The Intelligence Mess: How It Happened, What to Do About It
Intelligence-gathering is something of asquare peg in the round hole of contemporary political morality. It is about unearthing that which is willfully concealed, an enterprise that necessarily calls for invading privacy and inducing betrayal—discomfiting acts in an age that exalts the individual and his liberties above community and country. It is about assuming and preparing for the worst in an era that sees “bad” as an outmoded adjective for “different,” another dash of enlivening spice in a rich social stew. Intelligence is gimlet eyes in a world of rose-colored glasses.
Now, however, that foreign pathologies long denied have visited their excesses upon us, many among the benignly tolerant have turned overnight into the equivalent of ambulance-chasers. In particular, they have confidently laid at the door of America’s intelligence apparatus the success of America’s enemies on September 11, 2001. Even as investigators in the CIA and FBI were unable to “connect the dots,” it is said, nineteen al-Qaeda hijackers cavorted for months in this country before carrying out the atrocities of that day. Nor was this catastrophe—“by definition, the worst intelligence failure in our country’s history,” in the words of the Reagan-era intelligence expert Herbert Meyer—a singular phenomenon. Less than a year earlier, a billion-dollar battle ship, the U.S.S. Cole, had been bombed and nearly sunk, causing the deaths of seventeen servicemen, because we unwittingly berthed it in the al-Qaeda-infested port of Aden, Yemen. This, after our embassies in Kenya and Tanzania were turned to rubble in August 1998 by the very same al Qaeda, which had already attacked numerous times previously, and which no less often had expressly declared war on the United States.
About the Author
Andrew C. McCarthy directs the center for law and counterterrorism at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. In somewhat different form, this article will appear in his book, Willful Blindness: A Memoir of the Jihad, soon to be released by Encounter Books. Copyright 2008 by Andrew C. McCarthy.