What We Learned from the Report of the 911 Commission XXVII.

The Federal Aviation Administration thought that security was not much of an issue and that a bombing was more likely than a hijacking, let alone a suicide-hijacking. Even so, FAA security was “seriously flawed prior to 9/11.” (p. 123.) Its intelligence assessment was focused overseas and in any event was ignored by the FAA leadership. No one in the other sections of the government (CIA, FBI, State Department) ever bothered to pass the multiple thousands of names on government terrorist “watch lists” to the FAA for inclusion on its passenger pre-screening lists. Many tests of passenger boarding security indicated that it could be easily breached, but no one ever took the matter seriously because effective measures would make air travel more cumbersome and even more of a pain in a neck that it was already. There were only 33 air marshals, and they guarded overseas flights.

Air carriers—or the security firms to which they contracted out the work—simply ignored requirements for continuous random searches of carry-on luggage. Previous experience with hijackings led to a common prescribed strategy of cooperation and conciliation. (pp. 121-126.)

The State Department had dominated the making and implementation of American foreign policy until the end of the Eisenhower administration in 1960; the Kennedy-Johnson administrations shifted leadership to the Defense Department, which took up the task with a will; the Nixon administration then concentrated leadership in the National Security advisor.   Budgets followed function, reducing the means the diplomats possessed to match their declining importance. (pp. 137-138.)

In the Sixties and Seventies terrorism wasn’t very important, so it was left to the State Department. Thereafter, terrorism policy became a tin can kicked from one place to another: in the Carter administration National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski seized control of the issue during the Iranian hostage crisis in 1979-1981; in the Regan administration Secretary of State George Schultz adopted an aggressive stance on the matter in the Eighties, but found himself blocked by Caspar Weinberger’s resistance to military solutions; the Clinton State Department was largely indifferent to the issue relative to more pressing tasks. (pp. 138-140.)

Since the Eighties the military services have emphasized “jointness” (or you don’t get promoted). This has tended to homogenize the military advice provided to political leaders and it definitely shifted the balance of power within the services to favor the regional commands over the central authority of the Joint Chiefs. (pp. 140-141.) [NB: You will notice the parallel to the autonomy of CIA station chiefs and FBI SAICs.]

Once the Israelis whacked the Palestinian hijackers at Entebbe (1976) and the West Germans did the same at Mogadishu (1977), the Army created Delta Force. Delta Force suffered a humiliating catastrophe during the attempt to rescue the Iranian hostages (1980), then Hezbollah truck bombed the Marines in Beirut; then Army Special Forces suffered a perceived defeat in Mogadishu (1993). The American military took from these reverses a belief that special operations required “maximum preparation, overwhelming force, and a well-defined mission.” (p. 142.) Conversely, air strikes against Libya (1986) and against Iraq (1993) in response to acts of state-sponsored terrorism seemed to the American military to define an effective use of conventional military power against unconventional enemies. (pp. 143-144.)

Conversely, foreign terrorists may have taken the lesson that the Americans could be forced into retreat by relatively minor casualties suffered in spectacular acts of terrorism, and would respond to attack by blowing up a building, then going away. (pp. 143-144.)

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