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Blinking Red
by Dr. John M. Handley, Vice President, American Diplomcy Publishers

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Blinking Red: Crisis and Compromise in American Intelligence after 9/11 (2013) by Michael Allen; University of Nebraska Press: Potomac Books, ISBN 978-1-61234-823-0, 179 pages of text plus 41 pages of content endnotes, a nine-page bibliography, and an index; paperback, $19.95.

Michael Allen, the former staff director of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, previously served over seven years in the White House in various national security roles including NSC senior director for counter-proliferation strategy, NSC senior director for legislative affairs, and legislative affairs lead for the Homeland Security Council. With access to extensive documentary evidence and interviews with over 30 of the major players, his book, Blinking Red, addresses what at first glance seems a straightforward enough research question: What happened to the American Intelligence Community (IC) after the surprise attack on America on 9 September 2001 by al Qa’ida supporters? Stated differently, how did the IC America has today evolve from the pre-9/11 IC?

The answer to Allen’s research question required an investigation into the creation and eventual 2004 passage of the Intelligence Reform and Terrorist Prevention Act (ITRTP). Determining the machinations involved in passing this act involved wadding through the murky waters of governmental process and bureaucratic decision-making. Every Washington-based agency and organization, intelligence related or not, had an agenda, and few agendas supported one another. Allen explains the vying macro agendas of the George Bush White House, the Senate and the House, plus the micro agendas (turf protection or negotiation points) of the Director of Central Intelligence (DCI), the Secretary of the Defense Department, and several intelligence-related House committees and sub-committees. Additionally, the 9/11 Commission, which later morphed into the 9/11 Public Defense Project, and the families of 9/11 victims all impact on the macro and micro agendas, of which the latter are used as a political tool against the re-election of a Republican president who actually supported and wanted to implement the recommendations of the 9/11 Commission. Amazing what political spin can create. What Allen describes in engrossing detail can best be termed as political sausage making. The word “compromise” in the subtitle is there for a reason. As no agenda is sacrosanct, the question for each proponent included how much should be demanded as well as how much could be given up and still allow the proponent to spin the end result as a win for security, for intelligence improvement, for the American way, and for the entity in question.

Within the pages of this short, yet extremely well researched text, examples of political sausage making abound. Consider the maneuvering of Denny Hastert and Tom DeLay to finally get a bill through the House, or how the negotiators managed to get Duncan Hunter to drop his objections and support the bill by using somewhat archaic language (actually one word) which allowed parties to read the same act but have different ideas of what the act actually meant. Why did Jim Sensenbrenner continue to fail to support the bill even after getting the majority of his provisions on illegal aliens included? How did Susan Collins and Joe Liebermann turn their minor sub-committee into a major rock star among the larger, older, and more established House committees? What roles did Vice President Dick Chaney and Secretary of Defense Don Rumsfeld play in thwarting the recommendations of the 911 Commission? Why did the press, in general, criticize the Bush Administration for the administration’s failure to get the 911 Commission’s recommendations rapidly enacted into law? Why was the establishment of a Director of National Intelligence such a divisive issue for the 16 existing intelligence organizations? What was the role of the National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC) and what happened to the Terrorist Threat Integration Center?

Michael Allen has produced an engrossing account of the making of a Congressional bill, yet the greater value of this remarkable book lies in its conclusion. What does the legislation actually do for bettering intelligence management within the US and thus ensuring a safer America? Little, if anything. In fact, some critics contend ITRTP actually made the situation worse. Another bureaucracy now exists that apparently has less authority over the 16 major intelligence organizations of the Intelligence Community than the previous DCI enjoyed without the benefit of a statute. I highly recommend this book to any student of American political science or to anyone interested in the management of American intelligence. It is a fascinating and thought provoking read.white star

 

American Diplomacy is the Publication of Origin for this work. Permission to republish is freely granted with credit and a link back to American Diplomacy.


imageDr. John M. Handley, American Diplomacy Publishers Vice-President, is a Professor of International Relations for Webster University's Ft. Bragg campus. A retired US Army Colonel, Dr. Handley spent his Army career in military intelligence, including as a Defense Attaché, the Dean of the School of Attaché Training at the Defense Intelligence College, and Deputy, Resource Management, for the Defense Intelligence Agency.

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