- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 16, 2001

After having served for many years in the U.S. military intelligence community, and after raising the issue of the need to field a credible human intelligence and counterintelligence capability on many occasions — it has now come down to this: We lacked the will to do the right thing. Now we are at War. We must do the right things.
That's the only answer I can come up with. None of what happened on Sept. 11 was a strategic surprise. I knew — many people in and out of government knew — that we would one day suffer a devastating attack against our homeland. Indeed, there have been many new organizational entities and new groups forming to study and to engage in the requirements for defense of the homeland.
The means used to carry out the attacks — fully fueled airplanes — was not a surprise. This sort of attack had been imagined as a possibility. Most of us who work in the intelligence and security business in the United States know, have known, that there are people out there willing, even eager, to conduct such an attack. Indeed, you can see the next generation of terrorists in the streets of Gaza, Baghdad, Kabul, Sao Paulo, Pristina, and even here in America.
We have superb capabilities to find surface activities throughout the world and to gather a variety of signatures and emissions and to make sense of them. We can target and destroy objects and places from great distances. We routinely protect ourselves from a variety of threats using mechanisms ranging from barriers and physical security devices such as X-ray screening of luggage and hand-carry items on aircraft, to terrorist alerts and heightened security in response to intelligence indicating the possibility of an impending attack.
We have a good understanding of the world we live in, although we sometimes fail to translate that understanding into appropriate action.
We have improved our posture in response to events that can be dated from the seizure of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran in 1979 and the attacks against the U.S. Marine barracks and the U.S. Embassy in Lebanon in 1983 more than 20 years of direct outrages against the United States. We have suffered one after another terrorist attacks, the most recent being the strike against the USS Cole in Aden harbor. It is not as if we have merely absorbed these direct attacks without acting. But we did not act adequately in one key area. We did not field a credible and effective human intelligence capability. We did not know what these terrorists were doing. In my view, we also suffered from an unrealistic security posture in the face of what was and is a growing threat.
The circumstances of the attacks against the U.S. at the World Trade Center and the Pentagon are unprecedented, including the fact that they took place within our borders. This is an important difference to be sure. I wish it weren't so, but it has long been thought that it would take such an attack to galvanize interest and to focus resources on the protection of our homeland.
The attack came. Now, it's up to us all to see that appropriate measures are taken to mount a credible defense.
One of the things we must do is empower our human intelligence and counterintelligence organizations to engage in clever, risky, exceptional intelligence operations that may enable us to see inside the terrorists cabal, to know in advance what their plans and intentions might be, and to act to interdict or to preclude the terrorists from acting.
Is this counter to our culture? Is this suggestive of the abrogation of human rights and individual freedoms? Am I proposing a course of action that will forever change our quality of life? I hope not. Instead, I am proposing some actions that can be taken with appropriate oversight and control:
c Invasive human intelligence by those who can do it, supported technically and with a variety of resources.
c Strong counterintelligence activities to make sure that our efforts and our secret capabilities are protected.
c And cooperation, coordination and collaboration among the law enforcement, intelligence and security organs of the world, to ferret out and stop terrorism wherever it exists.
c We also need a central U.S. coordinating authority to take charge and to direct the application of resources against the threat.
This is far easier said than done. Indeed, I credit many intelligence, security and law enforcement leaders on duty today with trying to accomplish these goals. However, they have not succeeded.
I was one of them. We had the intent to succeed, but we did not. Why? We did not have the collective will to do the right thing. That sort of failure can no longer be tolerated.
To do the right thing, political and functional leaders at all levels, and the American people, must understand the moral imperatives of new responses to the terrorist threat, including the risky conditions in which success will be achieved. We will lose lives. We will be found out in embarrassing scenarios. We will be discovered in politically sensitive acts. We will be criticized. So be it. The alternative has just flashed out of the television screens and into our collective psyche and our individual spirits. The alternative is not acceptable.
Let me give a warning here one that I have given before. These recent attacks against us are not a culminating point; they are not the end of anything. They are the beginning of a long and dangerous journey through the minefield of transnational and domestic terrorism, empowered not merely with conventional weapons but with weapons with mass effects.
We can expect, as has already happened elsewhere, to encounter the scourge of an attack with a nuclear, chemical, biological, radiological or "new science" weapon.
We can expect unconventional applications of conventional capability, from more than one person or one group.
As horrendous as the attacks have been, the future holds the potential for much worse. We cannot afford to absorb those attacks. We must work to deter, to interdict and to preclude them. That will require every resource and capability at our disposal, including much improved human intelligence and counterintelligence. This also requires the support and concurrence of our political leadership and the support and understanding of our citizens.
Friends of mine lost their lives in the World Trade Center and at the Pentagon. I can't tolerate that. My country was attacked. I can smell the burning residue of the Pentagon at my home. I can't tolerate that. I want to lash out, to strike the terrorists dead. But, I don't know who or where they are, yet. We are at War. May God bless and keep us all.

Mr. Hughes is a retired Army lieutenant general and the former director of the Defense Intelligence Agency.


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