When the world says zig, the FBI zags:

In sworn testimony that contrasts with their promises to the public, the FBI managers who crafted the post-Sept. 11 fight against terrorism say expertise about the Mideast or terrorism was not important in choosing the agents they promoted to top jobs.

Some could not even explain the difference between Sunnis and Shiites, the two primary groups of Muslims. And they still do not believe such experience is necessary today, even as terrorist acts occur across the globe.

I feel so much safer now.
I do think that a robust counter-terrorism effort on the part of federal officials is a vital component of national defense.  If we learned anything from 9/11 (other than the complete ineptitude of Ashcroft’s Justice Department, intentional or not), the FBI’s ability to thwart terrorist attacks is not nearly as robust as it needs to be.  And I do believe that it can be done without violating civil rights of citizens and non citizens alike.  That is, if they really worked at it:

In a development that has escaped public attention, FBI agent Bassem Youssef has questioned under oath many of the FBI’s top leaders in an effort to show he was passed over for top terrorism jobs despite his expertise. Testimony from his lawsuit recently was sent to Congress.

The hundreds of pages of testimony obtained by The Associated Press contrast with assurances Director Robert Mueller repeatedly has given Congress that he was building a new FBI, from top to bottom, with experts able to stop terrorist attacks before they occurred, not solve them afterward.

But those who have held the bureau’s top terrorism-fighting jobs since Sept. 11 often said in their testimony that they — and many they have promoted since — had no significant terrorism or Middle East experience.

“Probably the strongest leader I know in counterterrorism has no counterterrorism in his background,” said Executive Assistant Director Gary Bald, the FBI’s current terror-fighting chief.

He said his first terrorism training came “on the job” when he moved to headquarters to oversee anti-terrorism strategy two years ago.

Asked about his grasp of Middle Eastern culture and history, Bald responded: “I wish that I had it. It would be nice.”

“You need leadership. You don’t need subject-matter expertise,” Bald testified. “It is certainly not what I look for in selecting an official for a position in a counterterrorism position.”

I respectfully disagree.  Subject matter expertise helps a top level manager make connections that may not be made by lower level operatives because those operatives may not have access to the full range of information available.  A nuanced declaration in a communique may be missed by someone with no understanding of the culter that generated that message, someone who doesn’t even know the difference between Sunni and Shia Muslims.

Again, we are faced with determining if its shear incompetence that is driving decisions like these within our federal government, or is there intent in these decisions. What could be the motive behind promotion decisions that overlook real world experience in counterterrorism operations? Is it cronyism? Is it political patronage? How could this agency, with a mission made even more important by the missteps of Bush foreign policy, be so remiss in recognizing an administrative weakness?

In my darker moments, I conclude that the actions of Bushco are intentional, with the implicit goal of disrupting American society by exposing it to danger, avoidable danger. I recognize that not all danger is avoidable. But the FBI has a responsibility to minimize risk, and internal administrative actions like passing over an experienced operative for promotion does not serve that responsibility.