With the near-catastrophe over Detroit on Christmas, everyone’s pointing fingers and trying to figure out just what failed in stopping the Underwear Bomber. There were plenty of clues out there for the intelligence community, just waiting for someone to put them all together — and no one didn’t. Instead, it took the intervention of a single passenger and the bomber’s own incompetence to keep the bomb from going off.
Why didn’t anyone recognize the threat this guy posed?
Because no one was looking hard enough.
And that’s because the intelligence community has heard — loud and clear — the message the Obama administration is sending.
During the Bush administration, the message to the intelligence agencies was simple: “do what you need to do to keep America safe.” If that meant getting a little close to the line, so be it — the administration would have your back. As long as you acted with the best of intentions and didn’t flagrantly break any rules, you’d be covered.
For example, suppose you’re tasked with interrogating captured terrorists. you’re not going to torture them. That’s clearly over the line. So, what do you do?
You call up the Justice Department and ask them to tell you exactly where the line between “torture” and “not torture” is, what precisely the law allows and forbids. You find out just what is and is not allowed, and you follow that line militantly. But you push that line, doing whatever you can to get useful information out of this guy.
But Bush’s promise expired last January 20. And the Obama administration changed the message: if you get too close to breaking the laws, then you very well could end up facing criminal charges. In fact, if you have gotten too close to breaking the law in the past, you’re still on your own.
The Obama administration has been flirting, off and on, with whether or not officials who conducted or authorized “enhanced interrogations” will face criminal charges. Every now and then (mainly, it seems, when they need to throw a bone to their hard-left base), they hint that there will be criminal prosecutions, but the main message is to leave the threat hanging.
So, what’s an intelligence professional to do? Simple — the nail that sticks up will get nailed down. Hunker down, do your job, and don’t make waves.
It’s a simple cost-benefit analysis: suppose you have a hunch that this talk about a “Nigerian” Al Qaeda is planning to use might be the same punk you heard about who was reported as “suspicious” by some relative or something. Should you reach out and try to confirm it?
Well, if you do, you might cross some line regarding the civil rights of those who haven’t been charged with a crime, or interfering with some other department or agency’s area of responsibility, or breaking some other rule or law.
On the other hand, if you don’t, then you might get a general yelling at, but nothing specific — or significant.
After all, who’s got your back in the Agency? The CIA Director isn’t anyone with any intelligence experience — Leon Panetta is a career political operative. And the Secretary of State isn’t a career diplomat or student of foreign affairs, but another politician.
So, if you wanna keep your career going, do you job — but don’t go above and beyond. Don’t draw attention to yourself — because the rule today is “no attention is good attention.”
And if, because you just did your job and no more, some terrorists slip through the net and don’t get caught, so be it. You better look out for your own best interests — because no one else is doing it for you.
This is the climate that the Obama administration is fostering among those who are defending our nation. And whether or not they intend it that way, that’s how it’s playing out.