On Friday, May 21, 2010, Admiral Dennis Blair (ret.), the Director of National Intelligence resigned. What really matters in his resignation, however, is not Dennis Blair but the Obama Administration’s chaotic counterterrorism strategy—one that is proving incapable of effectively preventing acts of terrorism against Americans.
President Obama has made it clear to the American public that he has changed course on counterterrorism matters. Terrorism is now viewed largely as a matter for law enforcement, not an actual war on terrorism. His actions demonstrate this new strategy. For example, he would use his first day in office as President to issue an executive order to close the Guantanamo Bay detention facility within one year and another order limiting what interrogation techniques the Central Intelligence Agency may use to obtain information from terrorist detainees. He would then move to prosecute foreign terrorists in civilian courts. This was coupled with lackadaisical support for the PATRIOT Act, a vital tool for gathering intelligence on terrorist operations.
The most obvious problem with changing course was that the pre-Obama counterterrorism strategy actually worked quite effectively to stop acts of terrorism. In fact, since 9/11, at least 31 plots against the U.S. have been foiled. From 2001-2008, there were no successful terrorist attacks on U.S. soil.
In 2009, more than a dozen lives were taken in the Ft. Hood shootings and a shooting at a Little Rock military recruiting station. Then there were two near miss plots this month in Times Square and on Christmas Day 2009. Despite an attempt by the Administration to claim these two failed plots were counterterrorism success stories, the surrounding facts show that these plots were planned by a known enemy, by a known network, through a known tactic. The fact that the intelligence community is failed to prevent such attacks, despite years of success, is a real cause for alarm.
Treating terrorism as a matter that can be handled as a simple law enforcement matter underestimates the threat we face. Dennis Blair’s resignation will not make this problem go away. Such failures are the markings of an Administration lacking a clear and effective strategy for countering terrorism and a Congress too busy with politics to offer responsible oversight of homeland security. The Administration and Congress need to focus on robust information sharing, quality intelligence gathering, and efforts to root out terror networks in the earliest stages. Such efforts should be coupled with a clear framework for interrogation and detention.
Jurisdictional battles and basic governance issues are undoubtedly at play in Blair’s resignation—this is a problem that needs resolved. There is plenty of proof, however, that the government can overcome such turf battles and successfully stop terrorism. President Obama needs to set the tone.