How and why the dots dont get connected
How could our law enforcement and intelligence agencies fail to put the pieces of the terrorist threat puzzle together in time to prevent the 9/11 tragedy? The answer to that question is readily apparent to those who have had field experience in the vineyards of intelligence and law enforcement.
But first, let’s set the FBI record straight: Some of Bill Clinton’s very first acts were to fire Judge Sessions from his post as FBI director, then he fired every U.S. attorney in all 50 states and he hired Janet Reno to be his Attorney General. In short, he replaced the experienced head of the FBI with his own appointee, then removed the top Justice Department official in each state and placed 50 new appointees under the command of Janet Reno. The current FBI director was on the job all of one week when over 3,000 Americans lost their lives on September 11, 2002.
That said, here’s the answer to the question at the top of this column. Many years ago, as a young intelligence agent, I experienced the problems of intelligence sharing and processing at first hand. These problems are rooted in one of the more dismal aspects of human nature; primarily, a twisted desire for personal and/or agency recognition -- sometimes at the expense of mission accomplishment.
My partner and I were part of a special security team charged with conducting counterintelligence, counter espionage and counter sabotage operations to protect nuclear weapons storage facilities being used by the United States and NATO. What I am about to relate took place under the administrations of Presidents Kennedy and Johnson.
The interagency competition over agents and sources of information was fierce. Whenever we developed a promising intelligence contact or “asset” we were told to shade our Agent Reports so higher headquarters or, heaven forbid, a rival intelligence agency would not become enamoured of the “asset” and try to take him or her away from us.
Even though the National Security Act of 1947 (plus amendments in 1949) placed all of us under the Director of Central Intelligence, we were still fragmented into Army, Navy, Air Force, State Department and FBI intelligence, the National Security Agency and, of course, the newly-formed Central Intelligence Agency. Eventually, the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) added another level of bureaucracy.
Each of these agencies and services felt they had to defend their “turf.” Sensing that information is power and wanting to protect, defend and expand their powers and their budgets, these agencies tended to discourage the sharing of information.
Another reason not to brag too much on one’s intelligence assets was a realistic fear that they would be taken over by a “higher” intelligence agency and then lost because the higher agency sometimes bungled such hand-offs. Ironically, in the intelligence business, where your intelligence “assets” are sometimes the scum of the earth, mutual trust between agent handler and agent is crucial. More than once, we learned that some of our key assets would not trust their new agent handlers and stopped producing good information.
We also learned that accurate, on-the-spot intelligence was not always appreciated by higher headquarters. When my partner and I discovered and reported that a large, unguarded tunnel was running right under a particular NATO nuclear storage site, we thought we would be commended. Instead, NATO Headquarters was so embarrassed that we were almost reprimanded. When we discovered and reported that the Dutch Army virtually went off duty from Friday to Monday leaving certain NATO nuclear storage sites barely guarded, we were almost canned.
Our aggressive dedication to protecting our nuclear weapons in northern Europe was rewarded by my being taken out of the field and “promoted” to (guess where?) higher headquarters.
Trying to overcome these bureaucratic turf battles and getting our law enforcement and intelligence agencies to have one goal, i.e., the defense of the United States, will be THE major challenge of the Bush Administration. Lots of luck.
William Hamilton, a nationally syndicated columnist and featured commentator for USA Today, is the co-author of The Grand Conspiracy by William Penn – a novel about a terrorist attack on Colorado’s key water resources.
©2002. William Hamilton.