The Corner

The Irrepressible John Lehman

We had a robust editorial

board session with 9/11 Commissioner John Lehman today here at DMN. He’s got strong opinions,

and isn’t shy about sharing them. Here are my summary notes:

1. “The biggest problem today is Congressional oversight. It’s chaotic.”

He meant by this that the major obstacle toward making America safer from

terrorism is the fact that something like 88 separate committees have

oversight over aspects of the government’s anti-terror war. He said Congress

views homeland security as an opportunity for revenue sharing. He was

blistering on the idiocy of Montana receiving around $47 per capita from the

feds for homeland security, while New York receiving only $5 per capita,

when everybody knows that NYC (and Washington, and L.A., and Houston, etc.)

are the main targets. The only thing that’s going to make Congress quit

acting like pork-barrel bureaucrats is for the media to galvanize the

public.

2. “When you don’t perceive a threat, everything becomes like the post

office. It’s all process.”

This was his comment about the many failures to see 9/11 coming,

particularly regarding the solid info many agencies had, but did not share

with each other. He said, about the August 6, 2001 PDB (the one that said al

Qaeda might use planes to attack), that — and this is a quote — “We can’t

quote from our interview with the president, so let me just say that a very,

very senior goverment official told us he could have gotten better

information from the daily papers” than from the CIA. Lehman said it was

absolutely shocking to committee members to discover how poorly served

Presidents Bush and Clinton were by intelligence agencies.

3. “If you ask us on the committee what worries us most about the future,

it’s not what we can’t imagine, but what we can.”

He said that there are no real failures of imagination today. People are

quite aware of the chemical, biological and nuclear threats against America,

and how easy it would be to carry them out. He said nuclear worries are the

most serious.

4. “Today’s is an enviroment that only a somnolent person would be happy in.

Common sense is not prevailing.”

He said that the various government bureaucracies reward complacency and

process, and marginalizes imaginative thinkers and risk takers. The govt has

got to shake up their way of doing business and bring creative thinkers to

decision-making positions.

5. There is insufficient attention being paid to Islam in this country.

Saudi funding goes into building and maintaining Wahhabist mosques and

institutions in America, and we are not on top of this. Lehman noted that

the 9/11 hijackers were taken into a web of supporters throughout the

country, webs that started in mosques.

6. He agreed that Homeland Security officials are so cagey with the public

about the information they have regarding security threats because they

don’t want people to know how little they know.

7. “We are not fighting the war of ideas.”

The US has got to realize that this war cannot be won solely by military

might, Lehman said. We’ve got to pay for a media assault on the Arab world,

but also for charitable and educational endeavors to educate and win the

hearts and minds of the Muslim world.

8. “The Secretary of Transportation is obsessive about [racial profiling].

He will not relent on it. It’s kept CAPPS II from being implemented.”

He raked Norm Mineta over the coals for his “absurd” fear of racial

discrimination, which prevents common sense screening at airports. Lehman

said we have limited resources, so we should apply them intelligently.

“We’re spending nine-tenths of the money we have on people who have

99/100ths of one percent of the likelihood of being terrorists, because we

want to be politically correct. It’s crazy,” Lehman said.

One of my colleagues suggested that perhaps as a Japanese-American who was

interned as a child during WW2, he has a special perspective on how badly

things can go when profiling goes too far. Lehman wasn’t having any of this.

“Look, that’s his problem, not my problem,” he said. “I’ve got problems too,

and I don’t take them out on [public policy].”

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