As late as August, the mundanities of law enforcement might have made a difference on September 11: a memo passed up the chain of command and welcomed instead of buried. A quiet deployment of air marshals. More careful scrutiny of the quick and easy visas routinely granted to Saudis, the one nation in the world most responsible for funding al Qaeda and nurturing Islamic fundamentalism.
Ashcroft in the past has shown a gift for personal resurrection, so he may survive this crisis. But at the moment he is an attorney general running the Department of Justice without the trust of Congress, the White House or even FBI agents in the field. The anti-terrorism plan announced this week only deflects attention from that fundamental problem. The real story is that the attorney general spent the months after September 11 touting high-tech, cloak-and-dagger "reforms" that damaged the Bill of Rights, while covering up world-class failures of leadership, management and cognizance that might have made a real difference. No wonder he is on the leash.