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Time, Complacency, Catastrophe

The Metric For Intel Reform Is Still Words, Not Deeds

By Michael Tanji | November 12, 2009

"Never again" we told ourselves, as we tacked pictures of victims leaping from the World Trade Center buildings to the streets below to the walls of our cubes. Eternal vigilance is what we pledged, openly or silently, so that another 9/11 would never happen if we had anything to say about it.

Well, on the aspect of scale the massacre at Ft. Hood may not be a 9/11, but in many other respects it is still an astonishing failure.

Leave ethnicity and religion out of it: A man who seemed at odds with his oath to his country; a man whose superiors questioned his fitness to serve and his mental state; a man who openly communicated with people who advocated violence against Americans and in particular soldiers; a man who donned the garb of those who have a substantial track record of violence and hatred against Americans; does this sound like the sort of person who shouldn't have been under intense scrutiny for the threat he posed? Someone whose ability to carry out such acts should have been minimized?

Of course he was under some scrutiny, but what data was collected and evaluated was given short shrift for myriad reasons, not the least of which is political correctness. Yet if we take ethnicity and religion out of the equation again, we would still find ourselves in a place where the people who could have made the most use of the information at hand - the people with the most to lose given the circumstances - were apparently ignorant of the threat in their midst.

Barring the revelation of some greater and more sinister plot that Major Hasan was linked to, and to which our ability to deal with effectively would have been compromised had he been taken out of play (his violent actions being an unforeseen event), there are far too many indicators that point this being yet another intelligence failure. To be more accurate, an intelligence-mechanism failure: a failure of the system to serve all its customers - not a simple case of being caught unawares because of ignorance.

Of course post-9/11 the ODNI was supposed to help fix all of that. New rules about "responsibility to share" and new tools to help collaborate across the intelligence community were supposed tear down stovepipes and help ensure that everyone studying the same problems worked together to cut down on institutionalized ignorance and reduce opportunities for surprise.

How's that working out then?

No security mechanism in place on any military base or shopping mall or high school stops what happened at Ft. Hood last week from happening tomorrow. Nothing, except for what intelligence we have on those like Maj Hasan (ethnicity or religion immaterial). Is this an intelligence problem? Yes. Is this a law enforcement problem? Yes. But the age-old argument about what to do with such people (law enforcement says get them off the street, intelligence says keep them around to see what else they drag up) comes to the same conclusion: they are threats to be dealt with rapidly and comprehensively. If they cannot be isolated, it should be made painfully clear to them that they are under intense scrutiny, thereby neutralizing their effectiveness as instruments of terror and death.

Somewhere, someone new to this business is tacking up a picture of the victims of the Ft. Hood massacre and telling themselves "never again." Next door to that person is an old intelligence hand shaking his head and wondering "why can't we get this right?"

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