But what about your adversaries difficulties? It seems odd to always be sounding the alarm without first accounting for not only what they would like to do, but also what might stop them even without an intervention.Throughout the 1990s, even as America’s spy agencies warned of al-Qaeda’s growing danger, these institutions were stuck in the Cold War. Money poured into technological platforms that could count Soviet warheads from space instead of human intelligence efforts better suited for penetrating terrorist groups on the ground. George Tenet, the CIA director on September 11, had tried but failed to upgrade his agency’s counterterrorist capabilities and better coordinate counterterrorism intelligence across the federal government. Although the FBI formally declared terrorism its No. 1 priority years before 9/11, in 2001 only 6 percent of FBI personnel were working on counterterrorism issues and FBI special agents received more time for vacation than for counterterrorism training. A massive effort to reform the bureau’s counterterrorism capabilities across the FBI’s U.S. field offices ended in disaster: Just weeks before 9/11, an internal report gave all 56 offices failing grades. The assessment was considered so embarrassing, it was highly classified and only a handful of copies was ever produced.
I found that organizational weaknesses led the CIA and the FBI to miss 23 opportunities to penetrate and possibly stop the 9/11 plot. Among them are the facts that CIA officers had identified two suspected terrorists attending an al-Qaeda planning meeting in Malaysia, learned their full names, and discovered that one held a U.S. visa and the other had traveled to the United States. More than 50 CIA officials had access to this information, yet nobody told the State Department or the FBI for more than a year. Until 9/11, there was no formal training, no clear process, and no priority placed on warning other government agencies about dangerous terrorists who might travel to the United States. When the CIA finally did tell the FBI, 19 days before 9/11, the bureau designated its manhunt for the two suspected terrorists as “routine,” the lowest level of priority, and assigned it to a special agent who had just finished his rookie year. This wasn’t a mistake, either: For the FBI, catching perpetrators of past crimes had always been far more important than gathering intelligence to stop a potential terrorist attack.
The pair should not have been that hard to find. They were hiding in plain sight inside the United States, using their true names on identifiers such as rental agreements and credit cards. One was even listed in the San Diego telephone directory. And while living in San Diego, they made contact with several targets of FBI counterterrorism investigations, at one point living with an FBI informant.
The two operatives went on to crash American Airlines Flight 77 into the Pentagon. They didn’t need secret identities or clever schemes to succeed. They just needed the CIA and the FBI to operate as they usually did.
https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archi ... en/619781/