked what I thought about Richard Clark. I had not intended to write on this subject, but the Condoleezza Rice testimony provoked several thoughts that fit my theme. If you google on Richard Clark you will probably find the Time article that has been frequently referred to, and you may also come across Al Franken's admittedly biased version of events. Both were written long before Clark's book and testimony, but both corroborate what he has said. Personally I believe Clark is probably telling the truth in a relatively fair and unbiased way. (I sure agree with him on Iraq!). Curiously Condi's testimony also corroborated Clark, which I didn't expect after the character assassination attempts by the Bushies.
As for Condi I have very mixed feelings. On the positive side she is clearly bright, articulate, poised, charming, unflappable, and in a nice way as pugnacious as she needs to be. I was very impressed at how well prepared she was and how well she controlled the interview. On the negative side, I was disappointed at how she followed the Bush administration policy of misdirection. The least offensive thing in this regard was how skillfully she ran out the clock to minimize the questions that could be posed. That would be appropriate behaviour in an adversial situation, but wasn't the best in front of a committee that is trying to get to the bottom of how 9/11 happened, in order to prevent a similar future failure. Both her opening remarks and her answers, even to clearly sympathetic Republicans, were much longer than need be.
More important was her comment, word for word the same as Cheney's, (an obviously preset party line) the week of Clark's testimony to the effect of "What was Clark doing during the 1990s when the first WTC bombing, the East Africa bombings, the Cole bombing etc., happened?" In view of the facts that: she kept Clark on, that she spoke of him positively several times during her testimony, that during his time in office Al Qaeda was clearly identified as the enemy, as the perpetrator of the latter bombings, that at least 3 millenium plots were foiled, and that Clark recommended again and again more drastic action against Al Qaeda than either administration was willing to undertake, posing the question as she did was purely and simply an attempt to discredit one of the best people we had on the job. If she had the moral backbone that one would expect with her many positive characteristics, she would never have participated in such action. I was really sorry to see her put Bush doctrine ahead of correct behaviour.
There was one other small point that seemed to escape the attention of all the pundits. During her opening remarks she referred to "a sustained systematic campaign against the USA, starting in the 1980s with the Lebanon bombing and the Achille Lauro". Maybe it's not very important, but that is a false claim and another example of misdirection. There was no sustained or systematic campaign against the USA until Al Qaeda got their act together and pulled off the East africa bombings in 1998. The earlier events were not part of any systematic campaign, although the first WTC attack may have been linked to a nascent Al Qaeda. What these acts had in common was that they were committed by Muslims angry at the USA, and that we learned nothing from them. Why did she link them in the way she did? Probably to lessen culpability by implying that this administration inherited a decade and a half old problem that predecessors had failed to deal with. In fact Al Qaeda was clearly recognized as a threat only in 1996, and the previous administration was subjected to a huge ration of Republican abuse after the 1998 attempt to take out Bin Laden with rocket attacks, an attempt that we now know was fully justified and appropriate.
However there is a more important issue, but one that, at least in regard to Dr. Rice, I do not quite lump into my America deserves better theme. This is another point that the pundits have overlooked, but is clear to me, probably because of my corporate management background. Over and over again Condi made statements like "On July 5th I delegated the task to Clarke", "I understood that the FBI was pursuing the sleeper cells", "the country had taken steps" (note: not "I had taken steps"), "Dick Clark, the FBI director, the CIA director were shaking trees", "the CSG was the nerve centre and CSG members were in contact with their principles", "President Bush and I expected -- " etc. As early as 2000, in an interview, she had noted the need for better CIA/FBI coordination on domestic threats. She was fully aware of the dysfunction of these agencies, and we later learn that CSG members were not in touch with their principles and that the state of high alert in Washington in June-Aug of 2001 was never communicated to field offices in the FBI, INS or FAA. Clearly she had a completely "hands-off" approach, she still feels that her approach was OK, and she doesn't understand basic management, which is not surprising for an academic. In a successful corporation a senior manager that provided neither direction or control in an area of importance, and suffered a major failure would be fired. Of course her title is National Security Advisor, not director or manager. It is quite possible that her job spec. did not call for her to take charge. Her predecessor, Sandy Berger, saw it as his job to take charge, and during the millenium threat held daily meetings of the principles. The threat alert went down to field offices in all branches, and plots were foiled. Dr. Rice perceives that as luck. In business we have an expression - "Chance favors the prepared".
And that brings us back to Bush. Clearly no one was assigned specifically to take charge. The FBI was a criminal investigation organization, ill prepared to deal with domestic security. The CIA is prevented by law from domestic intelligence work. There was no equivalent of Sandy Berger filling the vacuum, and given the elevated threat perception that everyone agrees existed, there was a vacuum. Bush "expected " things to get done. In the US Navy they have a useful expression. "What gets done is what is inspected, not what is expected". No one inspected. No one saw to it that the CSG members communicated with their principles. No one saw to it that field offices were on high alert. Cheney was assigned by Bush to lead a task force in May, but had not yet held a meeting in Sept. and no followup was done. The principles held 100 meetings by 9/11 commission count, or 33 meetings by Condi's count, from Jan. to Sept. and never once discussed Al Qaeda, in spite of the fact that Tenet is said to "have had his hair on fire" during July. August saw the longest first year Presidential vacation in history, at a time when Condi claims "the President had us on highest alert". When I started these letters I said that this administration is morally bankrupt, strategically misguided and economically irresponsible. Now it is clear that they are also managerially incompetent, to the extent that they are unable to recognize their lack of competence.
Clark has said that probably nothing could have been done to prevent 9/11. Dr. Rice has strongly emphasized this assertion. I don't buy it. Given the history, and the level of alert that begged for strong top level central direction, if there had been competent management, and a top priority communicated in unmistakeable terms to field offices of all agencies, the odds are very high that the dots would have been connected and the conspiracy rolled up before the plan could be implemented. The new theme song, repeated, to my distress, by John McCain, is that "Al Qaeda was responsible". No one else was responsible. Only Richard Clark has admitted his failure and apologized. That's not good enough. This was a gross failure of basic management. I hope the next administration studies Mgmt 201 covering "Direction, Delegation, Measurement and Control". America deserves better.
Sincerely yours, Murray