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Bombs and Budgets

Friday April 18th, 2014   •   Posted by K. Lloyd Billingsley at 7:30am PDT   •  

doj-fbi-seal_200The first anniversary of the Boston Marathon bombing added new confusion to the tragedy. Some politicians still blamed the FBI for not following up on tips from Russian intelligence but a government report blames the Russians for not providing sufficient information. Whatever the case, some facts remain clear.

No U.S. intelligence agency, military force, or law enforcement agency was able to prevent the Tsarnaev brothers from the April 15, 2013 attack that killed three and wounded more than 200. Likewise no U.S. intelligence, military, or law enforcement body was able to prevent U.S. Army Major Nidal Hasan from killing 13 at Ford Hood in 2009. And of course the United States was not able to stop the 9/11 attacks. These failures came despite massively intrusive surveillance by the National Security Agency but the failures do not appear to have any budgetary fallout. Indeed the actual budget of the NSA and other spy agencies remains cloaked in secrecy. That calls to mind another example from not so long ago.

The Burglary: The Discovery of J. Edgar Hoover’s Secret FBI, a new book by Betty Medsger, shows how the FBI spying operations did not lead to the prevention of any bombing by the Weather Underground or any other group, and few arrests after the bombs detonated. So J. Edgar Hoover, “lacked the capacity to shape an approach to either law enforcement or intelligence gathering that safeguarded civil liberties or protected Americans from violence.” But his FBI did not suffer on the budgetary side.

Indeed, as Medsger shows, on only two occasions when FBI did not get its budget request it got more than it requested. And each year the government spent $30,000 on a new limo for Hoover in contrast to $5,000 to lease a limo for the President of the United States. There’s a lesson here. The budgets of intelligence and law enforcement agencies should have some link to their success at preventing violent attacks on Americans while preserving their rights and liberties.

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April 2014