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Our research into intelligence failures turned up, and continues to turn up, surprises when insider information surfaces. In the Rowley and O'Neill cases we found a bureaucracy out-of-tune and unable to acknowledge, let alone respond to Terror threats. And it was not just intelligence, a general smugness by the administration aggravated the disaster brought by Hurricane Katrina. Recent books by Richard Clarke and Paul O'Neill (via Ron Suskind) reinforce the early experiences. In every case, high level individuals put self-interest and "department" rules ahead of public safety. Mr. Bush seems to be on a perpetual defensive treadmill.

That is all real enough, but it is not at all the whole story for the last decade. Broader research implicates the media and even we, the American people. We did not listen, and in our market driven economy, what we chose to read essentially governed what was published for us to read. The media responds to our tastes in other words, not to the most vital issues of the day.

At the same time, the news media and American officialdom lost confidence in one another over a multitude of events. The media went looking for scandals in hopes of finding another Watergate-like gold mine to expose.

Toqueville captured the essence for democracies some 150 years ago when he observed:

"it is an arduous undertaking to excite the enthusiasm of a democratic nation for any theory which does not have a visible, direct and meaningful bearing on the occupations of their daily lives."

The first World Trade Center bombing, American embassy bombings in Eastern Africa, the aborted mission to blow up several 747 aircraft over the Pacific, the destroyer Cole bombing, and the thwarted bombing of the Los Angeles Airport were too "remote in our thinking" to captivate and energize the American public. Sept 11 was another matter. American Patriotism exploded instantly, even before Flight 97 could reach its target.

From this viewpoint, failure to read the signs, which were more than plain enough, is less a failure of intelligence than it is of a built-in feature of a bureaucratic democracy. Unless something is popular with the voters, it is difficult to get their attention. Not until after the Trade Center's destruction did the American consciousness even begin to realize the danger.

That view is further bolstered by the fact that the press repeatedly belittled or second guessed the Administration's warnings about Terrorism. Congress, like the public, remained complacent. During the '90s, movies such as "The Rock", "The Peacemaker", "Outbreak", and "Air Force One" were exciting in that each was catastrophe narrowly averted. These images fit the American view of its own omnipotence as well as America's actual history of relative safety from foreign invasion and terrorism.

It is not that we were not warned, we were, many times. For example the Hart-Rudman Commission, chaired by ex-Congressmen, the Gilmore Commission, named after the Virginia governor who chaired it, the Bremer Commission after the Reagan official who chaired it, and Bill Clinton's repeated warnings that terrorism had become a threat to America all contained essentially the same conclusion, America is at risk. These warnings did not all come at once; nor did they contain any immediacy or high drama. So they went basically unheard by the media and the public.

Except for three stalwart newspapers (NY Times, Washington Post, and LA Times) the media dramatically cut back their on-the-spot foreign coverage. As a result, no one was present to follow up trends or signs as they developed. The media remained unaware or simply did not report what they did know of the heightened awareness in France, Germany and the UK. The end result was that except perhaps for a very few deep in the Government Bureaucracy, the rest of us remained blissfully ignorant.

This cannot excuse Mr. Bush, he had very direct warning of al Qa'ida cells active in the US, that they were planning trouble, and that they were planning to blow up something. People low in the hierarchy of the FBI and the CIA had more than inklings that aircraft would be involved. Early warnings from other nations supported these expectations. His system was broken and still is, he promotes people on their loyalty, not on their ability to ferret out meaningful intelligence or to assume responsibility. More than two years after 9/11 Mr. Bush is at last blaming the system, but only to save his own skin. He takes no responsibility. In fact, he wants a date, address, and perpetrator ID before he will take responsibility or even be motivated to act on a warning. This is the way the Authoritarian Personality takes toll. Mr. Bush is just like most of us! Because he is more newsworthy, the media went along with his placid smile that all was well when things were actually drifting into dangerous territory, leaving us vulnerable, or actually falling apart.

There is more, much more. See The Age of Sacred Terror, by Daniel Benjamin and Steven Simon; both are former directors of the White House's counter-terrorism program. Much of the above comes from their book.

See also:
Monotheism and Violence for an unsettling correlation.

Forewarning Heroes also known as Guardian Patriots.


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