Tuesday, August 03, 2004

Howlin' "Wolf"

Now that the President has decided to adopt the recommendation of the 9/11 Committee to establish a "czar" for the nation's intelligence operations, I have a few suggestions for people he might consider for the job:

  • Paul "Pee Wee Herman" Reubens.
  • Ben Curtis, the guy who used to do the Dell Computer commercials before he got busted with the Evil Weed ("Dude, you're gettin' a cell").
  • William Hung.
  • Sharon Stone.
  • Ted Lange, who played Isaac on The Love Boat.
  • Ken Jennings, Mr. Jeopardy!
  • The Artist Formerly Known as the Artist Formerly Known as Prince.
  • Ann and Nancy Wilson from Heart.
  • Emo Philips.
  • Me.

Why these folks? No particular reason, really. But if any of them took over the responsibility for U.S. intelligence from the people who are doing it now, you'd never notice a difference.

This whole business about issuing a limited terror alert based on three-to-four-year-old intelligence is just plain wack. Let's get people all excited about something someone may have been thinking about doing around the time of the last Summer Olympics. Never mind the fact that, as the New York Times quotes an unnamed "counterterrorism official in Washington" as saying, "We know that al-Qaeda routinely cases targets and then puts the plans on a shelf without doing anything." The Times article also notes, "Federal authorities said on Monday that they had uncovered no evidence that any of the surveillance activities described in the documents was currently under way."

We all remember the story of the boy who cried "Wolf." He did it so often without just cause that on the day the wolf really did appear, no one heeded his pleas for help and the wolf ate him. Our government is well on its way to doing the exact same thing. How many times in the past three years have we heard these kinds of warnings, and nothing ever comes of them? Thank God nothing does, but one supposes it might be a good idea to wait until someone actually smells (maybe even sees) smoke before screaming that the house is afire. Otherwise, a cynic might envision all manner of sinister reasons for the false alarms.

It's a Catch-22, of course. The day the Feds disregard some possible warning sign, fail to sound the alarm, and the threat proves to be real -- and lethal -- everyone will point fingers of blame and shout, "If you had some indication, why didn't you warn us?" But my problem with what's going on now is that they always seem to warn us when there's no solid reason to believe that danger is imminent. We need someone in charge who's better able to sift the wheat from the chaff, and can make more reasoned determinations about which threats matter and which ones don't.

No, I don't know how to accomplish that. What concerns me is this: neither do the people whose job it is to know.

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