WASHINGTON, June 10 (UPI) -- The new Cabinet-level security department announced by President George W. Bush should be a step in the right direction. Yet it may well become the worst of all possible worlds, echoing the old joke about how a camel was a horse designed by committee.
Indeed, the joke is very unfair to the camel, which is an animal superlatively adapted to its desert environment. For the new Homeland Security Department looks likely to be well-adapted to no environment at all. It may be a step in the right direction, but it is also a dangerous rush in the wrong one.
The agency is being set up to coordinate all agencies that have responsibility with different forms of national security. But it will have no control or even effective leverage over the two most important of all, the Central Intelligence Agency and the Federal Bureau of Investigation. And it was the criminal incompetence of both those vast bureaucracies that allowed the terrorist catastrophes of Sept. 11 to happen.
The CIA and FBI are wracked by fundamental problems. Both have obsessive cultures of bureaucratic secrecy that serve to hide their mutual repeated records of incompetence from the public. It has now emerged that both of them also sat on reams of crucial intelligence that could have alerted local police authorities in Arizona, Minneapolis, New York and Boston to crucial threats before the Sept. 11 mega-attacks that killed 3,000 people in New York, Washington, D.C., and Pennsylvania.
But under Bush's new plan, the CIA will remain autonomous, and George Tenet, then-President Bill Clinton's choice as director of the Central Intelligence Agency, will continue to run it, even though he has proven utterly abysmal at getting the agency to improve its dire analytical and human intelligence, or humint operations.
The FBI has a three-fourths-of-a-century-long enormous record of treating state and local law enforcement agencies with utter contempt. That deeply engrained culture only got worse over the past decade when Louis Freeh ran the agency. And Freeh was not Clinton's darling, to put it mildly. But he was protected by conservative congressional Republicans. Neo-conservative pundits in particular loved him, even as his agency accused and prosecuted an innocent man and actual hero -- Richard Jewell -- for the 1996 Atlanta Olympic bombing. His FBI also lost crucial evidence in the Timothy McVeigh investigation into the 1995 Oklahoma City federal building bombing. And in 1993, it catastrophically bungled the siege of David Koresh and his group of benighted religious extremists in Waco, Texas, leading to the deaths of more than 90 of them.
Under the Bush plan, the FBI will remain firmly under the thumb of Attorney General John Ashcroft. Ashcroft has repeatedly undercut Tom Ridge, Bush's hapless choice as homeland security coordinator, over the past half-year. On Sept. 10, 2001, the very day before the 9/11 attacks that mauled the Pentagon and destroy the gleaming towers of the World Trade Center, Ashcroft showed how seriously he took the terrorist threat to the American people by turning down a request for an additional $58 million in resources to fight it.
Ashcroft recently announced with great fanfare that he was going to beef up the FBI by transferring hundreds of "expert" CIA analysts over to it in order to help with the fight on terror. But these "experts" proved at best mediocre, more usually woeful, in their work at Langley, Va. There is little reason to hope they will do better in the J. Edgar Hoover Building under Ashcroft's inspiring leadership.
Meanwhile, the FBI does not have a single agent fluent in any of the main dialects of modern, colloquial Arabic. U.S. citizens who are expert in these languages have offered their services and had them contemptuously turned down. The FBI never even bothered running any background checks on them.
The new agency will take over government departments with almost 170,000 bureaucrats. At its best, it could prove invaluable in streamlining them and connecting them up. But judging on the record so far both of government departments and the Bush administration, there is a better chance of genetically engineering pigs to fly.
More likely by far, the new department will become another ponderous bureaucratic big government monster where people in neighboring cubicles will be unable to communicate by e-mail with each other or even log on to the Internet by themselves.
Genuinely able and heroic FBI Agent Coleen Rowley told the Senate Intelligence Committee last week that this is still the case in the supposedly fabled and invincible FBI. She testified that agents cannot even access the Internet on their antiquated machines. That means they cannot even use a Google search engine for themselves.
Later, FBI Director Robert Mueller told the Senate that it would take two to three years to bring his agency's information technology up to levels that any four-page Appalachian Mountain weekly newspaper or Nevada Desert community center would take for granted.
New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd rightly commented on these revelations in her Sunday column: "If we're really in a national emergency, couldn't the president call America's software geniuses and tell them to wire up the FBI this week?"
Mueller is the human dynamo Bush personally selected before 9/11 to run the FBI, which is routinely described as the most efficient, best-equipped law enforcement agency of all time. If you believe that, I have the property rights to a nice old bridge in Brooklyn you might want to buy.
It took nine months -- almost to the day -- from the catastrophe of 9/11 for Bush to unveil this supposedly dramatic government streamlining. Yet all he could come up with was a new mega-monster agency that those architects of bloated, incompetent federal bureaucracies Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon and Jimmy Carter would all have loved.
Bush has not raised a finger take any truly effective action to reform either the CIA or FBI. He has fought tooth and nail every suggestion that any bipartisan, blue-chip commission of inquiry be set up to investigate the reasons for the security failures of 9/11. And his senior colleagues and top officials have routinely tried to smear political leaders raising such questions as being unpatriotic. Their weasel-mouthed responses bring to mind the warning of the great 18th-century pundit and wit Samuel Johnson that patriotism is the last resort of scoundrels.
Watch these political games. Wait for the next terrorist attacks. Weep for the innocents they will kill. And grind your teeth in fury.