What with all the discussion about intelligence overhaul, a recently retired CIA official told NPR the other day that the intelligence failure leading up to 9/11 had nothing to do with lack of information; it had everything to do with a failure to act. This is why, he said, he favors a director of national intelligence - a single point of
failure contact that will overcome the inertia of bloated government organizations. (I'm trying to remember a single case in which such "czar" arrangements really worked and coming up short, but hey, it's always worth trying again.)
Does anyone remember a recent presidential campaign in which the candidates were held to an unreasonable standard of infallibility, and in which one of them said that he didn't think he'd made a single mistake in his time as president, and the other was accused of "flip-flopping" because he did? Does anyone remember that Carter lost his reelection because he did act?
Today's political environment severely punishes mistakes, or at least appearances of mistakes. The failure to act on 9/11 warnings was due to many things, but some of it had to do with risk aversion. There is always some uncertainty related to risk assessments, and you'll usually get punished severely for acting on uncertainty.
The Daily Show pointed out the other day that Rumsfeld owes his continuing role in the DOD on the fact that he committed a "colossal blunder," and firing him would amount to admitting as much. Perhaps much of this can be blamed on particular shortcomings of the Bush administration, but an equal amount can be blamed on a media that doesn't understand the basic concept that taking risks means you sometimes fail.
The press should be completely free and unfettered, but it's time to more openly discuss their responsibility. I don't think there are any easy answers, but it's time to ask the questions. Or else this director of national security will end up being more concerned about his next press conference than protecting people's lives.