AlQaeda’s attacks on the World Trade Centre on 9/11 were another Pearl harbor forthe United states. Post9/11, many assumed that the attacks were primarily a result of grossintelligence failure because the United States at that point in time had “adirector of central intelligence, 13 intelligence agencies and a combinedbudget if more than $30 billion.” 1However,this was not true. This essay will argue that the 9/11 attacks were notpredominantly a failure of intelligence collection but a result of a sum ofmistakes made i.e., although intelligence failure is one of the reasons behindthe attack, it is not the primary one.
Manyhave argued that the main reason as to why Al Qaeda was successful inorchestrating and executing the 9/11 attacks was due to the shortcomings of intelligencecollection. Critics argue that analysis on Al Qaeda was also too weak and a CIAretiree described the failure as “worse than Pearl Harbor.” 2However,it is important to take into account that the CIA was responsible forsupporting war fighting in Iraq and the Balkans while monitoring China andother potential rivals, and providing economic analyses among other things. TheFBI, on the other hand, took care of drug running, deadbeat dads, andinfrastructure protection.3Counterterrorism was never something that either of them handled. The analystsat both agencies were also overstretched. Before the attack, the FBI wasprimarily a law enforcement agency that focused its resources on prosecuting acase and not trying to understand a broad terror related network.
4Therewas no single plan that everyone followed and counterterrorism was neglected.5David Byman writes, “While there was a unified command structure in the PersianGulf to address the local terrorist threat, organizational responsibilities inthe US government largely diverged at the waters edge. The department ofdefense and the CIA focus on foreign threats while the FBI focuses on internalsecurity and investigating crime. “6 RichardBetts talks about how in the weeks prior to the strikes, there were indicationsthat a major attack was imminent. However, the warning was “too vague to beactionable.”7Betts says that the attacks were a result of a failure in intelligence analysisand collection but also a failure on the part of policy makers.
8Despitethe findings of warnings of the intelligence community about Al Qaeda planninglethal attacks, the policy makers initiated few defensive measures. Someinstitutions including the US military did not embrace counterterrorism despitethe high level of strategic warning. DavidByman says that even though the CIA provided a strong strategic warning,however, it was accompanied by a failure to learn clues about the specifics ofthe attack on the US ie, when, where, how – which in turn led to a failure oftactical warning.
9The FBI was not properly structured or oriented for counterterrorism or, morebroadly, for intelligence work. This failure occurred in art due to FBI’sculture but also because the organization did not learn and respond properly asinformation about Al Qaeda grew.9/11did not come about due to failure in the collection of intelligence but due tothe fact that concrete action was not taken on the intelligence available. Thecharge of political failure has been leveled against the bush administration-this type of failure occurs when all the necessary clues were picked up by theagencies but they either ignored or no action was taken on them by politicalagencies. Policy makers played a role in the failure to prevent these attacks.
Priorto September 11, the United States did not have a concrete counterterrorismpolicy against Pakistan and a vague policy against Saudi Arabia. It reliedheavily on law enforcement tools to fight Al Qaeda before the attack, which isnot entirely efficient. Additionally, these tools put pressure on resources ofthe enforcement agencies which could otherwise be used disrupting futureattacks. 10David Byman says that policy makers did not do a good enough job imposing theirwill on various bureaucracies that were not aggressive in counterterrorism.11He goes on to argue that the administration did not provide a boost to anycounterterrorism agencies even though the FBI’s budget grew considerably.
Theyalso failed to ensure that the existing budget for those agencies was devotedappropriately to counterterrorism. 12 Peter Neuman and M.L.
R.Smithargue that often, public perceptions tend to view intelligence agencies asindependent research institutes that are supposed to forecast future politicalevents and providing accurate advice to policy makers. However, in reality,intelligence organizations can never be an autonomous institution- they areaffected by politicians.13Inaddition to this, there was no response received by domestic agencies. Bymansays that since state and local officials and noncore national securityagencies like Immigration and Naturalisation service did not see terrorism astheir concern, the day-to-day threat reporting about Al Qaeda did not make astrong impression.
The 9/11 Commission report said, “The domestic agenciesnever mobilized in response to the threat. They did not have direction, andthey did not have a plan to institute. The borders were not hardened.
Thetransportation systems were not fortified. Electronic surveillance was nottargeted against a domestic threat. State and local law enforcement were notmarshaled to augment the FBI’s efforts. The public was not warned.”14 Anotherargument made for the reason behind the attacks is that the United States wasinvolved in too much covert action. “Blowback” is a term used by the CIA in areport based on the operation to overthrow the government of Mohammed Mossadeghin Iran.
15This covert operation pursed by the United States brought “tyranny and repression”16to the people of Iran and made them think of the US as their enemy. The CIAfeared that there might be some kind of “blowback” from interference in the affairsof Iran and their suspicions were not completely unfounded. Charmers Johnsonsaid that the CIA was “creating enemies”.
Accroding to him, it was the excessof covert operations that led to the US making a lot of enemies and increasingthe probability of potential attacks. From America’s role in Asia’s financialcrisis, to its early support for Saddam Hussein and its actions in the Balkans,Johnson talks about the misguided actions of a nation as powerful at the UnitedStates. He says that the last straw for bin Laden proved to be after the gulfwar, when the US placed its troops in Saudi Arabia to “prop up its decadent,fiercely authoritarian regime.”17Theresult of all these operations was the 9/11 attacks. Heargues that “massive military retaliation with its inevitable collateraldamage” will, of course, “create more desperate and embittered childlessparents and parentless children, and so recruit more maddened people to theterrorists’ cause.
“18Dueto its covert activities on the international front, a superpower like theUnited States is likely to receive several threats leading in turn to severalwarnings. This leads to something called “the fatigue”.19The tremendous sensitivity to any potential threat led to over-warning. R.
KBetts also talks about the “cry wolf syndrome” which essentially means thatexcellent collection gets information about threatening indicators, but when anattacks doesn’t occur immediately, the effect is to dull repitivity in thefuture. 20Anti democratic and anti market forces, specifically a fundamentalist backlashagainst the way globalisation spreads Western culture, was not deemed ofsufficient strength to pose a significant threat. 21 In sum, the 9/11 was not caused primarily because of failure ofintelligence collection.
As Neuman said, “one of the main weaknesses ofthe conventional explanations of intelligence failure is that they presumeintelligence to be produced and consumed in an intellectual vacuum.”22Along with the shortcomings on the policy and counterterrorism front, the faultlied not only in collection of intelligence but also in its usage. Theoperations undertaken by the United States in other countries increased itsrisk of getting attacked. An attack as large scale as the 9/11 cannot be blamedsimply on one aspect of intellgince. 1 Melvin A.Goodman, “9/11: The Failure of Strategic Intelligence,” Intelligenceand National Security 18 (Winter 2003),pg 59 2 R.
K.Betts, ‘Two Facesof Intelligence Failure: September 11 and Iraq’s Missing WMD’, PoliticalScience Quarterly, 122:4(2007),p.5873 Richard J Aldrich, et al. Secret Intelligence: A Reader (Routledge:NewYork,2009), p.
175.4 Richard J Aldrich, et al. Secret Intelligence: A Reader (Routledge:NewYork,2009), p.175.5Richard J Aldrich, et al. Secret Intelligence: A Reader (Routledge:NewYork,2009), p.172.
6 Richard J Aldrich, et al. Secret Intelligence: A Reader (Routledge:NewYork,2009), p.172.7 R.K.Betts, ‘Two Facesof Intelligence Failure: September 11 and Iraq’s Missing WMD’, PoliticalScience Quarterly, 122:4(2007), p.5878 R.K.
Betts, ‘Two Facesof Intelligence Failure: September 11 and Iraq’s Missing WMD’, PoliticalScience Quarterly, 122:4(2007),p.5879 Richard J Aldrich, et al. Secret Intelligence: A Reader (Routledge:NewYork,2009), p.16910Richard J Aldrich, et al. Secret Intelligence: A Reader (Routledge:NewYork,2009), p.170.11 Richard J Aldrich, et al. Secret Intelligence: A Reader (Routledge:NewYork,2009), p.
17612 Richard J Aldrich, et al. Secret Intelligence: A Reader (Routledge:NewYork,2009), p.177.13 PeterNeuman & M.L.
R.Smith, ‘Missing the Plot? Intelligence and Discoursefailure’, Orbis , 49:1 (2005), p.95. 14 Richard J Aldrich, et al.
Secret Intelligence: A Reader (Routledge:NewYork,2009), p.177.15 https://www.thenation.com/article/blowback/ (last accessed 15/01/2018)16 https://www.
thenation.com/article/blowback/ (last accessed 15/01/2018)17 https://www.thenation.com/article/blowback/ (last accessed 15/01/2018)18 https://www.thenation.com/article/blowback/ (last accessed 15/01/2018)19 Richard J Aldrich, et al. Secret Intelligence: A Reader (Routledge:NewYork,2009), p.
171.20 Richard K. Betts, Surprise Attack(Washington DC: Brookings Institution, 1982),chapter421 Richard J Aldrich, et al. Secret Intelligence: A Reader (Routledge:NewYork,2009), p.190.22 PeterNeuman & M.L.R.Smith, ‘Missing the Plot? Intelligence and Discoursefailure’, Orbis , 49:1 (2005), p.97.