Skip to comments.9/11-A Failure of Intelligence
Posted on 05/19/2002 3:51:22 PM PDT by TaRaRaBoomDeAyGoreLostToday!
Bureaucratic agencies and ineffectual lawmakers must shoulder a good portion of the blame
By Kenneth Allard
WASHINGTON, May 17 Congressional leaders are calling for tough inquiries following revelations that President Bush was told last August by his intelligence advisors that the Osama bin Laden network might be trying to hijack American airplanes fully one month before the tragic events of Sept. 11. But as the tough questions are asked over the next few weeks, expect some uncomfortable truths to emerge about dysfunctional intelligence agencies, and ineffectual, if not oblivious lawmakers.
THE STORY HAD barely broken before the harrumphs began on Capitol Hill. Was there a failure of intelligence? demanded House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt, D-Mo. Did the right officials not act on the intelligence in the proper way? The right answers, esteemed members of Congress, are YES and NO. But before charging off in high dudgeon, just remember one thing: the failure of intelligence is something for which you in Congress on both sides of the aisle must shoulder a good share of the blame.
For their part, all the presidents men and women have been falling all over themselves to point out that the warnings were vague. That they represented a range of possibilities, of which hijacking was only one. That these warnings had been heard many times before. That routine alerts (whatever that means) were quietly issued. And that hindsight is always 20/20. Senior officials unnamed, of course were even quoted in quasi-Nixonian phrases as saying that it would be wrong to conclude that the Sept. 11 hijackings had been predicted. And on and on.
There is an understandable tendency on the part of both Congress and possibly the American public to pose a similarly Nixonian question: what did the president know and when did he know it? This is tempting, but wrong. The only question which really matters is: Given the information in their possession, should the intelligence agencies of the United States have been able to predict the events of September 11th? From what we now know, that answer is necessarily incomplete. But there is no doubt whatever what the interim response should be: NO-especially not in the way they are organized on Sept. 10. Or, for that matter, the way they are organized today. Throughout our intelligence agencies, the Pearl Harbor syndrome is alive and well.
HIERARCHIES AND NETWORKS
The fact is that those agencies are hierarchies, meaning that they are bureaucracies that protect turf and regard information-sharing as an unnatural act. Hierarchies do three things to information: they control it, they add their own spin and they take time doing it. These tendencies are thrown into sharp relief when hierarchies take on networks, like those of Osama, the Cali drug cartel or even news networks like MSNBC. Networks are highly fluid structures that specialize in the rapid exchange of information and they are notoriously disrespectful of bureaucratic boundaries.
But bureaucratic boundaries are characteristic facets of the American intelligence establishment. Their natural fault lines have been a constant obstacle, recalling one of the classic laws of defense guru Norman Augustine: that when sufficient bureaucratic layers have been superimposed upon one another, it can be assured that disaster is not left to chance.
ROUTINE INTELLIGENCE DISASTERS
Those disasters have occurred with shocking regularity, especially when the fault lines involve the FBI and the CIA. In a bureaucratic division of labor dating back to the dawn of the Cold War, the FBI is charged with domestic counterintelligence and federal law enforcement, while the CIA handles all foreign intelligence. Basically, that breaks down into cops and robbers, each with its own supporting organizational culture. However reasonable on paper, such distinctions quickly break down when it comes to fighting networks, which is exactly what happens in the tricky business of detecting and catching spies. In the notable but hardly unique case of Aldrich Ames, an American traitor compromised the most sensitive US espionage operations against the Soviet menace, resulting in the deaths of a number of US agents.
The lack of effective FBI and CIA cooperation unquestionably prolonged his ruinous run.
The fact is that tightly integrated intelligence and counterintelligence is what it takes to uncover and stop Soviet moles or of course Arab terrorists. That may be what rankles most about the FBI agent reports from at least two different American cities concerning Middle Eastern students enrolled in flight training who were notably uninterested in learning how to land their planes.
Intelligence agencies are hierarchies, meaning that they are bureaucracies that protect turf and regard information sharing as an unnatural act.
Why wasnt that information integrated with the reports that the CIA was apparently getting from its own agents abroad concerning Osamas intentions to hijack American aircraft? Why didnt the American intelligence system redirect that information into a full-court-press investigation that certainly would have generated more leads and possibly even some arrests?
Eerily similar questions were once asked in the aftermath of Pearl Harbor when a far more limited American intelligence establishment was also unable to make timely use of the information already within its grasp. In his 1962 foreword to the classic study of Pearl Harbor, Harvards Thomas Schelling wrote: Surprise, when it happens to a government, is likely to be a complicated, diffuse, bureaucratic thing. It includes neglect of responsibility but also responsibility so poorly defined or so ambiguously delegated that action gets lost. It includes gaps in intelligence, but also intelligence that, like a string of beads too precious to wear, is too sensitive to give to those who need it.
Exactly. And something very much like that is surely the case here, probably with information overload substituting for the glaring intelligence gaps of earlier times. But the most depressing aspect of the current revelations is how much they suggest that the Pearl Harbor syndrome is still operative, despite the billions we now spend on intelligence every year. Following the October 2000 bombing of the USS Cole, for example, the same sorts of deficiencies in our intelligence warning systems were being decried by Congress in almost exactly the same language used on the Hill today.
So if for no other reasons than force of habit, the usual suspects in Congress will certainly raise their customarily inane questions. But it is worth remembering that George Bush had been president for just under eight months when he received those warnings: Congress has been in charge of the intelligence agencies for a lot longer than that. Through authorizations, appropriations and direct oversight, Congress has benignly presided over the very same organizational problems and pathologies they now so self-righteously criticize. In the aftermath of 9/11, they show no sign of actually addressing those problems. With admirable consistency, Congress has also deftly avoided certain other responsibilities: They have yet to issue a declaration of war; and they have brought precious little leadership to the important task of realigning our domestic security defenses.
It brings to mind nothing so much as a jibe that former Navy secretary John Lehman used to toss back at his Congressional tormentors: Absolute power corrupts absolutely. But absolute power without responsibility ... well now thats really neat.
Kenneth Allard is a former Army colonel and an MSNBC military analyst
The sad REAL truth.
Don't ask why was nothing done 9-10. Ask why is nothing being done NOW. We are essentially in a 9-10 condition today. We've had the warning. What will we do about it?
Clinton's do come to mind.
Did the White House take appropriate action about the warning?
Yes, it did what it could at the time.
No, it should have done more.
Go here Scroll down and take the LIVE POLL on the left.
This SAYS IT ALL.Add the corrupt Clinton's and wa-la.
I always wondered why President Bush did not clean up/ replace more federal agency high to medium enchelon employees.
It is stuck on 58%
It's almost complete .(It'salmosttolate)
Go here. See post 18.
9/11 was a failure of deterrence, not intelligence. It is simply not possible to know everything and stop every atrocity with that knowlege.
On the other hand, it is possible for our response to be so severe that future attacks are deterred...
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