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Blinking Red

Crisis and Compromise in American Intelligence after 9/11

Allen, Michael

Publication Year: 2013

After the September 11 attacks, the 9/11 Commission argued that the United States needed a powerful leader, a spymaster, to forge the scattered intelligence bureaucracies into a singular enterprise to vanquish AmericaÆs new enemiesùstateless international terrorists. In the midst of the 2004 presidential election, Congress and the president remade the postûWorld War II national security infrastructure in less than five months, creating the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) and a National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC).

Blinking Red illuminates the complicated history of the bureaucratic efforts to reform AmericaÆs national security after the intelligence failures of 9/11 and IraqÆs missing weapons of mass destruction, explaining how the NSC and Congress shaped the U.S. response to the 9/11 attacks. Michael Allen asserts that the process of creating the DNI position and the NCTC is a case study in power politics and institutional reform. By bringing to light the legislative transactions and political wrangling during the reform of the intelligence community, Allen helps us understand why the effectiveness of these institutional changes is still in question.

Published by: University of Nebraska Press

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. 1-6


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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-xii

On September 11, 2001, in a daring surprise attack, nineteen al Qa’ida terrorists penetrated the nation’s security and hijacked four airplanes, causing the deaths of nearly three thousand individuals. And during the investigation of the 9/11 attacks, another massive intelligence failure came into the open: the assessment that weapons of mass destruction were present in Iraq. ...

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pp. xiii-xiv

I am grateful to President Bush and his staff, particularly Steve Hadley and Fran Townsend, for giving me the opportunity to work on the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act (IRTPA) as a legislative affairs officer at the White House in 2004. I am also grateful to many friends and colleagues who helped along the way. ...

Author’s Note

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pp. xv-xvi

A Note on Intelligence and Its Terminology

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pp. xvii-xviii

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A Short History of the Intelligence Community

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pp. xix-xxii

Just four months after the victory over Japan in World War II, President Harry Truman convened a special lunch. The occasion was the creation of the National Intelligence Authority, a new system for managing U.S. intelligence. The system included a director of central intelligence responsible for “coordination and analysis.”1 ...

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1. Blow Up

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pp. 1-5

On Saturday, November 20, 2004, just four months after the 9/11 Commission had issued its report and recommendations, the U.S. Congress was gathering for a special session. It was Rivalry Saturday in college football—Alabama would play Auburn, Harvard would confront Yale—and after weeks of campaigning for reelection, ...

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2. The Making of a Juggernaut: The Origins of the 9/11 Commission and Its Recommendations

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pp. 6-20

Two and a half years before the apparent demise of intelligence reform, the White House’s legislative affairs team huddled past 11 p.m. near the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives. The House would soon vote on legislation to create a commission to investigate the September 11 attacks, and this team’s job was to make sure a majority voted no. ...

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3. Tenet

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pp. 21-28

Quite apart from his duties as DCI, some called George Tenet the best CIA director anyone had ever seen. In large measure, the CIA director’s job is to manage the CIA’s relationships—with Congress, with the White House, and with foreign intelligence services. Despite the CIA’s considerable overseas presence, it needs the cooperation of the host nations to be effective. ...

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4. Revolution Is Coming

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pp. 29-32

The 9/11 Commission’s hearings from 2003 to 2004 gained a national following. The 9/11 Families attended all their hearings and in frequent media appearances echoed the Commission’s demands for a full and thorough investigation. Sparring with the Commission had become a political liability for the White House, ...

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5. Grand Vision

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pp. 33-44

The adjective most used to describe Governor Tom Kean was “patrician.” He came from an old New Jersey family and from old money, but he was the “humblest rich aristocrat you’d ever meet.”1 Kean had been a very successful governor of New Jersey, but by his own admission he was no intelligence expert. ...

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6. “The Fix Was In”: Initial Consideration in Congress and the White House

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pp. 45-59

The night before the release of the 9/11 Commission’s recommendations on July 22, 2004, Fran Townsend escaped to her car. A close advisor to the president, Townsend had been a mob prosecutor in New York under Rudy Giuliani; drawings of her in action in the courtroom, the kind rendered for use on the local news, adorned the walls of her low-ceilinged basement office in the West Wing. ...

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7. Congressional August

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pp. 60-66

Congressman Duncan Hunter was beloved by his colleagues for his lack of pretension. In Washington, the Californian drove an old, beat-up taxi cab, a Mercury Marquis station wagon that he bought for $600 and repainted. A colleague put a sign on it that read, “Do not tow. I am not kidding, this car is still operative.” He rarely donned a suit, preferring slacks, a blazer, and tie. ...

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8. The Devil in the Details: NSC Consideration of a DNI and an NCTC

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pp. 67-75

As the public debate focused on the DNI and budget authority, two of Rumsfeld’s generals were privately making the rounds. General Michael Hayden, described by one reporter as “diminutive and bookish in appearance,”1 was one of them. General Hayden later wrote, ...

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9. Cabinet Room

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pp. 76-80

In early September 2004, with Congress returning to session, the president invited the congressional leaders to the West Wing. The setting was the Cabinet Room, just steps from the Oval Office. There, Harry S. Truman had been sworn in as president after rushing back from a card game in the Senate upon getting the word that President Roosevelt had died. ...

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10. Attackers

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pp. 81-91

The Senate’s secret chamber, S-407, is high in the dome of the Capitol. The most sensitive classified matters of state, at least those briefed to the full Senate, are discussed there. It is a small hearing room with a horseshoe-shaped dais. Behind the dais is the seal of the U.S. Senate, festooned with an image of fasces, symbolizing freedom and authority.1 ...

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11. High Ransom

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pp. 92-98

“Denny Hastert hated this idea from the beginning,” said one former congressional staffer. The Speaker himself recalled his feeling at the time was that the Commission was just “going to create a bigger bureaucracy.”1 Although pressed by the White House to move a bill, Speaker Hastert saw Rumsfeld’s hesitation and knew something wasn’t right. ...

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12. Touching Gloves

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pp. 99-105

With only sixteen days until the election, the Senate could feel its leverage slipping away. Late on a Sunday afternoon, a pack of Senate staffers fumbled around southwest Washington, DC, looking for an obscure congressional building. Although only a few hundred yards from the Capitol, this patch of low-rise governmental offices was considered the boondocks. ...

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13. Dirty Bombs

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pp. 106-117

Duncan Hunter conducted his business in the Member’s Dining Room, a small enclave downstairs from the floor of the House of Representatives. The room had been constructed in the late 1950s; a fresco by Constantino Brumidi, originally located in the House Chamber, peered down from the wall, and there were majestic columns and beautiful curtains flanking the room. ...

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14. Time for a New Approach

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pp. 118-128

The president closed the red folder and, bothered by its contents, tossed it on his desk. It skimmed across the polished surface, gliding into a paper tray bearing a folded sports page and small blue boxes containing presidential gifts—key chains, tie clips, and cufflinks—souvenirs the president could bestow upon visitors to the Oval Office. ...

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15. Black Saturday

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pp. 129-140

With the prospects for a compromise slipping, less than twenty-four hours before the House would come into session, the White House deployed reinforcements. Palmer’s longtime friend and President Bush’s legislative affairs chief, David Hobbs, a product of the House as a former longtime aide to Majority Leader Dick Armey, ...

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16. Win at All Costs

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pp. 141-151

One of the gems of Virginia is the Tides Inn, a Chesapeake Bay hotel on its own peninsula with a clear view of the Rappahannock River. The hotel had been cleared of other guests, and the Republican leadership in the House and Senate had come to town for a summit to plan the next Congress. ...

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17. Bureaucratic Black Arts

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pp. 152-164

A top 9/11 PDP staffer reported to the former 9/11 Commissioners his analysis of the chain-of-command language. “As you can see, it is unclear what it means: all sides can claim victory. Everything depends on guidelines from the president that have yet to be written.”1 The comment could have applied to other parts of the new statute. ...

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pp. 165-180

The momentum generated by the 9/11 Commission and the 9/11 Families, paired with the intelligence failures on 9/11 and Iraq and a competitive presidential election, propelled the most comprehensive reorganization of intelligence since the creation of the Pearl Harbor system in 1947. ...


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pp. 181-222


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pp. 223-242


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pp. 243-249

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About the Author

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pp. 250-272

Michael Allen joined the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence (HPSCI) as the majority staff director in January 2011. Prior to joining the HPSCI, he was director for the Bipartisan Policy Center’s successor to the 9/11 Commission, the National Security Preparedness Group, cochaired by former U.S. representative Lee Hamilton and former governor Tom Kean. ...

Image Plates

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pp. 273-280

E-ISBN-13: 9781612346168
E-ISBN-10: 1612346162
Print-ISBN-13: 9781612346151
Print-ISBN-10: 1612346154

Page Count: 256
Publication Year: 2013