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9/11 Commission Report – A Critique

By August 31, 2004Uncategorized

Richard Posner’s critique of the 9/11 Commission Report is chock-full of common sense. I haven’t read the report itself, but I did peruse it quickly at the bookstore and I have to say I was immediately struck by the quality of writing. Posner describes it this way: “The prose is free from bureaucratese and, for a consensus statement, the report is remarkably forthright. Though there could not have been a single author, the style is uniform. The document is an improbable literary triumph.”

Although it is an improbable ‘literary triumph’ Judge Posner concludes that “the commission’s analysis and recommendations are unimpressive.” If, like me, you are not likely to read the 9/11 report, at least read Judge Posner’s critique.

Judge Posner’s critique is billed by the New York Times as a ‘book review,’ which I suppose it is technically. But, he offers his own assessment of what improvements might be suggested in light of the events of 9/11. The last of his seven suggestions concerns the F.B.I.:

“The F.B.I. appears from the report to be incompetent to combat terrorism; this is the one area in which a structural reform seems indicated (though not recommended by the commission). The bureau, in excessive reaction to J. Edgar Hoover’s freewheeling ways, has become afflicted with a legalistic mind-set that hinders its officials from thinking in preventive rather than prosecutorial terms and predisposes them to devote greater resources to drug and other conventional criminal investigations than to antiterrorist activities. The bureau is habituated to the leisurely time scale of criminal investigations and prosecutions. Information sharing within the F.B.I., let alone with other agencies, is sluggish, in part because the bureau’s field offices have excessive autonomy and in part because the agency is mysteriously unable to adopt a modern communications system. The F.B.I. is an excellent police department, but that is all it is. Of all the agencies involved in intelligence and counterterrorism, the F.B.I. comes out worst in the commission’s report.”

He is not the first one to focus on the lack of a modern communications system. But, as he notes, that’s a symptom of the F.B.I.’s problem, not a a cause.

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