Even if the National Intelligence Industry Was Reformed: How Could Americans Trust What the President Promises?


I have my doubts, but I also think that we have no choice as a nation but to try and purge the self-destructive, anti-democratic, politically hackish behaviors out of the military and national intelligence bureaucracies.
This fight is vital as I don’t believe that America is going to get out of the intelligence business, though I increasingly agree with Chalmers Johnson that a serious cost-benefit analysis of America’s net gain or net loss from a vastly expensive national intelligence establishment would be “negative”. That said, it’s going to be here — and those who believe in healthy democracy have got to work over-time in getting that intelligence capacity back in decent shape (meaning generating excellent intelligence untwisted by the likes of Dick Cheney’s David Addington and John Bolton’s Frederick Fleitz), but in confines consistent with real rather than faked democracy.
Behind the backdrop of the NSA warrantless wiretap hearings today, some are trying to think through strategies to put pressure on the administration to clean up our “intel act” and to find some way to communicate to the American public that we are not just being duped again into believing that we have a Presidency that believes in checks and balances on executive authority — even in times of so-called war.
One of the proposals I just read through this morning comes from the webpage of the upcoming Intelligence Summit, scheduled to take place on February 17-20 in Crystal City, VA. This is reportedly a non-partisan, non-profit educational forum.
I haven’t quite figured out how credible the summit is. I can’t say that I’m too impressed with the purposeful sensationalization of a promised revelation of Saddam Hussein’s personal WMD tapes, but maybe they’ve got something none of the rest of us have heard before. But sounds a bit too much like Geraldo for my taste.
But the board is bi-partisan and has credible people attached to it. Well, mostly credible. James Woolsey, who has personally profited a bit too much from this “global war on terror” is on the board. During Harry Truman’s time, Woolsey and many others riding high in this town would have been exposed as “war-profiteers”.
But the interesting piece is a personal proposal by Brent Budowsky, linked on the Intelligent Summit’s homepage:
In his essay, Budowsky writes:

Specifically I propose the President create a Bipartisan National Security Committee of Wise Men and Women who have high level security clearances, a history of crediblity and national leadership, a proven stature and integrity that transcend party affiliation and political ideology, and an understanding of the roles of the executive, legislative and judicial branches of government.
The Bipartisan National Security Committee would report to the President, Congress and the Supreme Court; would have access to all classified information and executive orders; would have no have legal or juridical powers but would be empowered to assess and report in public recommendations and advice on the great matters that today divide the nation.
This Bipartisan National Security Commission would be empowered to review whatever matters they choose. Hopefully they would arrive at unamimous agreements on matters that balance our respect for human rights and appropriate interrogation practices, our respect privacy and appropriate rules for eavesdropping under agreed upon rules of conduct, the legitimate need for any commander in chief to retain some inherent powers during time of war with the appropriate checks and balances by legislative and judicial branches of government, and the need for secrecy in the conduct of war and counter-terrorism with the reasonable right to know in a free society where ‘we the people” ultimately decide our national destiny.

This is actually a useful idea.
No matter what evolves on the NSA in the upcoming hearings today and forward, it won’t solve the problem that there is huge national skepticism about the national security establishment.
Even at the fringe, the warrantless spying on ANY Americans undermines trust and threatens slippery-slopism to broader, unchecked national powers. When a government justifies violating the laws of a nation to protect the citizens of that nation, not on an exceptional basis but in a routenized way, then America is not the great democracy it purports to be.
If we are going to fix this — and have a national security and national intelligence establishment in the future — then we have to have TRUSTED Americans have access to EVERYTHING and give us a “Thumbs Up” or “Thumbs Down”.
Budowsky recommends for this Commission these people:

Justice Sandra Day O’Conner. Senators or former Senators Sam Nunn, Howard Baker, Richard Lugar, Warren Rudman, Alan Simpson, and George Mitchell who is also a former Federal Judge. Retired Generals Anthony Zinni (United States Marine Corps) and Tommy Franks (United States Army).

I think it’s a great list. I would incude some others perhaps like former Congressman Amo Houghton, former Defense Secretary Bill Perry, international law expert and co-pillar of the New York Republican establishment Rita Hauser, former Senator Gary Hart, and former former Oklahoma Congressman and Electronics Industry Alliance President Dave McCurdy. These people would add to the diversity and credibility of Budowsky’s list.
We will eventually need some way for the public to benchmark whether reforms in the intelligence establishment are real or contrived.
Such a Commission might help.
— Steve Clemons