What we learned from the Report of the 911 Commission XXV.

What Went Wrong?

The truck bombing of the World Trade Center in February 1993 had several noteworthy features. First, it heralded the arrival of a new sort of terrorism intended to create massive casualties among American civilians. Second, the American government responded in a devastating fashion through its law enforcement agencies. Third, the successful law enforcement response led American officials to both underestimate the new danger facing the country and to over-estimate the ability of the government to respond to that danger. (pp. 105-107.)

 

Adaptation—and Non-adaptation—in the Law Enforcement Community.

Superficially, it appeared that the FBI was taking strong action against terrorism in the 1980s and 1990s. In 1986 Congress authorized the FBI to investigate anti-American terrorism abroad; in 1989 Congress authorized the FBI to arrest people abroad without the consent of the host country. (pp. 109-111.) Louis Freeh (Director of the FBI, 1993-2001) established a Counterterrorism Division in the FBI, created a five year plan for counterterrorism (1998), multiplied the number of “legal attaches” abroad and urged them to co-operate with the local CIA stations.

The reality was very different. First, the FBI grants a lot of autonomy to each of its 56 Special Agents in Charge (SACs) to run their field offices; assesses performance on the basis of conventional crime statistics; rewards the “office of origin” for success in operations that involve more than one field office; and promotes on the basis of performance. Hence, FBI agents had powerful disincentives to investigate terrorism or espionage, or to co-operate with an investigation in a different field office. (pp. 108-109.)

The tendency toward local autonomy was strongly reinforced by Louis Freeh’s tenure as Director of the FBI (1993-2001). Moreover, Freeh never forced the re-allocation of budget resources to s upport counterterrorism and never forced the field offices to actually direct their efforts toward combating terrorism. This showed up in the hiring and deployment of analysts, the allocation of agents to intelligence and counterterrorism work, and the failure to create an effective system of information processing and communication with regard to terrorism. (pp. 111-114.)

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