- The Washington Times - Monday, July 29, 2002

Prophetically, on Sept. 11, 1998 three years to the day before the September 11 attacks senior intelligence managers concluded that "Failure to improve operations management, resource allocation, and other key issues … including making substantial and sweeping changes in the way the nation collects, analyzes and produces intelligence, will likely result in a catastrophic systemic intelligence failure."
The House Intelligence Committee's Subcommittee on Terrorism and Homeland Security just completed a classified report on the counterterrorism performance of the CIA, National Security Agency (NSA) and FBI prior to September 11. Our bipartisan investigation found an intelligence community that recognized the urgency of the terror threat, but failed to build the capability to get at the plans and intentions of the September 11 terrorists.
Why weren't these agencies, which have been engaged in a global, clandestine war with terrorists since the 1983 Marine barracks bombing in Beirut, better prepared? First, America's primary counterterrorism agencies CIA, NSA and FBI were starved of resources during a protracted period of ill-advised "downsizing" following the end of the Cold War. Further, a risk-averse political environment created disincentives for the kind of bold initiatives required to penetrate al Qaeda.
Lack of resources and risk aversion, however, are only part of the story. We found numerous instances when available counterterrorism resources were misallocated by these agencies, despite repeated warnings from Congress, intelligence community rank-and-file, and some senior agency managers that priorities were skewed. The classified record of the last few years is replete with stern warnings to these agencies that the "reprogramming" of funds initially destined for core collection and analysis to feed growing headquarters bureaucracies was degrading capabilities and would increase already significant gaps in intelligence coverage.
At the CIA, the Counterterrorism Center at the forefront of the war on terrorism is largely a headquarters-based entity that is heavily dependent on traditional field officers to do its operations. When the CIA closed large numbers of stations and bases in the mid-1990s, purged numerous less-productive spies without much regard for alternative means of coverage and stood by while many of its best and brightest departed, the center's counterterrorism efforts suffered. The CIA tried to compensate by turning to foreign liaison for help and became over-reliant on them, losing some of the ability and will to operate unilaterally the CIA's core function. The CIA also failed to invest more resources to address chronic language deficiencies and to establish a comprehensive counterterrorism training regime, despite congressional guidance. Making matters worse, the CIA in 1995 began applying restrictive human-rights guidelines to the recruitment of potential terrorist spies. Congress legislated that this be repealed last year, but initially no action was taken. Fortunately, the CIA repealed these guidelines the day after we issued our report.
The NSA, meanwhile, failed to give the counterterrorism mission the priority it deserved in the competition for limited resources prior to September 11. Chronic shortages in trained linguists for collection and exploitation plagued NSA's counterterrorism effort, as did a lack of analysts to make sense of the needles in the haystacks collected every day. The NSA's shortcomings, however, go far beyond resources. Reforms in program management, systems engineering and integration and budget management are all needed for new dollars to have a lasting impact. The NSA's "make versus buy" in-house philosophy is no longer practical in the fast-moving world of the global-communications network in which terrorists are now operating. NSA must better leverage industry for technical solutions to address its growing collection gaps.
The FBI, for its part, was totally unsuited to conduct the terrorism-prevention mission prior to September 11. Organizationally and culturally, FBI was geared toward solving crimes after they had occurred. Responsibility for counterterrorism operations was decentralized to some 56 field offices, with only the most cumbersome means for communicating information back to headquarters and between offices. This proved fatal for "connecting the dots," as has been revealed by the now famous Phoenix and Rowley memos being scrutinized by the separate bicameral September 11 inquiry. There was no centralization of terrorism information and investigations. Insufficient analytic capability remained a problem. Other problems included too fewlinguists, translators, and interpreters, outdated information technologies, insufficient attention to terrorist financial networks and a general lack of resources. And existing laws, regulations and policies governing the FBI's counterterrorism effort were focused on safeguarding the rights of those under investigation or prosecution.
To their credit, these agencies have emerged from the ashes of September 11 determined to bring the fight to the enemy and are now flush with resources and less constrained by legal impediments. Moreover, the nation is galvanized behind the war on terrorism, which makes risk-taking much more likely. That said, the systemic problems in these agencies are significant and require sustained attention. We expect the CIA, NSA and FBI to develop and implement a strategic plan to address the shortcomings we identified. These agencies may never be able to stop every September 11-type incident. But by investing in long-term solutions rather than stop-gap fixes, we will be much more capable of accessing the type of "plans and intentions" intelligence we need to make America a safer place.

Rep. Saxby Chambliss, a Georgia Republican, is the chairman of the Subcommittee on Terrorism and Homeland Security of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence.


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