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Among the fiercest criticisms of U.S. intelligence in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks was that the intelligence community had not developed adequate human intelligence sources to provide information on Al Qaeda. Here are some readings that explain why human intelligence -- like the kind provided by Abdurahman Khadr -- is so difficult to obtain but so critical to the fight against Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda.

Human Intelligence Collection

 

This excerpt from the book Silent Warfare: Understanding the World of Intelligence by Abram N. Shulsky and Gary J. Schmitt is a good primer on the basic types and sources of human intelligence, as well as the potential problems in relying on human sources.

National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States

 

Several staff statements issued by the 9/11 commission have addressed the intelligence community's difficulties in obtaining human intelligence prior to the Sept. 11 attacks:

 

» Staff Statement No. 7: Intelligence Policy
This staff statement describes "The Plan" that CIA officials developed prior to Sept. 11 to energize the recruitment of human agents to collect intelligence against Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda. It also describes the intelligence community's reliance on Afghan "proxies" to obtain information and the problems inherent in that strategy. [Note: This is a pdf file; Adobe Acrobat required]

 

» Staff Statement No. 11: The Performance of the Intelligence Community
The investigators determined, "Human source intelligence is conducted by both the CIA and the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA). Gaining access to organizations or individuals who have access to terrorist groups has proven extremely difficult for both the CIA and the DIA. This has led to a heavy reliance on 'walk-ins' and foreign intelligence services." [Note: This is a pdf file; Adobe Acrobat required]

Can't Anybody Here Play This Game?

 

In this February 1998 article for The Atlantic Monthly, a pseudonymous former CIA case officer assails the case officers in the agency's Directorate of Operations (the official name of the clandestine service, also known as the DO) for "debasing American espionage." He writes that the DO "has for years been running an espionage charade in most countries, deceiving itself and others about the value of its recruited agents and intelligence production" and warns that reform may be impossible. [The Atlantic Monthly, February 1998]

The Counterterrorist Myth

 

Shortly before the Sept. 11 attacks, The Atlantic Monthly published this prescient article by former CIA operative Reuel Marc Gerecht in which he argues that the U.S. intelligence community did not have the capability to gather human intelligence on Osama bin Laden or Al Qaeda. "Unless one of bin Laden's foot soldiers walks through the door of a U.S. consulate or embassy, the odds that a CIA counterterrorist officer will ever see one are extremely poor," he wrote. [The Atlantic Monthly, July/August 2001]

Fixing Intelligence

 

In this article for Foreign Affairs, Richard K. Betts, director of Columbia University's Institute of War and Peace Studies, argues that some of the reforms proposed in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks may make things worse. On the topic of human intelligence, he writes, "Human intelligence is key because the essence of the terrorist threat is the capacity to conspire." However, he warns, "Building up human intelligence networks worldwide is a long-term project. It inevitably spawns concern about waste (many such networks will never produce anything useful), deception, (human sources are widely distrusted), and complicity with murderous characters... These are prices that can be borne politically in the present atmosphere of crisis. If the sense of crisis abates, however, commitment to the long-term project could falter." [Foreign Affairs, January/February 2002]

A Nasty Business

 

Bruce Hoffman writes, "Indeed, as is now constantly said, success in the struggle against Osama bin Laden and his minions will depend on good intelligence. But the experiences of other countries, fighting similar conflicts against similar enemies, suggest that Americans still do not appreciate the enormously difficult -- and morally complex -- problem that the imperative to gather 'good intelligence' entails." [The Atlantic Monthly, January 2002]

 

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posted april 22, 2004

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