Sunday, October 3

A Security Lapse Comes Out

Consider one of many concrete reasons why John Kerry (or any other of the three or four top contenders for the presidency) would be stronger on defense than our huff-and-puff ruffian-in-chief and the ideologues in his right-wing Administration.
To start, compare the following two stories.

1) On September 27, 2004, it was reported in the New York Times that “three years after the Sept. 11 attacks, more than 120,000 hours of potentially valuable terrorism-related recordings have not yet been translated by linguists at the Federal Bureau of Investigation… according to a declassified summary of a Justice Department investigation.”

2) And, next, this CBS report, from November, 2002, that “nine Army linguists, including six trained to speak Arabic, have been dismissed from the military because they are gay.”
Now, no one in the press, as far as I know, has juxtaposed these two stories, if only to extract from them the obvious.

[After I first posted this, Randi Rhodes of Air America Radio spoke of the two reports in a critique where she also recalled the firing by the Bush Administration of Sibel Edmonds, a translator who said the FBI had information that an attack using airplanes was being planned before Sept. 11 and called Condoleezza Rice's claim the White House had no specific information on a domestic threat or one involving planes "an outrageous lie." Full story here.]

If these six translators were fired in November 2002 for being attracted to members of their own sex, and, today, the Justice Department is decrying the lack of progress the FBI is making in translating potentially crucial documents in the struggle to prevent acts of terrorism on U.S. soil, then it would not take much math or rumination to conclude that, just maybe, in this case, the sexual orientation of the linguists who were dismissed years ago should have been judged less harmful to the integrity of our society than the potential plans for a terrorist attack that the linguists had the know-how to uncover in advance. One can only guess how many of the untranslated hours could have been translated by those six linguists alone, but certainly the linguists would have made more progress had they not been fired on account of officially-sanctioned bigotry.

It is easy to lament the sluggishness that the FBI has shown in translating these tapes, but it is hard not to feel outraged when an obvious solution to the problem — if not its prevention — has been blocked by an ideology that says, in essence, that men or women who are attracted to members of their own sex must be disallowed from assisting the nation in counter-terrorism efforts.

This kind of ideological dogmatism, which reduces the number of competent homeland defenders according to superficial social categories and favors pet social and corporate entities to the exclusion of others, weakens our national security. There are other examples of such ideological blind spots within the Bush Administration and, taken together, they call the bluff of the huff-and-puff president.

If Al-Qaeda's strategy is to "divide and conquer," its members can thank George Bush for giving them a leg up in their assault on the United States. In countless ways, Bush has used the "war on terror" to enrich the wealthy, exclude the harmless, assault the vulnerable, and demonize those who would differ. For the same reason, John Edwards's "Two Americas" speech concerns more than only domestic economic issues, and Edwards would do well to underscore that point in his debate with Dick Cheney.