The Sept. 11 commission releases its final report today. From information leaked to the press and early drafts, members appear ready to recommend the creation of a cabinet-level intelligence czar.

What’s clear from coverage of the panel’s work, and reports from the Select Committee on Intelligence, is that our intelligence system failed.

It failed to take advantage of opportunities to stop terrorists from attacking the United States and failed to discern the truth about the threat posed by Iraq.

What’s not clear is that a massive reorganization and the creation of a new level of bureaucracy within the intelligence community will solve any of the problems identified.

Former Director of the CIA George Tenet had access to the president. By most accounts, the two spoke daily. His lack of a chair at the cabinet table did not prevent him from advising the president or the national security adviser.

But creating a director of national intelligence will drastically change the job description of the country’s spy master. As it stands, the director of central intelligence is supposed to offer objective information without regard to policy development or politics. Cabinet secretaries create policy and are embroiled in politics. Blurring this distinction would make it more likely that intelligence would be skewed to back particular policy positions.

That’s the opposite of what the country needs.

Adopting a more centralized approach is no guarantee of success. It could be just the opposite. When it came to the analysis of information about Iraq, it was the small-shop operation in the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research that got it mostly right while the more centralized analysis in the Pentagon and CIA got trapped in “groupthink.”

Reform of the country’s intelligence gathering and analysis is required. But jumping the gun with a new cabinet secretary would likely cause more problems than it solves.

Advisory panel

Lewiston gets high marks for political theater – and little else – for its discussion of a PR stunt to draw attention to the potential disaster lurking in the shadows of a referendum question that would cap property taxes.

City Administrator Jim Bennett proposed forming a panel of residents to examine the city budget and judge the effects of a 1 percent cap on property taxes. The group’s meetings would be televised and a report would be issued before voters decide on Nov. 2 whether to rewrite state tax policy.

Sure, the panel is a gimmick meant to drive home the damage a tax cap would do to municipal services. But it’s also an exercise in open government and an innovative attempt to educate voters.

The idea almost fell apart during a marathon meeting of the City Council on Tuesday night. A quick move to table the plan until the Aug. 10 meeting may have saved it, at least temporarily, from defeat. Three councilors voted against tabling the measure, hoping to kill it on the spot.

Bennett missed the meeting and his absence put his plan in jeopardy. He’s on vacation. We don’t begrudge the man some time away from the office, but his cause would have been better served if the issue had been scheduled for debate when he could attend.

Opposition to the idea was striking. Councilor Stavros Mendros called it a scare tactic and found himself in an argument with Mayor Lionel Guay about vacation schedules. Bizarre really.

The length of the meeting, which ran past 11:30 p.m., made matters worse. The police say you shouldn’t drive tired. You shouldn’t govern tired either.

In the end, debate over the budget advisory panel will continue, hopefully without the dramatics. At this point, at least we know when vacations are scheduled.

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