Intelligence and Accountability

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(Host) Commentator Bill Seamans is getting tired of waiting to find out where the buck will stop concerning the intelligence failures leading up to September 11.

(Seamans) Is anybody in Washington responsible for anything? It seems that the word that makes our legislators tremble more than a lobbyist’s threat to cut off campaign contributions is the word “accountability” which the dictionary tells us is “a willingness to accept responsibility.” Translated into Harry Truman-speak it means “The Buck Stops Here,” the sign Mr. Truman had on his desk. Apparently it has not appeared on any other desk since the Truman era.

So far I have not detected any determination to make those who were accountable for our huge FBI and CIA intelligence mess pay the wages for their failure. These people have, in fact, jeopardized the security of the nation. But has anyone been fired or moved into a career parking-orbit where they can’t do any more harm? Haven’t heard of any.

So who is accountable for the mess? How about those middle managers who didn’t pass the now-famous Phoenix and Minneapolis memos up the chain of command? FBI whistleblower Coleen Rowley called them “careerists who didn’t want to rock the FBI boat.” I haven’t heard that they have been neutralized.

So who is accountable for the fact that the intelligence agencies of the most powerful nation in modern history failed to share vital national security spy-stuff because of an inter-agency turf war? Administration apologists blame gross systemic failure. But we don’t know who was responsible for the systems that failed.

Other candidates for scape-goating are the so-called “FBI Culture” and “CIA Culture” which sounds rather elitist to me unless they mean the agencies have evolved a modus vivendi that accepts ineptitude and rejects accountability.

From my humble observer’s perspective (risking being called “unpatriotic” by Dick Cheney and John Ashcroft) I think that what has emerged is a CYA or “cover your rear-end” Culture. It’s a completely bipartisan attitude that avoids accountability – nobody is responsible for anything that goes wrong but takes credit and TV camera face-time if something happens to go right.

It appears that the last refuge of those looking for someone accountable for something in Washington or for an explanation of how President Bush’s Department of Homeland Security is going to work has been the dot game. If I hear one more politician or pundit talk about connecting the dots instead of offering us some substantive information I’ll have to be dragged screaming into a journalists rehab clinic to scrub all those dots out of my brain.

This is Bill Seamans.

Award-winning journalist Bill Seamans is a former correspondent and bureau chief for ABC News in the Middle East.

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