provision in the Homeland Security Department law ordered the establishment
of a National Commission on Terrorist Attacks, the ostensible
purpose of which is to investigate the facts and circumstances surrounding
the failure of America’s intelligence agencies to predict and stop
the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the United States. The commission
is also to recommend solutions if any systemic failures are identified.
most other government commissions, this is really being done to
preserve the government intelligence organizations and increase
their funding. Because of the political impact of the 9/11 attacks,
commission members from both political parties are more likely to
engage in the “blame game,” using any information gained from the
investigation to tar the other political party. Unfortunately, the
findings – like those of other similar commissions – will
not answer the question of why the U.S. intelligence system, with
its approximately $30–40 billion annual budget, could not detect
and stop the 9/11 attacks. Even worse, this commission will not
likely recommend appropriate changes to the intelligence community
focus, size, or budget.
“Why” of Government Commissions
are several reasons that Congress and the President set up government
commissions: 1) to take the political heat away from the Congress
and the President, so that neither is made to bear direct responsibility
for making some publicly repugnant recommendations; 2) to, hopefully,
rig the answers of the independent commission so as to get
the answers the Congress and the White House want, not the answers
to questions that really need to be answered; 3) to con the public
into believing that the government can actually solve a problem;
and, 4) to give one’s political cronies quangos, i.e., a
the last item first, the term quango is an acronym for quasi-autonomous
non-governmental organization. Government commissions are certainly
not non-governmental, but they are made to appear that way. By injecting
the aura of an independent commission composed of apparent outsiders
with the authority to make objective recommendations regarding
some government problem, politicians con the public into believing
that somehow government can be made to work effectively and efficiently,
like a private business. While the acronym quango formally
refers to an organization, the term is better known as a payoff
to political cronies in that appointees get salaries and expenses
to study a problem and give politically palatable recommendations.
quangos in fact generally assure is that a commission’s findings
will not embarrass those in power while removing most political
heat that politicians have been getting on the specific issue at
hand. Political insiders like quangos, as being appointed to such
a commission gives a person a chance to earn some money on a prestigious
commission, allows them entree to the reigning political class,
and enables them to either maintain or establish political connections
that can be useful in the future, whether in the form of getting
high-level government liaison jobs with the private sector, outright
lobbying positions or future political appointments. All of these
factors reinforce the tendency of most commissions to deflect criticism
from politicians currently in office.
examples of past commissions exist; here are a few of the more notable
ones: 1) Defense Base Closure and Realignment Commissions (1988,
1991, 1993, and 1995 – some more might be scheduled for the
near future); 2) several Social Security commissions, one in the
1980’s and at least one more in the late 1990’s; 3) a relatively
recent commission on Medicare reform; and, 4) several on terrorism
and homeland security. The most effective was probably the series
of commissions that led to defense base closures. Fashioned by outgoing
Republican Majority Leader and economist Dick Armey, these commissions
actually led to some cuts in unneeded military bases and even helped
reduce defense spending in the 1990’s. Of course, both the White
House and Congress had input regarding the members of the commission,
who presumably did their political bidding in spreading the political
pain of defense budget cuts. Moreover, commission members rarely
took on the military by suggesting more rapid closures of bases
than the military wanted.
effective or ineffective commissions that come to mind are the 1983–84
Social Security Commission, chaired by current Federal Reserve Chairman
Alan Greenspan. That commission was given a narrow scope, namely
how to make the Social Security System solvent. Well, Congress
and the president did adopt their recommendations, namely a sharp
increase in Social Security taxes along with a very modest increase
in the minimum retirement age. Both recommendations are still being
implemented. This commission was not to investigate or make recommendations
on the most important questions of all, that is, should the government
be in the business of providing retirement payments (answer: NO!)
and could taxpayers get a better deal from a private sector-based
retirement system (answer: YES!).
more recent Social Security Commission attempted to answer the real
questions, but thus far Congress has not taken any action on its
recommendations, which only offered a mix of options, including
keeping parts of the current system intact.
the late 1990’s, during the Clinton Administration, Congress also
authorized a commission to look into the reform of Medicare. Saying
that he would support the results of the commission, after the recommendations
were made public, Clinton did a 180-degree turn, pulling his political
support. He stated that the recommended changes would hurt senior
citizens. Clinton made political hay with senior citizens but angered
a number of Senators.
recently, the Congress established a number of commissions on the
terrorist threat faced by the United States and what should be done
about it. Almost invariably, the commissions urged more federal
involvement and more spending. At least one commission recommended
a version of the recently adopted Homeland Security Department as
the solution to our problems. Instead of asking questions such as
“Could we not reduce the terrorist threat to the United States by
changing our foreign policy to one of strict neutrality,” these
commissions rigged the answers. Not too surprisingly, the Bush Administration
resisted the idea of establishing a Homeland Security Department
until the last minute, when it was able to milk it for political
benefit in the recent elections.
“National Commission on Terrorist Attacks”
National Commission on Terrorist Attacks may turn out a bit different
than other commissions, but for a much different reason. While a
recommendation to increase spending on intelligence collection and
analysis is likely, this commission may also turn into a political
blame game, with each political party’s representatives trying to
win public approval by blaming the other one for the failure to
detect and stop the 9/11 attacks.
a $3 million budget, the commissioners can get paid up to $467 per
day when they are on commission business plus another $200 per day
(when in DC or any other expensive city) for living expenses. They
will also hire some staff and probably have to pay rent for their
main offices, which will be needed for up to 18 months. While not
putting them in the league with Donald Trump, their pay is certainly
not bad for doing political hack work.
satisfied with the results of a Congressional investigation on the
causes of the 9/11 attacks (another sham and the Democrats apparently
were not allowed to issue a minority report), Democrats insisted
that the Homeland Security Department bill include a provision to
have an independent commission determine what the intelligence community
(hereafter the IC) knew about the 9/11 attacks, when did the IC
know it, who did the IC notify in the chain of command, and what,
if anything, can be done to fix the problem if it is systemic, that
is, if it is found to be a flaw in the organizational structure.
To get the Homeland Security bill passed into law, George Bush agreed
to setting up this commission, one which might get his administration
in some trouble.
President selected Henry Kissinger as the Chairman. Who else could
do a good job of glossing over findings that otherwise might make
the Bush Administration look bad? However, Kissinger’s appointment
caused great consternation among the radical left wing, as Kissinger
is still being accused of putting out a CIA contract on the life
of Chilean communist President Salvador Allende in the early 1970’s.
After getting much heat, Kissinger resigned from the commission,
several weeks after being appointed, citing apparent conflicts of
interest in his representation of foreign governments in the United
States. George Mitchell, former Democratic Senate Majority Leader,
was initially appointed as the Deputy Chairman by the Democrats,
but he bowed out even more quickly than Kissinger, being the first
to cite apparent conflicts of interest due to the clients he represents.
Bush and the Republicans got their 5-man team in place, with former
New Jersey Governor Thomas Kean as the Chairman and four additional
members: John Lehman, former Navy Secretary in the Reagan Administration;
James Thompson, former Illinois Governor and former federal prosecutor;
Fred Fielding, former White House Counsel for President Reagan;
and, Slade Gorton, former U.S. Senator from Washington who was defeated
in his 2000 re-election bid.
Democrats have had their appointees in place for several weeks:
Lee Hamilton, former Indiana Congressman, as Deputy Chairman in
place of George Mitchell; Max Cleland, recently defeated in his
run for re-election as U.S. Senator from Georgia; Timothy Roemer,
former Congressman from Indiana; Richard Ben Veniste, an attorney
who led the Democratic Watergate investigation legal efforts against
Richard Nixon; and, Jamie Gorelick, former Clinton Administration
Defense official as well as former Clinton Deputy Attorney General.
Gorelick is currently the Vice Chairman of the Board of Federal
National Mortgage Association – Fannie Mae, the biggest quango
of the federal government.
the lineup, this commission is not only likely to call for more
spending by the intelligence community – which George Bush
wants, it is also likely to turn into a real mud-slinging contest
in which Democrats and Republicans blame each other for not detecting
and preventing the 9/11 attacks. While the chairman and deputy chairman
are likely to exhibit more of a compromising nature – that
is, recommend more spending on intelligence and possibly a few cosmetic
institutional changes, most of the other members can be expected
to support their party’s political position on 9/11 – that
is, blame the other guy!
of the members could have axes to grind. The Democrats are rumored
to want to write a minority report, in which they will likely blame
the Bush Administration for failing to do its job. Smarting from
the mid-term election losses to Republicans, Democrats are eager
to blame Republicans for 9/11.
Cleland, a triple amputee (both legs and his right arm) from his
service in the Viet Nam war, was defeated in his run for re-election
to the Senate in 2002 by being branded soft on terrorism and defense
by his opponent. Cleland probably has a score to settle and would
likely want to issue a minority report.
Ben Veniste is an all-around Democratic utility player, who can
be called in to tar the other side while giving some credibility
to his findings. He certainly helped to do a job on Richard
Nixon (not that Nixon did not deserve it) in the Watergate hearings.
Gorelick, who currently has one of the best quangos the U.S. government
can offer – Vice Chairman of Fannie Mae (her boss is Franklin
Raines, who was the last Clinton Budget Director and got the biggest
quango), is a shrewd attorney and unabashed partisan who kept watch
on Janet Reno for the Clintons. She might also support the issuance
of a partisan minority report. Thus, with the three left wing Democrats
– Cleland, Ben Veniste and Gorelick, a minority report that
tars the Bush Administration is likely.
the Republicans, John Lehman arguably is a real pit bull in the
figurative sense. Lehman is known as being an especially tough bureaucratic
in-fighter from his days as Navy Secretary, when he often obtained
budget increases for the Navy, whether or not they really helped
the nation’s ability to fight and win a war.
Thompson, former Governor of Illinois, is also an experienced federal
prosecutor, who can probably counter the legal skills of Ben Veniste
and Gorelick. Ditto for Fred Fielding, who was Ronald Reagan’s White
House Counsel. While these latter two may not have any axes to grind,
neither is a shrinking violet when it comes to making the best case
Controversy and More Intelligence Spending
Bush will get what he wants from this commission, possibly even
more. Whatever they find, the commissioners are likely to recommend
more resources for intelligence collection and analysis. They might
recommend better coordination and sharing of intelligence information
and analyses, along with cosmetic changes to the whole system. Are
they likely to recommend something big, like the creation of a specific
homeland security agency, stripping away the FBI’s functions in
this area? This is possible but not very likely.
the blame game, Bush has been successful thus far in laying a lot
of the blame for the 9/11 attacks on the Democrats, and he profited
from this in the recent elections. Democrats on the commission will
try to find any evidence of stupidity or malfeasance that can be
used to tar Bush and Company. Republican members will try to dredge
up Clinton Administration miscues or policies that might have led
to the 9/11. They will also try to mute any Democratic messages
written in a minority report. Bush, who more and more appears to
be like Brer Rabbit, may want to be thrown into the briar
patch by the Democrats so he can use the issue against them
again in the 2004 elections.
balance, the taxpayers will be out another $3 million for this commission
and intelligence spending will be boosted, probably by billions
of dollars. The only positive thing the public can hope to get from
this commission is the entertainment value provided by any mud slinging.
H.L. Mencken used to laugh at boobus Americanus and politicians
in general. Since we are going to be stuck with another sham report,
we ought to laugh as much as possible at the boobi politici Americani
who will be populating this panel and their useless product.
Grichar (aka Exx-Gman) [send
him mail] was an economist with the federal government. He writes
to "un-spin" the federal government's attempt to con the
public, whether through its own public relations organs or via the
usual stooges and dupes in the mainstream media.