But given the character and pace of their policy efforts, we do not believe they fully understood just how many people al Qaeda might kill, and how soon it might do it.
Confronting Terror: 9/11 and the Future of American National Security
At some level that is hard to define, we believe the threat had not yet become compelling. For example, a New York Times article in April sought to debunk claims that Bin Ladin was a terrorist leader, with the headline "U. Such differences affect calculations about whether or how to go to war. Therefore, those government experts who saw Bin Ladin as an unprecedented new danger needed a way to win broad support for their views, or at least spotlight the areas of dispute, and perhaps prompt action across the government.
The national estimate has often played this role, and is sometimes controversial for this very reason. The National Intelligence Estimate is noticed in the Congress, for example. By the government still needed a decision at the highest level as to whether al Qaeda was or was not "a first order threat," Richard Clarke wrote in his first memo to Condoleezza Rice on January 25, Is al Qida a big deal?
If that view was credited, then current policies might be proportionate.
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Another school saw al Qaeda as the "point of the spear of radical Islam. The issue was never joined as a collective debate by the U. We return to the issue of proportion-and imagination. Even Clarke's note challenging Rice to imagine the day after an attack posits a strike that kills "hundreds" of Americans. He did not write "thousands.
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The Case of Aircraft as Weapons Imagination is not a gift usually associated with bureaucracies. For example, before Pearl Harbor the U.
These were days, one historian notes, of "excruciating uncertainty. An attack was coming, "but officials were at a loss to know where the blow would fall or what more might be done to prevent it. But, another historian observes, "in the face of a clear warning, alert measures bowed to routine. Doing so requires more than finding an expert who can imagine that aircraft could be used as weapons.
Indeed, since al Qaeda and other groups had already used suicide vehicles, namely truck bombs, the leap to the use of other vehicles such as boats the Cole attack or planes is not far-fetched. Yet these scenarios were slow to work their way into the thinking of aviation security experts. The Gore Commission's report, having thoroughly canvassed available expertise in and outside of government, did not mention suicide hijackings or the use of aircraft as weapons. It focused mainly on the danger of placing bombs onto aircraft-the approach of the Manila air plot.
The Gore Commission did call attention, however, to lax screening of passengers and what they carried onto planes. In late , reports came in of a possible al Qaeda plan to hijack a plane. One, a December 4 Presidential Daily Briefing for President Clinton reprinted in chapter 4 , brought the focus back to more traditional hostage taking; it reported Bin Ladin's involvement in planning a hijack operation to free prisoners such as the "Blind Sheikh," Omar Abdel Rahman.
Had the contents of this PDB been brought to the attention of a wider group, including key members of Congress, it might have brought much more attention to the need for permanent changes in domestic airport and airline security procedures. The most prominent of these mentioned a possible plot to fly an explosives-laden aircraft into a U. This report, circulated in September , originated from a source who had walked into an American consulate in East Asia.
In August of the same year, the intelligence community had received information that a group of Libyans hoped to crash a plane into the World Trade Center. In neither case could the information be corroborated. In addition, an Algerian group hijacked an airliner in , most likely intending to blow it up over Paris, but possibly to crash it into the Eiffel Tower. There he had tried to create an air defense plan using assets from the Treasury Department, after the Defense Department declined to contribute resources. The Secret Service continued to work on the problem of airborne threats to the Washington region.
In , Clarke chaired an exercise designed to highlight the inadequacy of the solution. This paper exercise involved a scenario in which a group of terrorists commandeered a Learjet on the ground in Atlanta, loaded it with explosives, and flew it toward a target in Washington, D. Officials from the Pentagon said they could scramble aircraft from Langley Air Force Base, but they would need to go to the President for rules of engagement, and there was no mechanism to do so.
There was no clear resolution of the problem at the exercise. The most plausible explanation that emerged was that one of the pilots had gone berserk, seized the controls, and flown the aircraft into the sea. After the millennium alerts, when the nation had relaxed, Clarke held a meeting of his Counterterrorism Security Group devoted largely to the possibility of a possible airplane hijacking by al Qaeda.
After a solid recitation of all the information available on this topic, the paper identified a few principal scenarios, one of which was a "suicide hijacking operation. A suicide hijacking is assessed to be an option of last resort. The attorney had taken an interest, apparently on his own initiative, in the legal issues that would be involved in shooting down a U. None of this speculation was based on actual intelligence of such a threat. One idea, intended to test command and control plans and NORAD's readiness, postulated a hijacked airliner coming from overseas and crashing into the Pentagon.
The idea was put aside in the early planning of the exercise as too much of a distraction from the main focus war in Korea , and as too unrealistic. As we pointed out in chapter 1, the military planners assumed that since such aircraft would be coming from overseas; they would have time to identify the target and scramble interceptors. The challenge was to flesh out and test those scenarios, then figure out a way to turn a scenario into constructive action. Since the Pearl Harbor attack of , the intelligence community has devoted generations of effort to understanding the problem of forestalling a surprise attack.
Rigorous analytic methods were developed, focused in particular on the Soviet Union, and several leading practitioners within the intelligence community discussed them with us. These methods have been articulated in many ways, but almost all seem to have at least four elements in common: After the end of the Gulf War, concerns about lack of warning led to a major study conducted for DCI Robert Gates in that proposed several recommendations, among them strengthening the national intelligence officer for warning.
We were told that these measures languished under Gates's successors. Responsibility for warning related to a terrorist attack passed from the national intelligence officer for warning to the CTC. An Intelligence Community Counterterrorism Board had the responsibility to issue threat advisories. Considering what was not done suggests possible ways to institutionalize imagination.
To return to the four elements of analysis just mentioned: The CTC did not analyze how an aircraft, hijacked or explosives-laden, might be used as a weapon. It did not perform this kind of analysis from the enemy's perspective "red team" analysis , even though suicide terrorism had become a principal tactic of Middle Eastern terrorists. If it had done so, we believe such an analysis would soon have spotlighted a critical constraint for the terrorists-finding a suicide operative able to fly large jet aircraft.
The CTC did not develop a set of telltale indicators for this method of attack. For example, one such indicator might be the discovery of possible terrorists pursuing flight training to fly large jet aircraft, or seeking to buy advanced flight simulators. The CTC did not propose, and the intelligence community collection management process did not set, requirements to monitor such telltale indicators. Therefore the warning system was not looking for information such as the July FBI report of potential terrorist interest in various kinds of aircraft training in Arizona, or the August arrest of Zacarias Moussaoui because of his suspicious behavior in a Minnesota flight school.
Neither the intelligence community nor aviation security experts analyzed systemic defenses within an aircraft or against terrorist-controlled aircraft, suicidal or otherwise. The many threat reports mentioning aircraft were passed to the FAA. While that agency continued to react to specific, credible threats, it did not try to perform the broader warning functions we describe here. No one in the government was taking on that role for domestic vulnerabilities. Richard Clarke told us that he was concerned about the danger posed by aircraft in the context of protecting the Atlanta Olympics of , the White House complex, and the G-8 summit in Genoa.
But he attributed his awareness more to Tom Clancy novels than to warnings from the intelligence community. He did not, or could not, press the government to work on the systemic issues of how to strengthen the layered security defenses to protect aircraft against hijackings or put the adequacy of air defenses against suicide hijackers on the national policy agenda.
The methods for detecting and then warning of surprise attack that the U. They were not employed to analyze the enemy that, as the twentieth century closed, was most likely to launch a surprise attack directly against the United States. The terrorism fostered by Bin Ladin and al Qaeda was different from anything the government had faced before. The existing mechanisms for handling terrorist acts had been trial and punishment for acts committed by individuals; sanction, reprisal, deterrence, or war for acts by hostile governments. The actions of al Qaeda fit neither category.
Its crimes were on a scale approaching acts of war, but they were committed by a loose, far-flung, nebulous conspiracy with no territories or citizens or assets that could be readily threatened, overwhelmed, or destroyed. Pavitt recalled conveying that Bin Ladin was one of the gravest threats to the country. Pavitt said he and the DCI had answered that killing Bin Ladin would have an impact, but would not stop the threat. It added that in the long term, the only way to deal with the threat was to end al Qaeda's ability to use Afghanistan as a sanctuary for its operations.
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The main opportunities came after the new information the U. We described those decisions in chapter 4. It is worth noting that they were made by the Clinton administration under extremely difficult domestic political circumstances. Opponents were seeking the President's impeachment.
In addition, in President Clinton was preparing the government for possible war against Serbia, and he had authorized major air strikes against Iraq. The tragedy of the embassy bombings provided an opportunity for a full examination, across the government, of the national security threat that Bin Ladin posed. Such an examination could have made clear to all that issues were at stake that were much larger than the domestic politics of the moment. But the major policy agencies of the government did not meet the threat. The diplomatic efforts of the Department of State were largely ineffective.
Al Qaeda and terrorism was just one more priority added to already-crowded agendas with countries like Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. Policymakers turned principally to the CIA and covert action to implement policy.
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But there were limits to what the CIA was able to achieve in its energetic worldwide efforts to disrupt terrorist activities or use proxies to try to capture or kill Bin Ladin and his lieutenants. As early as mid, one CIA officer wrote to his supervisor: Officials in both the Clinton and Bush administrations regarded a full U. It was never the subject of formal interagency deliberation. Lesser forms of intervention could also have been considered. One would have been the deployment of U. Then the United States would no longer have been dependent on proxies to gather actionable intelligence.
However, it would have needed to secure basing and overflight support from neighboring countries. A significant political, military, and intelligence effort would have been required, extending over months and perhaps years, with associated costs and risks. Given how hard it has proved to locate Bin Ladin even today when there are substantial ground forces in Afghanistan, its odds of sucess are hard to calculate.
We have found no indication that President Clinton was offered such an intermediate choice, or that this option was given any more consideration than the idea of invasion. These policy challenges are linked to the problem of imagination we have already discussed. Since we believe that both President Clinton and President Bush were genuinely concerned about the danger posed by al Qaeda, approaches involving more direct intervention against the sanctuary in Afghanistan apparently must have seemed-if they were considered at all-to be disproportionate to the threat.
Insight for the future is thus not easy to apply in practice. It is hardest to mount a major effort while a problem still seems minor. Once the danger has fully materialized, evident to all, mobilizing action is easier-but it then may be too late. To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up. To ask other readers questions about Confronting Terror , please sign up. Lists with This Book. This book is not yet featured on Listopia. Savannah rated it it was amazing Oct 05, Max Solomon rated it liked it Jan 13, Melonie rated it liked it Aug 01, Ben rated it really liked it Dec 14, Amanda rated it really liked it Feb 01, Kathy rated it it was amazing Mar 01, Kelsey marked it as to-read May 09, Melissa Rerko marked it as to-read Jun 06, Collan marked it as to-read Oct 11, Please consider expanding the lead to provide an accessible overview of all important aspects of the article.
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