Sometimes thoughts hang in the back of your mind as pieces of an unknown puzzle that never fit. Then they come together and reveal an image.

For the two years since 9/11, it has bothered me terribly that for federal officials there seems to be no penalty for failure to perform. Within weeks of that disaster, I wrote the heads of CIA, FBI and the Attorney General urging their resignation because bad things happened on their watch. Management is supposed to be responsible. Then the public learned that a month before calamity struck, there were many signs and written reports indicating high probability for disaster. FBI Agent Rowley sacrificed her career to become a whistleblower with unfortunate effect; those up the chain of command suffered no penalty, and one was rewarded financially for good job performance. "Gross incompetence" is the term to describe the FBI and CIA bureaucracy's performance and severe penalty should be exacted on those who failed.

If a person makes no decisions they cannot be faulted for making a bad one. As Rowley documented, both field and headquarters staff made no decision to stop hijackers and sought reasons to avoid a decision, leading to today's all-time low morale among line agents because promotions go to those with clean records, as derived from a record with no bad decisions. Just eleven months before, when the USS Cole was attacked, all of the Clinton security advisors, including Albright, Cohen, Reno, and Tenet, refused a decision to retaliate. This is documented fact. The lone decision-maker for a counterstrike was Richard Clarke, whose suggestion to destroy bin Laden in Afghanistan was rebuffed.

Government preoccupation with minutiae to look busy is a growing trend. Here are examples. At Los Alamos Lab, Dr. Wen Ho Lee was accused of 59 espionage counts but finally pled guilt to making a copy of a classified document to make the hassle and FBI go away. Dr. Thomas Butler, Texas Tech bio-terrorism expert doing federal research, reported to university authorities that he had misplaced 30 vials of plague bacteria that were then found to have been properly destroyed by Dr. Butler. But 60 law enforcement officers are still investigating the issue, Dr. Butler was under house arrest for months and is now under IRS audit threat for filing false tax returns relating to the bacteria destruction.

Arrogance has become the modus operandi for government officials when there is a problem and cover-up is normal procedure. The euphemism of the agency "culture" is used to explain-away arrogance. It was the "culture" at NASA that prevented recognition that the Endeavor insulation design presented problems. It is the FBI that has questioned, searched, tailed and bugged Dr. Steven Hatfill as a person of interest in mailed anthrax attacks, but he has never been charged with anything over the past two years and has had the FBI prevent his employment. It is quite evident that government arrogance is more to be feared than government mistakes. But now America has the Patriot Act, implemented by Department of Justice, which should cause Americans to worry because of cumulative effects of all these nagging thoughts. Americans cannot trust their federal government.

The Patriot Act was approved in October 2001 with overwhelming support. But those nagging thoughts prompted many in the House of Representatives to approve 309 to 118 the Otter Amendment, introduced by Congressman C.L. Otter (R-ID), to withhold funding to implement the "sneak and peek" provisions of the Act. More and more people view Attorney General Ashcroft as wanting more power with arrogant unwillingness to compromise. And there is reason to believe it, although 91% of registered voter surveyed understand that the Act has not (yet) impacted their civil liberties.

The Act Section 215 authorizes FBI to demand any tangible things it considers relevant to an investigation, including access to personal records and without the target of the search aware of the action. An employer, as example, must comply with a FBI request for information and is prohibited under severe penalty from informing the target or any other person of the investigation. This provision lets government ask a secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) to order the supply of what FBI requests without need to show cause. Since 1978, when FISC was formed, the court has never rejected a single one of 15,000 requests and sought request modification only five times.

A failing law enforcement authority with a culture of arrogance should not be empowered to coerce private sector agents as snitches. When Mr. Ashcroft makes a 16 state tour at taxpayer expense to sell the concepts of "sneak and peek," that says my nagging thoughts are now correctly fit together. This is the way arrogance molds into a dictatorship.