- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 20, 2002

Security nightmare

Institutional arrogance is a serious problem, as Dan K. Thomasson points out in his insightful April 10 Commentary column on the FBI, "Why the FBI stumbled." Unfortunately, it is not a condition limited to the FBI. It infects virtually every agency in the federal government to one degree or another.

The blame, however, cannot be placed solely on the agencies. Key determinants are the actions and standards of behavior set by those supposedly in charge: our duly elected members of Congress, presidents and their political appointees. How arrogant would those agents still be, for example, if serious mistakes were met with immediate job dismissal? What if the president had fired the director? Who would have the gall to be smug?

Sewage flows downhill, as the saying goes. Because the FBI, like all other federal agencies is, in theory at least, beholden to elected civilian leaders, responsibility for its behavior rests ultimately on their shoulders. For many years, our elected officials not only have abdicated that responsibility, but have themselves set examples of behavior so low that agencies have almost no incentive to do better. In fact, in many cases, the message seems to be to act worse.

Take, for example, the flap at the Department of Energy (DOE) over security lapses at Los Alamos nuclear weapons labs. DOE's Director of Intelligence Notra Trulock (from 1994 to 1998) used all means at his disposal to improve what obviously was a bad security situation. He was met with institutional roadblocks, hostility and ultimately vicious attacks on his character when the whole thing came to a head in Senate hearings.

Former Energy Secretary Hazel O'Leary was contemptuous and defiant when confronted with evidence of her obvious blunders. Fellow DOE appointees disputed all aspects of Mr. Trulock's testimony. Democratic senators, meanwhile, attacked Mr. Trulock's credibility, seeking at all costs to salvage fellow Democrat O'Leary's image and shift the blame elsewhere. In the ultimate insult to his efforts, they asked him if he would submit willingly to a lie detector test. No such request was made of Mrs. O'Leary. Republicans, as usual, were "collegially" concerned. Justifiable outrage was nonexistent.

Who would want to be diligent in such an atmosphere when it risks one's career? Look at FBI agent Gary Aldrich, who sought merely to do his job in obtaining security clearances for Clinton White House appointees. The people in question flagrantly violated security restrictions and successfully avoided all efforts to get them cleared. One result of this likely was the theft of classified information by Clinton appointee John Huang, presumed now to be a communist Chinese agent.

How about when Bill Clinton himself threatened to use security laws to arrest anyone releasing the damning evidence of his actions contained in the Cox Report? Simply mind-boggling. Perhaps the most discouraging aspect of that whole fiasco was that there was no Republican politician willing to defy Mr. Clinton's threat.

There are so many examples of congressional misconduct as to defy description. It would be funny were it not so tragic that the chairman of the committee overseeing hearings on FBI security problems, Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, Vermont Democrat, was caught leaking classified information in the 1980s. He didn't get so much as a hand slap for this treasonous offense.

Congress has access to all the secrets of the government and, by its nature, suffers few of the security requirements placed on the executive branch. Where would you work if you were a foreign agent looking for easy access and broad influence? Nobody has even looked at Congress. The place is a security nightmare.

Our institutional attitude toward internal security has long been poisonous. Security officials are treated at best like trash in the punch bowl, at worst like some kind of Nazi fanatics. This mind-set, an unfortunate fallout of the '60s generation's contempt for traditional authority, can be measured in lives. In the future, it may mean the life of our nation.

It is up to our elected leaders to set the tone for the rest of the government and to be examples worth following. Their utter and continuing failure to do so will be our ultimate undoing.



Lessons from Srebrenica

There are lessons to be learned from Srebrenica, but not the ones usually cited ("Army chief resigns over massacre in Bosnia," April 18).

Context is all-important. From the start of the former Yugoslavia's troubles, intervention by the West was far-reaching and ham-fisted. By declaring the Yugoslav federation and its constitution defunct, the West broke international law. Specifying a crude winner-take-all independence referendum for explicitly multinational federal units was nonsense on stilts. Recognizing Croatia without first settling the Krajina problem and then, in knee-jerk fashion, recognizing a nonexistent Bosnian state further fed ethnic flames. The West laid down its version of the law but didn't follow through with timely enforcement. This was criminal. There also is the matter of backing unilateral as opposed to negotiated secession. This has set an ominous precedent.

As for the safe-area designation, Srebrenica was not demilitarized. It continued to be used as a springboard for Bosnian Muslim offensives. Not surprisingly, Srebrenica was anything but safe.

Srebrenica also was a victim of a trans-Atlantic dispute. Washington advocated air strikes but vetoed the use of U.S. ground troops. The Europeans argued that a policy of air strikes imperiled vulnerable enclaves such as Srebrenica. The compromise was the dispatch to Srebrenica of a token Dutch force. It became the prisoner of both the local Bosnian Muslim military and the surrounding Bosnian Serb forces.


Twickenham, United Kingdom

IRS can't imprison taxpayers

In his April 5 Commentary column, "Wrong checks are in the IRS mail," Richard W. Rahn wrongly suggests that people can be sent to prison unfairly by vindictive Internal Revenue Service (IRS) agents.

The truth is that no one can be imprisoned at the whim of an IRS agent. Every criminal tax prosecution is reviewed by the U.S. Department of Justice. Every indictment is approved by a U.S. attorney and at least 12 federal grand jurors. If a defendant enters a plea of not guilty, every conviction requires a unanimous verdict by a trial jury of 12 citizens and is subject to review by a federal district judge and three federal appellate judges. The federal tax-enforcement system is replete with safeguards to ensure that criminal prosecution is reserved for deserving criminals who intended to defraud honest taxpayers.


Assistant attorney general

Tax Division

U.S. Department of Justice


Story ignores Jenin atrocities

I understand that even commercial media can act as mouthpieces for governments when interests coincide, but it is really beyond belief that on the day that the United Nations envoy says that the destruction in Jenin is "a disgraceful chapter" in the history of Israel, thatthe army had used "morally repugnant means," and that the situation is "shocking and horrifying beyond belief," your lead, front-page headline says "Bush praises Sharon for withdrawal."

I can understand that, although the United States has been funding "good" terrorism for years, there is a consensus that Israel is doing what it needs to do, but to completely ignore what is happening is just not acceptable.



Hair politics

Everyone reading the April 15 story about German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder's campaign-provoked insistence that he does not dye must automatically have thought of the questions about Ronald Reagan's dark mane that persisted throughout his career ("Schroeder's hair raises credibility doubts," World).

"Ronald Reagan doesn't dye his hair," Gerald Ford once quipped. "He's just prematurely orange." Mr. Reagan's barber, whom I also used, insisted that he had devoted years to examining the president's hair and had never seen any indication of artificial coloring.

Former Vice President Hubert H. Humphrey, campaigning for the presidency, was quoted in the press as insisting that he did not touch up his hair. However, in preparing a Life-magazine-type publication for release by the U.S. Information Agency in the event of his election, I found that although pictures of the candidate showed up snowless, others taken earlier bore traces of gray. Because publishing a book highlighting major steps in a president's career, complete with photos showing progressively darkening sideburns, might prove embarrassing to him, I had the offending pictures retouched.

Humphrey lost the election. I published the book "Mr. President: Richard M. Nixon," instead. It had one photo that had been retouched. That one showed Mr. Nixon as a young congressman with his wife, Pat, and their two young daughters at the District's Reflecting Pool. I had the traces of 5 o'clock shadow removed on the advice of Herb Klein, his press representative. It was one more reminder of how sensitive Mr. Nixon was to reminders of his debate with John F. Kennedy. He really did feel that his unshaven look had been a major factor in his loss in that earlier presidential contest.


Chevy Chase

Overestimating the D.C. tax burden

In "The D.C. tax-cut showdown," you argue that "delaying promised tax cuts is not the way" to address the District's current budget shortfall. The reason? "Even when tax cuts hit their lowest mark in the out years, that rate will still be higher than Maryland's and Virginia's, 7.75 percent and 5.75 percent, respectively."

This argument is specious for several reasons. First, while the District indisputably has the highest top income tax rate in the region, that rate applies only to income above $30,000 a year or $60,000 a year for a two-earner family while Maryland's top rate kicks in at $3,000. According to our recent analysis ("DC's Excessively High Taxes; Just Another Urban Legend," available at www.dcfpi.org/4-11-02tax.htm), a family of four with income of $100,000 pays about the same income tax in the District as in suburban Maryland. This demonstrates the folly of simply comparing tax rates, as opposed to effective tax burdens.

A second problem is that focusing only on income taxes ignores property taxes, which constitute a very large proportion of family tax burdens. D.C. homeowners pay the lowest property tax rate in the region. Neither the District nor Maryland levies annual property taxes on cars, either, as Virginia does.

According to our analysis, when income and real- and personal-property tax rates are all considered, families earning $100,000 in the District have lower tax burdens than families in Maryland. What about Virginia? A family of four earning $100,000 a year living in Fairfax County will save $340 over what it would pay in Washington about one-third of 1 percent of its income.

Finally, it's important to note that leaders in Northern Virginia including business leaders have been fighting this year for a referendum to raise taxes for roads and schools. This illustrates the logical (but often ignored) fact that taxes are needed to pay for services. Because the District already has a tax structure that is in line with other jurisdictions in the region, it should focus on improving its schools, public safety and other city services rather than on tax cuts.



D.C. Fiscal Policy Institute


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