- The Washington Times - Monday, April 18, 2005


By Richard A. Posner

Rowman & Littlefield, $18.95, 214 pages

The catastrophic attacks of September 11 led to significant bureaucratic transformations in the U.S. government to improve and integrate the anticipatory and response capabilities against the terrorist threat. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) was created to fuse previously disparate agencies, including establishing new entities, such as the Operations Center, where representatives from all relevant government and law enforcement agencies maintain 24/7 watch to ensure that all reporting of a suspicious nature is checked by the proper authorities.

While the creation of DHS has generally been lauded as an effective way to respond to potential incidents and protect the nation’s critical infrastructure, there have been calls for reforming other components of national security. In July 2004, the National Commission to Study the Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States (the “9/11 commission”) issued far-ranging recommendations for reorganizing the nation’s intelligence system to reduce the likelihood of future surprise attacks against the United States.

It is these recommendations, which became the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004, that Richard Posner, a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals in Chicago, and an expert on national security organizational theory, focuses his criticism.

Mr. Posner is “unconvinced” that the root of failure in September 11 was lack of coordination among all agencies responsible for preventing and responding to terrorist attacks within the United States and that to remedy this problem greater centralized and pyramidal control is needed in the form of the creation of director of National Intelligence (DNI), with direct supervision of the nation’s intelligence agencies.

Moreover, Mr. Posner argues that reorganization is not only costly in financial terms but leads to “transition-induced dysfunction” because it will dislocate the intelligence system, with “Lines of communication … disrupted, jobs shuffled, employees unsettled and jockeying for position, turf warfare intensified — ideal conditions for the attacker.”

One of the weaknesses of Mr. Posner’s analysis is that he only focuses on the prevention of surprise attacks of a catastrophic variety, as opposed to understanding that terrorist groups, such as al Qaeda and its affiliates, conduct a spectrum of attacks whose targeting is either “opportunistic” (soft targets that are relatively easy to attack, which are attacked with frequency in countries such as Iraq and Saudi Arabia) or “strategic” (targets that are difficult to attack, such as the World Trade Towers).

As a matter of fact, both types of attacks are possible in the United States because frequent “opportunistic” attacks can be carried out by a small number of dedicated operatives or even so-called “lone wolves,” such as an Islamist Eric Rudolph, and, at the same time, other operatives may be taking their time to mount less frequent attacks but of the “strategic” variety. And overseas they are already engaged in a full-scale insurgency against U.S. and Western interests and personnel.

Countering modern terrorism requires different types of analytical understanding, which Mr. Posner’s preoccupation with the problems that may be inherent in certain organizational structures ignores. Mr. Posner doesn’t offer a counter-blueprint to reorganize the nation’s intelligence system, except some suggestions for managerial reform (increasing investment in research on artificial intelligence to collect and analyze intelligence data, generous early-retirement benefits for intelligence officers to encourage greater analytic boldness, etc.).

Regardless of the final form that the current intelligence reorganization may assume, it is the fundamental problems of intelligence analysis and response to the threats posed by the global jihadists that should command our attention — the political, social, cultural and economic problems and crises in the Islamic world which these groups exploit to engage in violence to redress problems and grievances.

The Islamic world currently faces an internal “clash of civilizations” which it has so far been unable to resolve. This internal “clash of civilizations” has also affected Muslim communities abroad. In a variation of a “surprise attack” that Mr. Posner does not discuss, in their Western diaspora communities, radical Islamists have been taking over mosques and Muslim associations, setting in place an infrastructure to expand their influence and reach. Although falling below the threshold of actual insurgent violence, these are challenges presently facing governments such as Britain, France, Germany and Spain, with the United States likely to be not far behind.

Joshua Sinai is a specialist on terrorism studies at ANSER.

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