Can the U.S. find the right balance of response to terror intelligence?
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In response to "Fairness, Sen. Paul" (Jan. 31 letters), intelligence failures like Benghazi or 9/11 seem obvious in hindsight. While leaders like former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton or former President George W. Bush certainly deserve their share of blame, so too does the intelligence community, our policymakers and, by extension, we the U.S. voters.
The attacks on 9/11 serve as a perfect case study. The Aug. 6 security memo "Bin Laden Determined to Strike in U.S." contained no actionable language and no words of estimative probability. Even if the intelligence was clear and actionable, the policies were still not in place to deal with these implications. Indeed, stretching back to the 1998 embassy bombings in Africa, as well as the attack on the U.S.S. Cole in 2000, anti-terrorism policies were reactionary, rarely proactive.
Finally, even with perfect intelligence and a prevention plan, it's still questionable if 9/11 could have been stopped. If the president had the date and method of attack it would have required intense security at airports, which means pat-downs and delays. Today's air travelers despise these methods even though it was exactly how terrorists attacked. Imagine trying to implement a TSA-like security plan based purely on confidential probabilities! The administration would have been hammered by the media and the public (and justifiably so!). Ironically, the Iraq WMD fiasco serves as a perfect example of when this faith in intelligence goes too far in the other direction.
It's worth holding our leaders' feet to the fire, as Sen. Rand Paul did, but it's also important to look at ourselves and ask what sacrifices we're willing to make based solely on intelligence estimates we'll never get to see until after the fact.
First Published February 5, 2013 12:00 am