a blogger with the PBS' NewsHour asked former CIA analyst Ray McGovern
to respond to three questions regarding recent events involving the CIA, FBI, and the intelligence community in general.
Two other old intelligence hands were asked the
identical questions, queries that are typical of what radio/TV and
blogger interviewers usually think to be the right ones. So there is
merit in trying to answer them directly, such as they are, and then
broadening the response to address some of the core problems
confronting U.S. counter-terror strategies.
After drafting his answers, McGovern asked former
FBI attorney/special agent Coleen Rowley, a colleague in Veteran
Intelligence Professionals for Sanity, to review his response and add
her own comments at the end. The resulting Q and A is below:
Question #1 What lapses in the American
counter terrorism apparatus made the Christmas Day bombing plot
possible? Is it inevitable that certain plots will succeed?
The short answer to the second sentence is: Yes, it is inevitable that "certain plots will succeed."
A more helpful answer would address the question
as to how we might best minimize their prospects for success. And to do
this, sorry to say, there is no getting around the necessity to address
the root causes of terrorism or, in the vernacular, "why they hate us."
If we don't go beyond self-exculpatory
sloganeering in attempting to answer that key question, any "counter
terrorism apparatus" is doomed to failure. Honest appraisals would
tread on delicate territory, but any intelligence agency worth its salt
must be willing/able to address it.
Delicate? Take, for example, what Khalid Sheik
Mohammed, the "mastermind" of 9/11, said was his main motive. Here's
what the 9/11 Commission Report wrote on page 147. You will not find it
reported in the Fawning Corporate Media (FCM):
"By his own account, KSM's animus toward the
United States stemmed"from his violent disagreement with U.S. foreign
policy favoring Israel."
This is not the entire picture, of course. Other
key factors include the post-Gulf War stationing of U.S. troops in
Saudi Arabia, widely seen as defiling the holy sites of Islam.
Add Washington's propping up of dictatorial,
repressive regimes in order to secure continuing access to oil and
natural gas -- widely (and accurately) seen as one of the main reasons
for the invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan.
Not to mention the Pentagon's insatiable thirst
for additional permanent (sorry, the term is now "enduring") military
bases in that part of the world.
The writers of the 9/11 Commission Report made a
stab at puncturing the myth about "why they hate us" (and actually
succeeded in giving the lie to familiar bromides like "they" hate us
for our democracy, our freedoms, our way of life, and so forth). See,
for example, pp 374-376 of the Commission Report.
But, you may object, I am not answering the first question posed above; I am, rather, fighting the problem.
Not true. I am trying to address the right
question"trying to deal with causes, not just symptoms and
consequences. The first question, as posed, deals in a familiar way
with symptoms of the core problem but not the core itself, and thus
tends to obscure the essence of "why they hate us."
There are over 1.2 BILLION Muslims in the world,
many of whom watch nightly TV coverage of the violence resulting from
U.S. military and political support for Israel (including, for example,
Washington's acquiescence in the brutal Israeli attacks on civilians in
Gaza one year ago) and from U.S. actions in Iraq, Afghanistan,
Pakistan, Yemen, and elsewhere.
And what is the puerile approach taken by not only
the politicians but also by the clueless amateurs who now lead the
intelligence community: No problem, they say. Technology permits us to
build a database of one billion names".easy!
Right. And how to find needles in that haystack.
Easy? A database of "only" 550,000 names did not prevent the
Abdulmutallab caper, did it?
Can the prevailing
vacuum-up-everything-and-follow-every-lead attitude be chalked up to
pure adolescent-type inexperience, innocence, incompetence? Not pure --
not by a long shot. One has to ask Cui Bono? Who profits?
It is so painfully obvious. Here, in microcosm, is
an example of what Eisenhower warned of when he coined
"military-industrial complex." Cui bono? Think the contractors who
create marvelous databases -- and the mindset of:
Think also of snake-oil salesmen like former
Justice Department and Homeland Security guru Michael Chertoff, who
could not resist the temptation over the past several days to keep
hawking on TV the full-body scanners marketed by one of the Chertoff
2 Has the new intelligence bureaucracy
created after the Sept. 11th attacks functioned correctly? How could it
be improved, or was it a good idea to create it?
The creation of the post of Director of National
Intelligence, the National Counterterrorism Center, and the
170,000-person Department of Homeland Security was the mother of all
Bear in mind that the general election of 2004 was
just months away when the 9/11 report was published, and lawmakers and
administration functionaries desperately needed to be seen to be DOING
SOMETHING. And, as is almost always the case in such circumstances,
they made things considerably worse.
The 9/11 Commissioners had been fretting over the
fact that, in their words, "No one was in charge of coordination among
intelligence agencies." That was true, but only because George Tenet
preferred to cavort with foreign potentates and thugs, than to do the
job of Director of Central Intelligence (DCI).
It was not a systemic problem, but one of personal
irresponsibility. Ignoring that, a new systemic "solution" was sought,
and implemented, where none was needed. By statute, the Director of
Central Intelligence was responsible precisely for coordinating the
work of the entire intelligence community, as the principal
intelligence adviser to the President (National Security Act of 1947).
This, indeed, was the main reason why Truman created the Central
Intelligence Agency and put the DCI in charge not only of the CIA but
gave the DCI wider -- and equally important intelligence community-wide
The idea was to prevent another Pearl Harbor,
where bits and pieces of intelligence lay around with the
code-breakers, the Navy, the Army Air Corps, the FBI, Embassy Tokyo,
the people monitoring Radio Tokyo, etc., etc. with no central place where analysts could be in receipt of and consider all the evidence.
It was abundantly clear to Truman that, had there
been such a place in 1941, adequate forewarning of the Japanese attack
would have been a no-brainer.
As for the situation obtaining in the Washington bureaucracies in 2004, this personal vignette, I believe, speaks volumes:
On the day the 9/11 Commission Report was issued
BBC-TV had scheduled me for comment on it, minutes after its release,
at the BBC bureau in Washington. I drove home the amazing point that NO
ONE, NO ONE, NOT ONE SOLITARY SOUL WAS BEING HELD ACCOUNTABLE!
As I left the TV studio for the outer room, in
walked 9/11 Commissioners Jamie Gorelick and former Sen. Slade Gorton,
R-Washington, to present their own commentary to BBC viewers. Gorelick
went right into the studio; I took advantage of being one-on-one with
"Sen. Gorton," I asked, "I don't quite understand
all this talk alleging that "No one is in charge of the intelligence
community.' You are surely aware that, by act of Congress, there is
such a person, and right now that happens to be Director of Central
Intelligence George Tenet."
The avuncular Gorton tiptoed up to me, put his
right hand around my shoulder, and with a conspiratorial whisper said,
"Yes, Ray, of course I know that. We all know that. But George would
not take charge; he would not do what he was supposed to."
True, this was hardly news to me, but coming from
a 9/11 Commissioner? I was about to respond with something like, "So
you need to create another layer, a superstructure over existing
arrangements, to address that problem?"
But, as it happened, just then the BBC studio door
opened, Gorelick emerged, and Gorton went in. Gorelick was too busy to
answer the question I had posed to Gorton.
The new Director of National Intelligence?
This post, created by the post-9/11 "reforms," was/is totally
unnecessary -- and counterproductive -- as was entirely predictable. As
my former CIA colleague Mel Goodman has written, the DNI superstructure
has actually been very destructive of good intelligence " in more ways
than I have space to go into here.
The fact that no National Intelligence Estimate
has been completed on Afghanistan and Pakistan, for example, is
unconscionable. Were the generals and admirals afraid that CIA analysts
might come up with politically incorrect judgments?
The National Counterterrorism Center?
Also unnecessary; a benighted idea. The recent attempt by Mr.
Abdulmutallab to bring down a Detroit-bound Northwest Airlines flight
speaks volumes about the NCTC's effectiveness and the kind of
leadership exercised by John Brennan -- a clone of George Tenet.
We are told that Brennan is supposed to coordinate
things at the National Security Council ... or is Director of National
Intelligence Admiral Blair supposed to do that? ". or Panetta? ... or
Janet Napolitano, secretary of the Department of Homeland Security? ...
or maybe the FBI? """ ugh.
Can you tolerate still more? This just in. None
other than John Brennan is to lead a full and thorough investigation
into how the people under his general aegis screwed up regarding the
Abdulmutallab affair. I do not often quote Ollie North, but "Is this a
great country, or what!"
As for the Department of Homeland Security" just look, if you will, at what has happened to the Secret Service, not to mention FEMA and Katrina. Double ugh.
3 What one reform would you recommend
that might improve information sharing among agencies working to
prevent terrorist attacks?
HOLD ACCOUNTABLE THOSE RESPONSIBLE.
More "reform" is the last thing we need. Sorry, but we DO have to look back.
The most effective step would be to release the
CIA Inspector General report on intelligence community performance
prior to 9/11. That investigation was run by, and its report was
prepared by an honest man, it turns out.
It was immediately suppressed by then-Acting DCI
John McLaughlin -- another Tenet clone -- and McLaughin's successors as
director, Porter Goss, Michael Hayden, and now Leon Panetta.
Accountability is key. If there is no
accountability, there is total freedom to screw up, and screw up
royally, without any thought of possible personal consequences.
Not only is it certain that we will face more
terrorist attacks, but the keystone-cops nature of recent intelligence
operations ". whether in using cell phones in planning kidnappings in
Italy, or in allowing suicide bombers access to CIA bases in
Taliban-infested eastern Afghanistan ". will continue. Not to mention
the screw-up in the case of Abdulmutallab.
Sadly, instead of accountability, there is likely
to be misguided -- and counterproductive -- vengeance. After all, the
word in Langley is "seven of ours" have now been killed. Anonymous
intelligence officials are already warning openly about payback!
Wasn't that the base human instinct, the revenge
factor played on so deftly by President George W. Bush and Vice
President Dick Cheney to "justify" invading Afghanistan -- and then Iraq
-- after 9/11.
From Coleen Rowley:
Launching PR "wars" on terrorism, drugs, crime,
poverty, etc. misleads the average person into believing that these
ills can be totally conquered or eliminated. In reality, even if the
experts were so enlightened/lucky as to make no mistakes and do
everything right, it's only possible to reduce the frequency of such
It IS possible to make terrorist plots less likely to succeed but NOT possible to prevent them all.
It is much harder for the counter-terrorist
experts to prevent terrorist plots when, under the law of unintended
consequences, U.S. foreign policy contributes to a marked increase in
the number of potential terrorists -- as it undoubtedly has.
The level of terrorism in the world has increased
dramatically since 9/11.So a starting place would be to find out where
we are now, as compared to 2001.
The unrealistic expectation of "winning" a "war"
against terrorism -- that is, preventing all terrorist acts -- merely
opens the door to crazy"destroy-the-village-to-save-it" kind of
actions that result in squaring the error. Such actions radicalize
greater and greater numbers of people and create still more
Fear-based expectations also open the door to:
(1) Reckless "pre-emptive" actions based on mere guesswork, hunches, or prior agendas;
(2) A penchant for fusing agencies, creating
multi-agency "centers," and re-naming bureaucracies -- all without much
thought to finding out what went awry, who was responsible, holding
people accountable, and fixing problems; and
(3) A surge in the fast growing
"Surveillance-Security Complex," a highly lucrative business now
rivaling the Military Industrial Complex itself.
"Total Information Awareness"-type programs are a sales trick that
brings dividends only to the contractor/creators.Projects involving
billions of pieces of private communications and other data that are
vacuumed up and put into newly created, massive databases of
individuals are a fool's errand.
No matter how sophisticated or exotic, they are
not likely to succeed in helping find needles in haystacks that are
constantly fed more hay.Not this decade, anyway.
Keystone Cops and Barney Fife responses are not
funny in real life.One only laughs at such travesty for psychological
release. The reality is that, in real life, these truly
counter-productive responses -- creatures of arrogance, ignorance, and
excessive fear -- are no laughing matter.
No meaningful fixes are possible without accountability for mistakes or wrongdoing.
Equally important, those witnessing innocent
mistakes and worse problems must be able to avail themselves of some
kind of job protection, should they summon enough courage to blow the
whistle. Sadly, no "whistleblower protection" now exists.
Thus there is no antidote to the secrecy and
job-jeopardy regularly invoked to muzzle employees who witness fraud,
waste, abuse, and illegal acts. In recent years, these have included
heinous behavior like torture, kidnapping, and illegal eavesdropping,
as well as untold amounts of misfeasance and other malfeasance that
create serious threats and risks to public safety.
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