National Review October 27, 2003 Books, Arts & Manners Unequal Struggle By Angelo M. Codevilla
Bush vs. the Beltway: How the CIA and the State Department Tried to Stop the War on Terror, by Laurie Mylroie (HarperCollins, 272 pp., $25.95) This book is the best available account of the reasoning behind the conduct of the war on terror. But it is based on a faulty premise, the one implicit in its title: that presidents neither control nor reform their bureaucracies. This is an analgesic for Republicans, because it shields President Bush from responsibility for the incoherence of terrorism policy that the book documents. If all presidents are equally beset by bureaucrats, then Bush can be excused, even praised, for making U.S. policy come out no worse than it has. In fact, however, the image of a president battling bureaucrats on nearly equal terms applies only to those who have not tried to master their servants, or proved inept at it. It certainly does not apply to FDR or JFK -- or even to Jimmy Carter or Bill Clinton. Nearly a half-century ago, Kennedy's defense secretary, Robert McNamara, bequeathed an organizational structure -- an elite, and a culture -- that dominates the armed forces as well as the thinking about them; none of his successors have challenged it. Jimmy Carter's CIA and NSA directors -- respectively, Stansfield Turner and Bobby Ray Inman -- made their agencies into what they are today by firing one kind of senior bureaucrat and elevating another. Similarly, bureaucrats knew that Bill Clinton could not be crossed with impunity. (Ask James Woolsey and John Deutch.) Laurie Mylroie never attempts to show the general applicability of her judgment that "even after a clear decision is made [by the president], sub-Cabinet and sub-sub-Cabinet officials may work to undermine it, while the overruled Cabinet official may continue to emit public signals of his unhappiness with the policy." In fact, Democrats have tended to shape, staff, and be served by the bureaucracy, while Republicans have lived with it and complained. With precise mathematical accuracy, presidents get from their bureaucracies neither more nor less than they deserve. Although Mylroie writes much and well on the intelligence bureaucracy's grievous shortcomings regarding terrorism, she does not directly shed light on President Bush's connection to the bureaucracy's failings -- except at one point, where she writes: "Even senior administration officials -- including the president -- may not have understood how strong the case against Iraq was." This points to the heart of what the title obfuscates: In fact as well as formally, President Bush is responsible. On this the sources she cites agree: Repeated reality checks to the contrary notwithstanding, Bush II, like Bush I, trusts U.S. intelligence, and the State Department as well. He staffs them and keeps them. He does not battle them. No one but he is responsible for the actual mix of judgment and policy. This book's substantial value is as a case study of intellectual incompetence with regard to terrorism and Iraq. That incompetence has two sources: self-indulgent adherence to mistaken prejudices about policy, and failure to apply proper quality control to intelligence operations (the kind of watchfulness usually called counterintelligence). Mylroie begins with the FBI's handling of the investigation into the fall 2001 anthrax mailings. There was never the slightest evidence that the spores came from an American, never mind a lone "right-wing" scientist; but the FBI angrily dismissed the massive evidence pointing in other directions. It did not deviate from its course, even though the anthrax letters -- the first of which was mailed on 9/11 from a location near where the hijackers had operated, and all of which contained references to Islamic causes -- practically begged the Bureau to think that they had come from al-Qaeda. Then Iraq's Saddam Hussein publicly suggested that bin Laden was behind the anthrax attacks. Why was one of our enemies trying gratuitously to implicate al-Qaeda? One plausible answer begins with the fact that the essence of terrorist warfare is cover: giving the target the impression that the orchestrators of the attack are in fact innocent, and sending the target to look elsewhere. The anthrax attacks were small, and may have been a test -- not of the powders or the delivery system, because those were sure to work -- but of whether the cover would work: Would the American hounds go baying off after al-Qaeda and leave Iraq alone? Mylroie concludes that the FBI's focus on domestic terrorism baffled the Iraqis, who did not think that the FBI's theory would offer sufficient cover for larger attacks. In the absence of a firm disposition to blame al-Qaeda, the Americans might come after Iraq itself. Within hours of the 9/11 hijackings, too, much evidence pointed to al-Qaeda. But this information was "low-hanging fruit": People expert at covering their tracks had left some tracks to be found. The media and the CIA pounced on the easy meat. Mylroie writes: "The willingness of the American media to accept simple (if flawed) explanations is matched only by the willingness of the U.S. government agencies to promote such explanations -- even in the face of disturbing evidence to the contrary." The agencies did after 9/11 something like what they had done after the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center. In 1993, they picked up a suspect who had been left behind intentionally (left without money, the sap went back to Ryder to collect the rental deposit on the van that had blown up with the bomb). Even though he had made 46 telephone calls to Iraq, the official judgment was that both the fool himself and the overall plot were about pure Islamist extremism, having nothing to do with any state. Similarly, U.S. intelligence went out of its way to ignore the fact that the professional doctoring of bombing mastermind Ramzi Youssef's Kuwaiti identity documents pointed to his being an agent of Iraqi intelligence. Who, then, was ultimately behind the attacks on the World Trade Center, in 1993 and 2001? That is the question Laurie Mylroie has done more than anyone else to advance. In a nutshell, the official U.S. intelligence line -- the basis on which President Bush has been acting -- is that Youssef and the key organizers of 9/11 all belong essentially to one family, who are ethnic Baluchis, born and raised in Kuwait, and working for al-Qaeda. In fact, however, their activities began long before their 1997 association with al-Qaeda could have brought them the financial and organizational tools; furthermore, the notion that a single family could be at the heart of a worldwide assault on America is inherently implausible. Mylroie also argues, persuasively, that there is much reason to believe that these persons are not who they claim to be at all. In addition, at least five of the 19 persons whose names and photos U.S. intelligence published as those of the 9/11 hijackers did not match real people. The CIA and FBI need to ask -- and be asked -- uncomfortable questions. In Mylroie's words: "People's egos and careers almost inevitably come into play [in intelligence] . . . the deceiver quickly finds an unlikely ally in the deceived." Until this problem is confronted, the title Bush vs. the Beltway will remain more a wish than a statement.