Politics & Policy

Absurd Rush

Wait for Silberman/Robb.

Remember the Iraq weapons-of-mass-destruction intelligence failure? Remember when it was considered a failing of U.S. intelligence so deep and dire that it required a thorough reevaluation of our intelligence system’s capabilities and organization? Those days weren’t so long ago, but they have been forgotten in the absurd rush in Washington to pass a massive centralization of U.S. intelligence months before the presidential commission charged with examining the Iraq intelligence failure and questions related to it has a chance to report.

President Bush named senior federal judge Laurence Silberman and former senator Charles Robb in February to head the bipartisan panel, the Commission on the Intelligence Capabilities of the United States Regarding Weapons of Mass Destruction. It is scheduled to report by March. Its work directly touches on the changes contemplated in the intelligence-reform bill that conventional wisdom in Washington deems it imperative to pass in days (if not hours). As the commission’s website explains, it “will provide recommendations for ensuring that the Intelligence Community is best equipped and organized to warn the United States Government” of future WMD threats. The centralization in the current reform bill is, of course, drawn from the proposals of the 9/11 Commission. The Silberman/Robb Commission has been examining exactly those proposals: “…The 9/11 Commission has made several recommendations concerning the US Intelligence Community, and this Commission has carefully reviewed and will consider those recommendations in our work.”

Just because the Silberman/Robb commission hasn’t been holding made-for-TV public hearings doesn’t mean its work has less value than that of the 9/11 Commission. It has a staff of 60, has been holding private meetings, and has been coordinating with its counterparts in other countries wrestling with the same questions–the Butler Review in Britain, the Flood Parliamentary Inquiry in Australia. Of course, its members have had significantly fewer TV bookings–actually, none–than Tom Kean and co. Kean has been foolishly suggesting lately that an attack will be made more likely by a failure to pass a centralization now. But it will likely take years for any centralization to truly take and cohere. A change of this magnitude should be pursued deliberately, and only after the entire jury is in–which means waiting for the Silberman/Robb report.

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