The United States is capable of surmounting its formidable difficulties in anticipating and preventing terrorist attacks. That was the general conclusion at The Institute of World Politics’ conference on “Warning, Counterintelligence and Intelligence for Counterterrorism,” the second William J. Casey Conference on Intelligence Requirements for the 21st Century.
Former CIA Director and Defense Secretary James Schlesinger, the keynote speaker (pictured), pointed out that many intelligence “failures” are not the fault of the security or intelligence services at all. “Intelligence tends to be the favorite scapegoat of politicians,” he noted, who “frequently ascribe to the intelligence community failures which are really failures of policy.”
At the same time, though, “Wishful thinking and self-deception reflecting an established mindset” pervade in the intelligence community, which misperceived the emerging terrorist problem and led to some of the failures that al Qaeda exploited to launch its September 11, 2001 attacks, he added. The system remains configured to fight the Cold War and has not revolutionized itself, as the military is trying to do, to combat new strategic threats.
“Technology allows us to make these changes, but we haven’t really taken advantage of it,” said Diane Dornan Roark, longtime staff member of the House of Representatives Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. The solution goes beyond funding levels: “Money is not quality [in intelligence]. We have already thrown a lot of money at some of these problems, and it hasn’t done any good.”
To achieve better warning and prediction of impending threats, Constantine Menges, a former senior CIA officer and National Security Council staff member, noted inadequate academic foundations for those who process and interpret intelligence. “We need to improve the training of analysts. We also need to improve analysis. And we need to allow for the presentation of dissenting views” among analysts, he said.
Others saw a conformity and orthodoxy, a decay of intellectual capability and integrity, and even laziness, created by the ease of “cut-and-paste” computer research. Retired Special Forces officer and counterterrorism consultant Wade Ishimoto found little actionable value in the intelligence analysis needed for successful counterinsurgency and counterterror operations. “There’s too much ‘analysis by mouse,’” he said. “We need more product … with operational value.”
IWP professor Herbert Romerstein, who served on the House intelligence committee staff, discussed the question of whether the U.S. can win the war if political leaders and intelligence services are allowed “to cook intelligence for political correctness.” People who want to be trendy and non-offensive, he pointed out, “find it difficult to believe certain things about potential enemies.”
Politicization has always been a problem in Washington, according Fritz Ermarth, a CIA veteran and former director of the National Intelligence Council. “It got particularly bad in the ’90s. I saw it, especially on Russia policy, and I guarantee you, it applied to terrorism, as well. But that’s only part of a larger set of pathologies, which I think are at the root of our difficulties. For lack of a better term, I call it ‘deprofessionalization.’ Bureaucratization is part of it,” he said.
Counterintelligence, including foreign counter- intelligence, is crucial to the war effort, several speakers agreed. The U.S. must remain on the offense. “I believe defensive antiterrorism is ‘mission impossible,'” said Angelo Codevilla, professor of international relations at Boston University and former member of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence staff.
“Terrorism is, by definition, attacks against noncombatants, who cannot protect themselves, as combatants ordinarily do. Hence,” Dr. Codevilla argued, “attempts to provide civilians with protection against random mayhem must either be wholly unserious or foredoomed attempts to militarize civil society.”
Former CIA Deputy Director of Operations Ted Price, while differing with many of Dr. Codevilla’s points, agreed: “There’s no question in my mind – whether we’re talking about classic counterintelligence or about countering terrorism – that the best, most effective operations are offensive. Defensive operations don’t get us there. You’ve got to have good penetrations.”
The U.S. will continue to depend heavily on the cooperation of foreign security and intelligence services, and must maintain productive relationships with the services of regimes that Americans find distasteful or even loathsome. “We cannot work alone,” said Graham Fuller, RAND political scientist and former National Intelligence Council official, but “we’ve got to be very leery of many of the governments we’re working with.”
Ray Batvinis, a retired FBI special agent, argued that it should not be difficult for the United States to penetrate terrorist organizations. “We saw two Al Qaeda defectors who testified in federal court in New York City against the bombers of the American Embassies in Dar-es-Salaam, Tanzania, and in Kenya. It can be done. It’s not that difficult” with effective human intelligence penetration.
Other speakers at the October 29, 2002 conference included Washington Times national security correspondent Bill Gertz; Peter Schweizer, author of Reagan’s War (Doubleday, 2002), a chronicle of President Ronald Reagan’s four-decade war on communism that brought about an end to the Soviet Union; and Kenneth deGraffenreid, IWP intelligence professor and currently deputy under secretary of defense for policy support.
Boston University Chancellor John Silber, whose personal support has been instrumental in the Institute’s development and growth, attended the entire event, as did the conference benefactors, Bernadette Casey Smith and her husband, Dr. Owen Smith.