Our guest blogger is Brian Katulis, a Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress Action Fund.
In a statement reminiscent of the “first art critic” scene in Mel Brooks’ History of the World, Part 1, the civilian head of the Pentagon’s Special Operations Command Michael Vickers today soundly rejected a core idea put forth by John McCain for meeting the threats posed by global terrorist groups.
John McCain has called for the creation of a new espionage agency patterned on the Office of Strategic Services, a World War II-era agency that conducted operations behind enemy lines.
Speaking at an event (pdf) at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, Assistant Secretary of Defense Vickers, one of the most important figures in the Bush administration’s efforts to address global terrorism, criticized McCain’s proposal, essentially saying it would be a big waste of time while “we’re at war.” Vickers stated his view clearly: “We have the institutions we need.”
McCain has advocated for his new OSS in speeches, and in his Foreign Affairs essay last year. He insists such a new agency “could take risks that our bureaucracies today are afraid to take.”
A cadre of such undercover operatives would allow us to gain the intelligence on terrorist activities that we don’t get today from our high-tech surveillance systems and from a CIA clandestine service that works almost entirely out of our embassies abroad.
McCain national security advisor Randy Scheunemann reiterated McCain’s support of the idea, telling the Washington Times that “while there may be some that think the status quo is just fine, John McCain has seen past failures of the intelligence community firsthand.”
But just as McCain’s half-baked League of Democracies idea is criticized by democracy promotion experts, intelligence and counter-terrorism experts have rejected McCain’s OSS idea as a structural solution. Robert Grenier, a former CIA official, criticized the idea, saying “as so many have before him, Senator McCain is trying to use a structural fix to solve what is fundamentally a leadership problem… To suggest that we could eliminate that by creating a new organization to pull all those elements together is completely unrealistic and in the short term would be enormously destructive.”
This flat-out rejection of a core McCain idea by a top defense and counter-terrorism official in the Bush administration exposes the emptiness of McCain’s national security proposals, something that frankly hasn’t gotten enough scrutiny from the media. John McCain might bluster that he would “follow Bin Laden to the gates of hell,” but his main idea on terrorism is simply to move some bureaucratic boxes around unnecessarily.
Transcript below: Read more