- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 17, 2001

During the Cold War years, there were many Soviet defectors who came out from under the rubble and told the West what was going on behind the Iron Curtain. There were non-Russian defectors like Whittaker Chambers, Elizabeth Bentley, as well as Russians like Gen. Walter G. Krivitsky, Vladimir Bukovsky, Alexander Solzhenitsyn and many others. The West was able to infiltrate the Soviet secret services and found high officials like Lt. Col. Oleg Penkovsky, whose information influenced President Kennedy's handling of the Cuban and Berlin crises. The CIA, the FBI and other U.S. intelligence agencies were highly successful in penetrating communist parties and organizations.
What I find extraordinary about the events of Sept. 11 is that in the five years (at least) that Osama bin Laden and his network were preparing their bloody deeds, there was not a defection by any network member nor obviously a penetration by any Western intelligence agency. Our intelligence agencies were able to penetrate the Soviet Comintern but failed to penetrate the Arab Bombintern. With a half-century of experience in combating the spread of communism, neither the CIA or FBI nor the British, French or German intelligence agencies were able to find anybody they could turn into a double agent or create, as they had with Penkovsky, an agent-in-place.
There must have been hundreds of people besides the hijackers and suicide bombers to administer the network's affairs: government officials, banks, embassies, Osama bin Laden's own staff. And yet in all these years, not a leak, not a peep, not a smidgen, not a smell or sniff, not a tiny suspicion. Even with the spectacular bombings of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, the first attack on the World Trade Center and the arrests and trials that followed, our intelligence agencies were unable to predict the next successful terrorist attack.
One can draw several conclusions from this extraordinary finding:
* There is a unbreachable loyalty by network members to the terrorist cause, arising either from unyielding ideological faith or possibly intimidation. The network members have families back home as hostages.
* There have been plain, simple incompetence or unpreparedness by Western intelligence agencies in dealing with a radically different culture. Past experience with defections from and penetrations into the communist world is obviously useless in dealing with the world of Islamic fundamentalism.
* The bin Laden network is so efficiently organized and compartmentalized that no one person with the exception of Osama bin Laden himself knows the big picture.
* Elint (electronic intelligence and satellite photography) can't do the job of spying on the network, nor is Humint (human intelligence) achievable in the near future.
Without clandestine intelligence gathering ability, the bin Laden network can continue its operations without much difficulty. The decision to make the first move is theirs to make and for us to respond to after the fact.
* We are, therefore, in big, big trouble. It will take years to rebuild U.S. intelligence in the Middle East, especially to obtain the essential language skills let alone to establish the personal relationships essential to useful intelligence.
In the July-August issue of the Atlantic Monthly, a former CIA Middle East executive, Reuel Marc Gerecht, described as "a myth" the U.S. counterterrorism program in the Middle East. Bobby R. Inman, who served in high intelligence positions under three administrations, said in a recent New York Times op-ed that "it will probably be at least 10 years before we can return to the level of competence we had in the 1950s." He pointed out that before intelligence became wedded to technology, "at least 75 percent of the raw information came from people gathering intelligence around the world … The rest of our 'human intelligence' came from covert information-gathering by clandestine case officers, that is, from spies." And these spies depended on nationals who could be bought, blackmailed or believed in the democratic cause enough to repudiate loyalty to dictatorial regimes.
As far as an outsider can tell, Western intelligence agencies have been unable to infiltrate the bin Laden network, whose leaders and advisers have obviously carefully studied American institutions and lifestyles for years. They knew how to outflank our super-technological superiority. Today, they know more about us than we know about them.
The bin Laden network is working on the assumption that as the Dow begins to move upward and the mourning period sputters to an end American politics, despite all the portentous it'll-never-be-the-same-again talk, in areas untouched by the national World Trade Center tragedy people will go along their accustomed paths as before.
We are in for a few surprises.

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