"Get your facts first, and then you can distort them as much as you please." (Mark Twain)
Thursday, November 03, 2005
Controversy continues to rage over spying failures and the mishandling of intelligence in the run-up to the invasion of Iraq. Last week it was the indictments in the CIA leak case. This week, it was the extraordinary secret session of the Senate, when Democrats pushed for a new round of inquiries into the misuse of intelligence on Saddam’s regime. So it’s all the more remarkable to see how the White House has just filled a committee overseeing intelligence issues.
It seems that the Empty Flight Suit has named nine campaign contributors, including three who have raised $100,000 or more on his behalf, to the 16-member Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board:
After watching the fate of Michael Brown as head of FEMA and Harriet Miers as Supreme Court nominee, you might think the president would be wary about the appearance of cronyism—especially with a critical national-security issue such as intelligence. Instead, Bush reappointed William DeWitt, an Ohio businessman who has raised more than $300,000 for the president’s campaigns, for a third two-year term on the panel. Originally appointed in 2001, just a few weeks after the 9/11 attacks, DeWitt, who was also a top fund-raiser for Bush’s 2004 Inaugural committee, was a partner with Bush in the Texas Rangers baseball team.
Other appointees included former Commerce secretary Don Evans, a longtime Bush friend; Texas oilman Ray Hunt; Netscape founder Jim Barksdale, and former congressman and 9/11 Commission vice chairman Lee Hamilton. Like DeWitt, Evans and Hunt have also been longtime Bush fund-raisers, raising more than $100,000 apiece for the president’s campaigns. Barksdale and five other appointees—incoming chairman Stephen Friedman, former Reagan adviser Arthur Culvahouse, retired admiral David Jeremiah, Martin Faga and John L. Morrison—were contributors to the president’s 2004 re-election effort. Friedman also served a year on the intelligence board under President Bill Clinton, who appointed chairmen with very different profiles from Bush's Pioneers: former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. William Crowe, former Defense secretary Les Aspin, former House speaker Tom Foley and former GOP senator Warren Rudman. (Clinton did also appoint two donors who gave $100,000 apiece to the Democratic National Committee: New York investment banker Stan Shuman and Texas real estate magnate Richard Bloch.)
Oh, I get it - it's the old "Clinton did it too, just not so much" defense. Actually, though, the longstanding bipartisan tendency to use the FIAB as a plum appointment raises an interesting question - why do we even have such a board, anyway?
Created during the Eisenhower administration, the board has played a role in determining the structure of the intelligence community. Indeed, its members have been considered important presidential advisers, receiving the highest level security clearance and issuing classified reports and advice to the president.
Yet, as with many federal panels, membership on the board has also been doled out to top campaign contributors and supporters of the president—a move the White House defends since panelists are not required to have significant intelligence experience.
If these people have no significant intelligence experience, it's hard to imagine what (other than large checks) they bring to the table. Is this really the best way to determine the structure of our intelligence community? The President is certainly entitled (speaking generically - this president in particular is entitled to nothing but a Bronx cheer) to accept counsel from whatever source he or she chooses, but does it make sense to enshrine such a questionable source of advice in an official committee within the office of the executive? It does, only if one thinks that foreign intelligence is a minor matter, suitable for amateurs. Amateurs with deep pockets, that is.