President George W. Bush's appointment of Henry Kissinger to chair the commission that will investigate intelligence failures preceding September 11 has led to an outpouring of comment. Much of the opposition has focused on policies that Kissinger implemented as national security adviser and then secretary of state for Presidents Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford. The secret bombing of Cambodia, escalations in Vietnam that still failed to win the war, the Chilean coup and subsequent repression, the miscalculations prior to and during the October War -- all raise questions about Kissinger's stewardship of U.S. foreign policy and are among the many reasons to doubt the appropriateness of this appointment.
Joint hearings on the intelligence failures that preceded September 11 took place in Washington last week, only to be conveniently upstaged by the Bush administration's demand for a resolution of congressional approval for a war against Iraq. As a result, the real significance of what did and did not happen in the post-September 11 investigation threatens to become lost in the cacophony of the Iraq debate. Adding to the frustrations of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence and the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, the Iraqi war issue is sure to pull members into their more political roles and cut into the time, already limited, available for their investigation of the most serious lapse of intelligence in recent memory.
When the first prisoners from the war on terrorism arrived at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, their rights and treatment became the subject of heated international debate. Should those incarcerated be considered prisoners of war? Could they be brought before military tribunals? To what diplomatic and legal representation might they be entitled? But there has been comparatively little discussion of one of the Bush administration's key purposes in establishing this facility: namely, the gathering of intelligence on terrorist activities. What kind of effort is under way at Guantanamo, and just how useful has it been?
Recent news that the National Security Agency (NSA) intercepted two messages the day before the World Trade Center and Pentagon attacks -- messages that indicated imminent action -- obliges us to reconsider whether the airliner hijackings that led to 3,000 lost lives and $20 billion in property damage could have been foiled.
Once again, Americans have been stunned by our government's release of warnings about terrorist threats. Most recently, the danger highlighted has been that al-Qaeda will attack cities using radioactive materials mixed into explosives, or so-called "dirty bombs." Here's a story sure to ride for more than one news cycle, and therein lies a tale -- a tale of the Bush administration and what it was really up to during all the recent alerts; or, if you prefer, a tale of classic intelligence snafus and misconceptions. Whichever way you take the story -- and the two interpretations aren't mutually exclusive -- it does not reflect well upon our leaders.