Why no prior warning? Were there clues pointing to it? Or, did the nature of this terrorist attack make it inevitable? Those are the questions, and here are some answers from: former Senator Warren Rudman (R-N.H.), chairman of the President's Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board from 1997 to 2000; Bill Esposito, former deputy director of the FBI; Rich DiSabatino, director of Intelligence Support Group Ltd.; Congressman Porter Goss (R-Fl.), chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence; and Jeffrey Smith, former general counsel of the CIA.
Rudman was chairman of the President's Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board from 1997 to 2000.
· read rudman's full interview
Were the events of Sept. 11 the result of an intelligence
Of course it was an intelligence failure. By definition, when something bad
happens to you, and you didn't know about it, it's an intelligence failure. The
more important question is, is it something that we likely should have found
out? I say no.
Look, U.S. intelligence knew in November of 1941 that the Japanese fleet was
moving about the western Pacific. I mean, they were watching the fleet. They
couldn't quite figure out the intentions until December 7.
In Europe, in November of 1944, American intelligence and British intelligence
knew the Germans were massing forces in and around the Ardennes. They didn't
know why until the Battle of the Bulge.
In 1990, we were aware Saddam Hussein was making unusual movements of armored
forces in his country, in various places. We didn't know why until he invaded
Kuwait. You know, how many times does that have to happen before you realize
that intelligence on intentions is very difficult to ascertain? ...
And anybody who believes that intelligence, even with beefing up human
intelligence, will be good enough to predict that these shadowy organizations
can be penetrated in a way that we will be able to, with impunity, determine
what they're going to do and where and when they're going to do it -- they're
just whistling in the cemetery. That is not going to happen. ...
Understand the duties of intelligence agencies. We have to know about people's
capabilities. We have to know about their capacity to injure us. We would like
to know their intentions. But I will repeat to you: We do find out intentions
some of the time, but not all of the time. And in this business -- it's a
zero-sum business -- if you don't find it all the time, then what happened in
New York is what will happen again, chilling as that may be. ...
Well, there's some indications. Israelis, in particular, although they have
some interest in this obviously, are saying now that it looks like there may be
some Hezbollah involvement, looks like there may be some Iraqi involvement, and
they're also pointing their finger at this man, Zawahiri, who's an Egyptian
ally of bin Laden's.
... Mossad, according to the press, had told American authorities that there
were a large number of people that they believed were terrorists, who they had
information were making their way into the United States. That's very important
information. What do you do with it? Well, you try to locate these people.
We've got 3.5 million people a day crossing our borders. 380,000 vehicles. You
know, 58,000 containers on ships. It's very hard, with that kind of raw
information, to target it.
I'm not making apologies for the intelligence community. They can defend
themselves. I'll make this observation: If we think that intelligence is going
to give us the weapon to prevent this from happening -- all the time -- we're
Esposito was a deputy director of the FBI during the Clinton administration.
· read esposito's full interview
Why do you think this happened on Sept. 11 and we weren't able to stop
If I had that answer, I'd probably be the richest man in the country. The
United States is an open society. ... There are a lot of people who cross our
borders every day, who fly into this country, a lot of people who get visas,
who go to graduate school here, who work here. And we, as a government, do not
track every one of these people. Even if we wanted to, we couldn't. There's too
many of them. When a group of individuals get together and decide to commit an
evil act, a lot of times law enforcement finds out about it and they prevent
it. Sometimes they can't. If they're a group that is very closed-mouth, that
watch what they're doing, it is very hard, no matter how much intelligence you
The way this has been unfolding, it seems like everyone was asleep at the
wheel, because all of these guys from the Middle East were taking flight
training courses here in the United States.
Today, after Sept. 11, it looks like, "Why didn't anybody know that?" But
before Sept. 11, you have a situation where you have a number of people,
and it's just not people of Arabic extraction. It's a number of people signing
up for flight schools and taking lessons. We've gone through a couple years
where the economy has been real good in this country. More people are flying,
more people are buying planes, small planes, for their own use. So it probably
was not out of the ordinary. As a matter of fact, I'm convinced of that,
because if it was out of the ordinary, there would have been more calls
into law enforcement about what was going on. ...
If you were an agent and you got a phone call before Sept. 11 saying,
"There is a man with a Saudi passport taking commercial flight training here at
my school, and I'm suspicious," could you open a case?
Probably just on that, no. Not unless you checked the name and found out that
this was a name that was actually tied to a terrorist cell somewhere. ... If
you checked their name and maybe did a credit and criminal check, track it
through some other type of indexes that the government has and came up
negative, then you'd probably say, "Let me know if you see anything else."
So you couldn't just get a national security wiretap or...
No, not just because somebody of a foreign nationality was going to flight
school. I mean, there's people that do that every day. ...
Do you think it's basically that this was not an intelligence failure, that
this was just inevitable because of the kind of society we have?
It's a hard question to answer. To say that because of our society, anything
that happens, so be it--that's not totally accurate. Having an open society, as
I discussed earlier, doesn't help the situation. But that's the kind of society
we also want. ...
DiSabatino is director of Intelligence Support Group Ltd., a private company.
· read disabatino's full interview
How come we didn't have a prior warning--at least from all the electronic
eavesdropping that we do, and on someone like bin Laden, who was obviously a
target of our intelligence agencies?
Bin Laden as a target is an extreme target. It's very hard to do. And one of
the reasons is because of the technology that's involved. Bin Laden's group has
notoriously used scramblers, internet encryption, fiber optics; and it's been
very hard for us to intercept that type of transmission. ...
Now wait a second. I thought we were able to take this stuff out of the sky,
let's say, and not only listen to it and record it, but we have computers that
can decrypt it.
Well, we are probably one of the most powerful intelligence agencies in the
world. However, we have a long way to go, especially with a new threat such as
sophisticated targets, such as bin Laden. For instance, we can receive
information and it could be processed automatically on keyword recognition.
However, if that information was scrambled or encrypted, you would not be able
to even hear the keyword until it was processed in the clear.
He makes a phone call or a bunch of people in Afghanistan are making a phone
call. We can collect that, right?
That's correct. If it's being transmitted in the airwaves, we could collect
So can't we just listen to it at that point?
No, at that point, it would have to be decoded. For instance, if it was a
digital phone, it would come across in digital process. In intelligence
gathering, that information is recorded and then processed at a later date.
So it's not done usually in real time?
Not unless it's an active surveillance. Usually there's such an amount of
information that's being gathered that it has to be processed at a later time,
So it's not surprising to you that, despite all of our electronic
eavesdropping, we didn't have anything to lead us to believe that something was
No, not at all. The [lack of] advanced notice is not surprising, because of the
amount of time that it would take to decode, the amount of time and manpower
and budget requirements that it would take to do this on all the targets
throughout the country; actually, throughout the world. ... Because of the
level of sophistication, it was impossible to figure out what was going on in a
real time mode, in a mode that would have given us the proper warning for the
constraints that were on our intelligence agency at the time.
Goss is chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence.
· read goss's full interview
How is it that we didn't have any advance warning of this particular
Well, we certainly had plenty of alerts that there was something going to
happen. What we didn't have was the where, and the when, and the how. And no
matter how hard we tried, there are enough of these terrorists out there now
that they can occasionally make things happen that we are not going to know
about, because we do not have enough resources deployed across the network to
know all of these things timely. That's a sad state of affairs, and one that
needs to be repaired. But it would be absolutely wrong, as some have suggested,
to say this is the greatest intelligence failure or law enforcement failure or
FAA failure or border immigration-type failure that we've ever had. It's a
combination of all things. They simply, very cunningly in this case, and got
through the net, because they outthought all of the systems we have in place
and did it very well. This is crafty, cunning terrorism. ...
The job of the intelligence community is prediction and prevention, and the
World Trade Center is not an unusual target. It's not something that hasn't
even been hit before, and they take it down.
Yes. The point is, should we have known with specificity a date and a time and
a place that the Trade Center was going to be hit again? The answer is that I
wish I could say yes. But we do not have the capability right now to know all
of those things. ...
I know that there was much amusement in the phrase "new world order" after the
Soviet empire crumbled and the wall went down. Actually, things are different,
and you can describe it any way you want, but it is a new world. We have
different kinds of threats, and some of our defense capabilities and some of
our intelligence capabilities are designed for the old order. We need to
readjust them and design them for the new order. ...
Six thousand dead people, the way it happened, is an aberration of horror. The
fact it was committed by human beings is what makes it worse. The question of,
can you stop human beings like that on a day-in day-out basis? The answer is,
no. You simply cannot stop somebody who is bent on suicide and doing mayhem.
Now, can you stop something as organized as that? ... And even though it was
simple in its concept, it took some complication to make it all happen and
execute. You ought to be able to stop that. And the answer is, yes, we can
But you cannot go through the day every day on high alert. One of the biggest
problems we have had in the past six months with all of the alerts that we are
getting -- and we are getting them from walk-ins, we are getting them from all
of our sources, we're getting them from the rumor mill, we're getting them from
the usual suspects -- suddenly we've got this abundance of information coming
in, saying, "The sky is going to fall soon." ... How often can you keep your
troops on alert? ... You just can't keep them on alert every day, because after
a while, alert doesn't mean anything. ...
There are not enough people to examine all the information. We are inundated
with tidbits of information. Finding in these ever-growing haystacks the
nuggets, the needles that we need, has become increasingly difficult, because
the haystacks have taken on a culture of their own now. ...
We don't have enough analysts. We are hopelessly underinvested in analysts.
These are again, the language people, the people familiar with the culture, the
people who have actually been on the street in Khartoum or wherever you want to
go, who understand a little bit what this means.
Sitting in a chair one way might mean something to one person; it might be
unremarkable to somebody else. If you know the culture and see the way a person
is gesturing with his hands or his feet or something, you get a message that
you might not get if you don't understand the culture. So it is critical that
we have those people. We're horrendously underinvested in them. ...
Smith was general counsel of the CIA from 1995 to 1996.
· read smith's full interview
The CIA's job is to predict and prevent damage to the United States.
It didn't happen this time.
Terrible failure. The CIA was created in 1948 to prevent another Pearl Harbor,
and their most important job is warnings of attacks on the United States.
That's what they spend a lot of time on, and in this case, it was a terrible
failure. Nobody feels that more than the U.S. intelligence agencies. And as we
speak, they're working as hard as they can, pouring every resource, every ounce
of energy they can into finding out who did this, finding out whether there are
any future attacks being planned, and trying to prevent it. But there is no way
to say this other than it was a terrible failure, and to learn the lessons from
it that we must.
The difference with Pearl Harbor is that in the wake of Pearl Harbor, within
ten days, the admiral who was in charge of the Pacific Fleet at the time, was
demoted, and a national, if you will, compromise was worked out, where we said
we wouldn't investigate until the end of the war to figure out exactly what
should be done in the future. In this case, it just seems as if we're
continuing on. What is our intelligence community up to?
Well, they have been very successful in the past. They have predicted a number
of things. They have been able to prevent a number of terrorist
actions--everything from drug activities in Central and South America, the U.S.
intelligence community has been successful in; but they've had terrible
mistakes. The downing of the innocent airplane over Peru is clearly another
example of a failure.
This is a very difficult business, and chemical and biological weapons are
particularly difficult to attack. If you can brew beer, you can make a
biological weapon. If you think for a moment about the number of breweries in
the world, is it reasonable to expect that any organization could identify
every brewery in somebody's garage, in some obscure part of the world, that
might be trying to "cook" a biological weapon that they want to launch against
the United States? It is physically not possible, and I think that nothing
would be served by having an exercise in keelhauling U.S. senior intelligence
officials right now.
Nobody feels worse than they do. Nobody is more dedicated than they are, right
now, to finding out what went wrong, fixing it and preventing this in future.
My own view is that we ought to look at the procedures and rules under which
they operate. We ought to look at the manner in which cooperation occurs or
doesn't occur between the U.S. intelligence community and the law enforcement
community. We ought to look at the way in which our government deals with
foreign governments, the amount of information shared back and forth, and we
need to build the kind of coalitions that the president is talking about.
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