Man Hunters.

Before the Second World War the United States possessed intelligence-gathering organizations that were derisory in comparison to those of the great powers. The War Department gathered information on the military capabilities of foreign states from military attaches; the State Department reported on political and economic developments; both War and State maintained signals intelligence (code-breaking) offices. However, the US possessed no “secret intelligence service” equivalent to the British MI-6 or the action services of other countries. During the Second World War, the US sought to make good this deficiency with the temporary Office of Strategic Services (OSS). After the Second World War, America’s new global role and the Cold War demanded an enhanced intelligence-gathering capability. In 1947, Congress created the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) to fill this role. Filled with wartime OSS veterans, the new agency had a predisposition to clandestine action, not just to intelligence gathering. Confronting the brutal Soviet KGB around the globe, CIA played a rough game. Eventually, CIA fell afoul of changed national values. The Church Committee hearings led to restrictions on CIA action like assassinations. From the mid-Seventies onward, CIA concentrated conventional intelligence-gathering and analysis.

Then came 9/11.[1] The scales fell from their eyes, or they had a Road to Damascus experience, or whatever other Biblical reference occurs to you. An executive order from President George W. Bush overturned the limits on action. CIA agents lashed out at Al Qaeda operatives wherever they came within reach. Some were killed, either by a rapidly-expanded paramilitary arm of CIA or by drone strikes. Some were captured and subjected to “enhanced interrogation.” In 2003, the US attacked Iraq, only to see early triumph turn into a gory insurgency that seemed to have no end. Soon, there came a backlash against both big wars and the use of torture.[2] A new consensus emerged: killing terrorists is acceptable, but torturing them is not. Certainly, it is less likely to get people keel-hauled by a Congressional committee. According to Mark Mazzetti, CIA “went on a killing spree.” Drones and commandos struck Islamists[3] in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia. While banning the use of torture, President Barack Obama has continued all the other programs begun by the Bush administration.

Arguably, the results have been as disastrous, if not quite so dramatic, for American intelligence as for the Islamists hit by Hellfire missiles launched from Predator drones. In an Econ 101 analysis, multiple needs compete for finite resources. Resources (money, manpower, attention) spent “man-hunting” can’t be devoted to other needs. Yet the US faces multiple current, latent, and potential threats.

The CIA already suffered from maladaptation between the end of the Cold War and 9/11. Its budget fell as part of the “peace dividend”; spending on new technologies further reduced the resources for human intelligence-gathering and analysis; and its former strengths in Soviet and East European issues could not easily be shifted to new areas. (Pashto and Polish both begin with a P, but there the similarity ends.)

America’s political culture is having a hard time discussing the choice between long-term trends and immediate action. The recent murder of five servicemen by what looks like an Islamist “lone wolf” will only make “man-hunting” seem more vital than ever.

[1] Mark Mazzetti, The Way of the Knife: The CIA, a Secret Army, and a War at the Ends of the Earth (New York: Penguin, 2013).

[2] In 2004, CIA’s Inspector General condemned some of the practices as “unauthorized” and “inhumane.”

[3] Including the occasional American renegade who declined to surrender himself to more formal American justice.


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

Second, there were restrictions on the sharing of information.

The Watergate-era investigations of government abuses of power led to the adoption (1976, 1983) of highly-restrictive rules for domestic intelligence gathering.

In addition, in 1978 Congress passed the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) that controlled domestic intelligence gathering directed against a foreign power, usually by the FBI. The Justice Department’s Office of Intelligence Policy and Review (OIPR) took charge of presenting applications for a FISA warrant to the FISA court. The Justice Department’s initial interpretation of the law limited co-operation between criminal prosecutors and the FBI agents gathering FISA information, but in 1994-1995 the Clinton Administration’s Justice Department (acting head of OIPR Richard Scruggs, Deputy Attorney General Jamie Gorelick) further tightened restrictions on contact between the FBI and prosecutors in national security cases. (p. 115.)

“These [1995] procedures were almost immediately misunderstood and misapplied.” (p. 115.) OIPR then bullied the FBI and Criminal Division prosecutors into compliance with this “misunderstanding” of what the procedures actually required. Reviews of these issues in 1999, 2000, and 2001 all concluded that the 1995 procedures were being misapplied to the detriment of national security, but no one did anything to correct the problem. (p. 116.) [NB: Neither Attorney General Janet Reno nor Gorelick tried to correct what the 9/11 Report later characterized as a “misunderstanding.”]

As a result, FBI agents working on intelligence matters communicated but little with both prosecutors and with FBI agents working on criminal matters, although they did pick up lots of useful information from their contacts with the NSA and the CIA. FBI counterintelligence became a sort of black hole in the Justice Department. (p. 116.)

Third, there was a sort of autism prevalent in the FBI. “The FBI simply did not produce the kind of intelligence reports that other agencies routinely wrote and disseminated. As law enforcement officers, Bureau agents tended to write up only witness interviews. Written cases analysis usually occurred only in memoranda to supervisors requesting authority to initiate or expand an investigation.” (p. 259.)

Fourth, Louis Freeh did not communicate with President Clinton. (p. 513.) [NB: I don’t know if this is a reflection of the on-going investigations of Clinton? Somebody needed to give up in the scandals for the good of the country.]

Other Law Enforcement Agencies. “Before 9/11, with the exception of one portion of the FBI [essentially the New York City field office], very little of the sprawling U.S. law enforcement community was engaged in countering terrorism.” (p. 120.) The Department of Justice has the U.S. Marshals Service and the Drug Enforcement Agency; the Treasury Department has the Secret Service, the Customs Service, and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms. The Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) was swamped trying to deal with the flood of both legal aliens (requiring naturalization) and illegal aliens (flooding in over the southern border). The INS was woefully under-funded relative to its responsibilities. Although the INS attempted to respond to terrorism after the 1993 WTC bombing, “might have been” horror stories abound. (pp. 118-120.)

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.)

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

The “planes operation” called for a large group of “muscle hijackers” to seize the cockpits of airliners in flight, then bar to door to any rebellious passengers while the smaller number of pilots flew the planes into buildings.

The “muscle hijackers” all obtained new passports in their home countries, then during September, October, and November 2000, obtained visas to enter the United States. (p. 340.) The muscle hijackers were back in Afghanistan from late 2000/early 2001 until Spring 2001. In Afghanistan they were given advanced training on terrorism, much—but not all–of which dealt with seizing control of an airplane in flight. (pp. 341-342.)

In April, May, and June 2001 the muscle hijackers began being moved toward the United States. (pp. 341-342.) In early July 2001 Midhar, the original hijacker who had bailed out for a time, returned to the United States. (p. 344.) Upon arrival in the United States, most of the muscle hijackers were brought to Florida. They seem to have spent their time going to gyms to work out. Thus, the muscle hijackers were in the United States from April through August 2001 at the longest. Three to five months for something to go wrong for al Qaeda; three to five months for the US government to notice something odd about twenty foreigners.

During Spring and Summer 2001 the pilots made several reconnaissance flights. Some of these were across the United States in the same type of planes they would command during the final attack; others were in small aircraft along the “Hudson Corridor” air route that passes Manhattan. (pp. 352-353.) They also did a lot of practice flying in small planes.

In June 2001 UBL pressed KSM to attack in June or July 2001, possibly to coincide with a visit to Washington by Ariel Sharon, but KSM resisted this pressure. (p. 360.) Instead, in July 2001 the “planes operation” had to be postponed until September 2001 because of another glitch (probably the uncertainty over one of the pilits, Zaid Jarrah). (p. 360.) Jarrah differed from the other hijackers in a number of ways and he also resented the domineering Atta; by July 2001 the conflict between the two men aroused concern that Jarrah might back out of the operation. (pp. 352-353.) In late July 2001 Jarrah returned to Germany with a one-way ticket purchased by his girl-friend in Germany.

In early July 2001 Mohammad Atta and Ramzi Binalshibh met in Spain to confer on last details. Atta was trying to co-ordinate four transcontinental air flights that would be departing almost simultaneously from East Coast cities. Moreover, Atta was aware that national leaders were usually on vacation in August and therefore out of Washington, DC. He wanted to delay the attack until early September. (p. 356.) NB: Atta wanted to kill a lot of members of Congress.

On 10 July 2001 Zacarias Moussaoui arranged to take renewed flight training in Egan, Minnesota, with the course scheduled to run from 13 to 20 August 2001. In late July 2001 Binalshibh wire transferred $15,000 to Moussaoui. (p. 354.) On 10 August 2001 Moussaoui left Oklahoma for Minnesota; on 13 August 2001 he began his simulator training, but aroused the suspicion of his instructors; several days later he was arrested by the INS. (pp. 354-355.)

Then things began to move forward for the operation. In the first half of August 2001 Jarrah returned to the United States to assume his place as one of the pilots. Moussaoui was now irrelevant. Between 29 June and 17 September 2000 Ali Abdul Aziz Ali, another nephew of KSM wire-transferred $114,500 in five tranches. (p. 324.) Between 25 August and 5 September 2001 all the plane tickets were purchased. (p. 357.) The attack would come on 11 September 2001.