A Good Idea

It is annoying to be second-guessed from the sidelines and the nation’s intelligence and counterterrorism agencies surely feel they’ve had quite enough of it since 9/11.

But the decision of the 10-member 9/11 commission, which officially disbanded last year when its congressional mandate expired, to reconstitute itself as a private non-profit can be a useful and productive exercise.

The commission’s recommendations resulted in Congress passing an intelligence reform bill. Independent oversight of the implementation of those recommendations and the effectiveness of the new law would be no bad thing.

Even as the commission, now called the 9/11 Public Discourse Project, was sitting down for the first of eight planned hearings this summer a House committee was considering chiseling away at the still-untested powers of the new director of National Intelligence by ordering that the director get prior clearance from Congress before transferring specialists within the intelligence committee.

In its best-selling final report, the commission was critical of duplication and lack of information sharing among the intelligence agencies, especially between the CIA and FBI, and especially critical of the FBI’s outmoded and slow internal communications and record-keeping and the low priority the bureau assigned to counterterrorism intelligence gathering.

In its hearing Monday, the commission found little changed, a point underscored in March when the FBI formally conceded that its $170 million Virtual Case File had failed to produce a workable computerized case management system.

At least some on the commission are considering a recommendation they pulled back from last year _ creation of a separate domestic intelligence agency.

The commission, now privately funded, has no subpoena powers, but it is hoping that Bush administration officials will appear at its hearings and produce documents. This may be wishful thinking considering how grudgingly the administration cooperated with the panel when it was an official government body that could compel information.

Let’s hope this doesn’t happen. The commission built up considerable expertise and the nation could use independent oversight of agencies that will be only too happy to slip back out of the public eye.

(Contact Dale McFeatters at McFeattersD(at)SHNS.com)