TCS Daily

Intelligence Dumb Show

By Pejman Yousefzadeh - April 18, 2002 12:00 AM

If the United States is to conclusively win the war on terrorism, it must overhaul and enhance its intelligence capabilities. Past intelligence failures highlight this need.

American intelligence failed to discover any information that might have uncovered the Sept. 11 hijackings. Neither CIA nor FBI counterintelligence, know definitively how anthrax was dispersed across the country last fall, where it came from, how many labs in the United States make and harbor anthrax, or how many American and/or foreign scientists may have had access to anthrax supplies. Indeed, American intelligence agencies have displayed a great deal of startlingly insular thinking regarding the source of anthrax, refusing to consider the possibility that the anthrax may stem from a foreign source. Meanwhile, in shocking congressional testimony on April 9, Kenneth Senser, the new security chief of the FBI, admitted that the threat of enemy intelligence penetration inside the bureau could be deep and pervasive beyond imagining.

In addition, American intelligence failed to anticipate the assassination of longtime Northern Alliance leader Ahmad Shah Massoud, two days before the terrorist attacks on America. The death of Abdul Haq last fall also highlighted intelligence shortcomings. A veteran of the war against the Soviets, Haq was rejected by the CIA when he offered to assist American ground forces in Afghanistan. When Haq was captured by the Taliban, his fate was sealed when the launching of an unmanned American "Predator" fighter plane led the Taliban to believe that Haq was an American agent. American intelligence failures played a key role in bringing about Haq's death.

Underlying factors for these problems include the CIA's lacking personnel who can speak, read or write regional languages such as Farsi, Arabic, Urdu or Pashtun. It has few assets on the ground, and is still relatively unfamiliar with the culture, or beliefs of terror-sponsoring states. While the CIA enhanced its electronic intelligence capabilities, it shortsightedly neglected the basic and valuable need for human intelligence. Thus, the United States is less prepared to gather intelligence, or to carry out assassination attempts against terrorist leaders and their followers.

American culture has been hostile to the creation of a strong intelligence capability. Top-notch universities and colleges have banned the CIA from recruiting on campus, thus denying the agency a deep talent pool. Intelligence work is scorned in academia, scaring away many people who would otherwise work in the field. Jobs end up going to less qualified candidates who are unable to offer first-class analysis, or undertake the dangerous operations needed to preserve and enhance American security.

Politicians have also done their part in undermining American intelligence capabilities. The Church Committee's investigations into CIA practices in the 1970s, and the institution of ill-conceived policy restrictions, helped ultimately degrade the ability of American intelligence agencies. This culminated with the Clinton administration's 1995 executive order preventing the CIA from recruiting individuals with criminal or terrorist backgrounds. The CIA claimed that this policy has never hampered recruitment, but privately, many agency individuals, including former Clinton Director of Central Intelligence, Admiral James Woolsey, even before Clinton left office, admit that the policy had a "chilling effect" on personnel selection.

To remedy this sorry state of affairs, intelligence agencies must be able to ensure the deepest available talent pool by having greater freedom of recruitment. A special emphasis must be placed on multilingual recruits to be able to infiltrate terror cells, and run double agents. The United States needs to penetrate terrorist organizations and the upper echelons of enemy governments, compromise the structure of those organizations, capture valuable information, and kill leaders who are bent on murdering as many Americans as possible.

President Bush should sign a national security finding removing any and all obstacles facing the CIA's abilities to recruit double agents. While it may be distasteful to deal with unsavory people, the fact is that Good Samaritans are not going to be able to provide useful intelligence. Only bad people have information on other bad people, and the sources of that information should be cultivated by whatever means necessary in order to learn what they know.

Additionally, the president should revoke the executive orders instituted by Presidents Ford and Reagan that prevent the CIA from assassinating foreign leaders. While assassination is a serious and weighty matter, the fact is that from time to time, the killing of an enemy leader is necessary. Additionally, these executive orders are worthless. In an October interview with C-Span, former British Prime Minister John Major admitted that the Allied forces during the Persian Gulf War sought to kill Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. As such, it is time to drop all formality and pretense. Revoking the orders barring assassination will cause enemy leaders to fear for their lives, and thus devote less energy to planning operations against the United States.

To win this war, we will have to gain access to the enemy's information, thoughts, and schemes. We will need to infiltrate the terrorist cells to stay one step ahead in the deadly chess game we now play, and to checkmate their leaders by either capturing or killing them. All of this will only come about when we dramatically strengthen our intelligence capabilities. Either we will do so, or we will face the possibility of more catastrophic attacks on the American homeland.

The writer is an attorney living in Southern California. He edits the blog

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