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interview: porter goss

How it is that we didn't have any advance warning of this particular act?

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. ...

So that if it's not an intelligence failure, is it sort of an intellectual and policy failure?

I don't think failure is the right word.

about porter goss

The chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence and a former CIA officer, Porter Goss (R-Fl.) says the intelligence community was unprepared for the new terrorist threat. He calls for a new emphasis on qualified personnel to infiltrate terrorist organizations and analysts who can decode and understand the information gathered by electronic and other surveillance methods. This interview was conducted mid-September 2001.

Well, we lost the World Trade Center.

Yes, but here we are a nation at peace going along and all of a sudden some bad guys come along, and they are playing by different rules. They are not playing by the rules of civilization. ... They're playing by barbaric rules that hardly make sense. You can't logically get to the conclusion to do the kind of thing they did in a rational, sane, human way. So they have simply come in and done something that is, to us, unthinkable. ...

I'm sitting there at home, and I'm a taxpayer. I look at the budget, and it says, "$10 billion a year for counterterrorism." 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. ...

We were talking with former officials, high officials of the FBI and others, over the last couple of days about the whole problem of eavesdropping and electronic surveillance and the realities of it, as opposed to sort of the imagined fantasies of it. And one of the problems apparently has been having the cumbersome nature of the FISA process, the process of getting affidavits from a secret court [compared to getting permission in a criminal case under Title 3]. It's my understanding that that has interfered in some cases with actual eavesdropping in the last six months, with the actual overhearing of conversations. ...

I have heard of that problem. I have not heard of it as a major problem. Compared to some of the other problems we have about honing the tools we need, that has not been high on the chart. ... The attorney general, himself, I think has addressed that issue already. There are so many other things that we need to think about as well, however, that I think have been much more important in terms of tying our hands or dampening our enthusiasm to take some of the risk you need to take to get at these very hard targets, to penetrate into the inner circles of the community that we are targeting. ...

There is no question that there has been a dampening effect on our operatives overseas. There is no question that leaks have had a damaging effect on the cooperation we've got from people around the world. There is no question that we are not using all technology as well as we should and getting as much out of it.

There's quite a long list of things we can fix that we have been talking about for a number of years, saying, "Please let us have a fix for these things." Unfortunately, there has not been much response, because it has not been a subject that has caught people's attention; now it has.

Do you back changing the presidential directive on assassinations?

I don't think you need to back it. I think that the use of lethal force as a last resort in situations where you're trying to bring well-known criminals to justice is a concept most Americans are fairly comfortable with. It doesn't exactly go back to the "Wanted, Dead or Alive" poster. But the idea is, if you've got a criminal, and you've gone through the proper identification process, as you're trying to bring that person to justice, the person resists and tries to take a shot at our law enforcement people or our operatives in the field, I think that the possibility of lethal force is well understood. ...

Let me just make sure I understand. You don't believe we need to change the presidential directive on assassinations?

I don't think it's necessary. I think it is very important that we expand the number of arrows we have in the quiver of what I will call covert action, and I don't mean covert action, capital C, capital A. I just mean action that is not visible, where our hand doesn't show, or where you don't necessarily know where it's coming from, but it changes the course of events. It might be psychological warfare. It might be something going on in some circles, that change of financial outcome somewhere to the disadvantage of a terrorist. Things like that need to be expanded. We do not have a big enough bag of tricks to work with. But the assassination piece, the lethality question... We are a civilized nation. I don't think we are setting out where the idea is the way to deal with this is to go assassinate somebody. I think what we would start out with is we are going to catch that person and bring them to justice. And I think that is the way to look at this.

So no poison cigars for Castro? That's still out. No hit man like the Israelis might send to take out some leader of a Palestinian group?

I think in our system of government, there is a possibility of doing those kinds of things under extreme last resort circumstances with the appropriate oversight.

So that would change the presidential directive.

I don't think it would change the presidential directive, if you read it closely. My view is the president has the right to do that, but not an unfettered right to do that.

What about dealing with people who kill American citizens and commit mass murder or human rights violations in their own country; can we recruit them as agents? As in the Guatemala situation that led to the 1995 rules...

The guidelines for agent recruitment are an area of great debate, and the consequence of the dampening effect on [risk-taking] of some of our people, has been unmistakable. We have lost something since 1995.

What is it? What did we lose?

What I am suggesting is that the concern about the political backlash of having a flap in a foreign country, especially involving a human rights violator, is so great that it isn't worth [it to] our operatives out there. It isn't just a question of them being denied the opportunity to go do that. It's just the smart people out there say, "This isn't worth going at the target this way. I'll try and go at it another way." That's what's happened.

Has there been any intelligence failure because of that?

I would say yes. But ... how do you know what you don't know? ...

But have any of these restrictions impeded their ability to gather information?

In their view, yes. And that's the point. But if you go to the headquarters personnel here and talk to the top brass, they say, "No, because we give waivers. If they come in with a legitimate case, we'll give them a waiver." And I think they've said, "We've never turned them down." So there's a miscommunication going on here. ...

The whole issue is, at what level do you get approval to do that? That's essentially been the discussion. Can you get this approval in the field any more? No, you have to come home. You have to come to headquarters. Does headquarters want to ... be put in a position where they have to make these tough judgment calls? Not really. Therefore, if you're smart in the field, you don't send a hard decision back to headquarters. ...

So the people who are blaming the Church committee hearings back in 1975, former secretary of state...

That's another subject. ... The Church commission and the Pike commission, those reports really went at the whole argument about, do we need intelligence? Is intelligence so unsavory that we should not be in the business of intelligence? Will it be abused against Americans? Those were the kinds of questions. Will it be used for lethality in unwarranted situations? Those questions came out. And it was a very pejorative, negative atmosphere. CIA recruiters couldn't go to college campuses. All kinds of other sort of societal sanctions were heaped upon the intelligence community, and the CIA in particular. ...

The FBI has told us that they have had a problem over the last decade because there are almost no Arab-speaking FBI agents, and they've had to build up their capacity.

That's accurate.

We literally don't speak their language. We have a shortage of people who understand the dialects, the languages of those parts of the world where Muslims come from.

You're right. ... Despite oversight committee recommendations of all the appropriate committees and the appropriators and everybody else, we have not been able to get the administration to listen to, in the past decade, the need to invest in those capabilities; to diversify law enforcement agency and intelligence agencies; and train sufficiently to get the job done that needs to be done. ...

I recall back in the Aspin-Brown report as it came out, one of the main findings we made after investigating the roles and capabilities of our intelligence community back in the early 1990s was that we did not have the right mix of skills. ... There's not enough money to train people to speak the languages. There are not enough agents out there, enough officers out there, to recruit agents who speak the languages. There are not enough agents out there who speak the languages who are sympathetic to the United States of America and what it stands for. ...

What would the benefit be from having agents who actually steeped in the language, in the culture? What could they do for us in the future?

... They have the contacts. They know the culture. They know the places to go. They know the nerve centers. They can go to the right coffee shop at the right time and hear the right minister's aide talking to the other minister's aide and get the right information. You could study that target forever and not know that, unless you knew the local scene.

Those people are invaluable. We have fewer and fewer of them. And the tragedy is we have not brought along the next generation of them. We're going to have a generational gap of these people. We've lost them in droves in retirements. We've lost some, tragically, in casualties. ...

So to call it maybe an intelligence failure leading up to September 11 is a misnomer; it's almost a cultural failure to have the cultural ability to understand what's happening.

I like your view of calling it a cultural failure if you need to call it a failure.

Six thousand dead people is a failure.

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 stop that.

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. ...

It is what's referred to in the intelligence community as the "TPED" problem: tasking, processing, exploitation and dissemination. In other words, getting the value-added part of a raw bit of information, consolidated, analyzed with the smart look from the analysts; what this really means and signifies is getting that in a timely way to the decision maker, to the battlefield commander, to whatever the appropriate customer is. That is a problem that we are, as I said, horrendously underinvested in. It's not the glamour part of the business, but it's the essential part of the business.

We've got wonderful sensors. ... That's glamorous, in-place sensors. That's fun stuff. But when it talks about going through reams and reams and reams and reams of take, and say, "Does any of this stuff mean anything?" especially if it's in a foreign language or in code or in some other thing, that's very hard to deal with. That's hard work, and it takes a very dedicated person with a great deal of concentration to do that job well, and a huge amount of knowledge. And those people are hugely valuable, and they are probably under-rewarded in the system.

And hard to come by.

Very hard to come by. People say, "Well, don't you share with the university system or the private enterprise and so forth?" The answer is, we're doing that more and more. ... We go to the people who are expert in these things and say, "What do you think this means?" The intelligence community didn't use to do that. ...

The FBI tells us that if somebody at a flight school called in and said, "We have somebody who's an Arab national who's taking flight training, and said, 'I don't want to learn how to land...'"

They couldn't do anything about it. ... "And so what?" is exactly the answer.

They couldn't get a warrant. They couldn't do anything.

So, is that suspicious? Well, that wasn't suspicious until Tuesday. Now it's very suspicious. So that's also part of the thing we have to guard against. You do enough of these things, then pretty soon every time somebody forgets their shopping bag at lunch in department store in New York, somebody's going to see that bag and say, "Whoops, that may be a bomb", and evacuate the building. ...

Do you think that everybody who goes to flight school ought to have to go through an FBI investigation? Why? And if everybody who goes to flight school has to go through an FBI investigation, does that mean everybody who wants to get a license to be a ship captain or a navigator, or any other of the things that we do in our life -- be an engineer in a railroad train, where you can take what is a benign useful transportation function and turn it into a weapon of terror [should have to go through an FBI investigation]?

You're talking about going at this the wrong way. What we have to do, I think, to deal with the terrorist issue is exactly what the president said. You've got to take out the network. You've got to remove most of the wherewithal, the support, the feeling that there are safe harbors for those people anywhere. ...

A CIA officer told the New York Times, "You never stop all the attacks, because you never hear about all of them. You just can't spy on all of these groups. You have to destroy them, and that's not what the CIA has been set up to do."

That's true.

Do we need a James Bond agency that goes out and basically whacks people?

No, we don't. We don't need that. ... We have been trying to redefine our defense capabilities to respond to the kinds of threats we have today, and we're trying to do the same exact thing with intelligence, change the capabilities we have. Do we need more arrows in the quiver of small "c," covert action? The answer is yes. There is no doubt about that. Is it a James Bond assassination squad? Certainly not. It's a great movie, but movies, unfortunately, are not reality.

Back in the day when James Bond was popular, that was sort of the image of intelligence. Those were, in many ways, the heydays. ... Now we're in the position where we have had to overcome this sort of bad period where intelligence is not only unfashionable, it's un-American, and we don't want to do that any more. We've had to resist that, rebuild the financing for it, rebuild the recruiting, rebuild the morale. It has been a very hard problem, and we are caught a little short, and that's one of the reasons.

So when you say, *"Was this a cultural problem that we had?" The answer is partly yes, because we decided that the world didn't need quite as much intelligence, and we weren't sure what it exactly it should be. So we backed off from some stuff. I can't say we would have prevented the tragedies of last Tuesday if we'd had more intelligence. I'd just say the odds were higher that we could have.

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