Intelligence Gathering – Reliability 50%
The 9/11 Commission identified numerous intelligence failures that allowed the 9/11 attacks to take place and the Commission recommended far-reaching intelligence restructuring to improve our ability to prevent new ones. While it is too early to judge the effectiveness of changes to our intelligence-gathering capabilities on a macro scale, we believe intelligence is one of the few areas where identifiable progress has been made, at least at the FBI and the CIA.
Intelligence agencies have been given more latitude to operate, both informally by improved reliance on their longstanding capabilities, and by legal tools such as the U.S. Patriot Act, notwithstanding the Patriot Act’s commensurate adverse effect on individual privacy. Widely publicized failures, such as the FBI’s refusal to act on an agent’s warnings that student pilots might be training to hijack commercial airliners, stung badly, and we believe, for the most part, our premiere intelligence agencies are working to improve and analyzing multi-source information more effectively. The FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force has been very active in engaging, where there is sufficient reason to suggest it is appropriate.
This is in dramatic contrast to the way intelligence is handled by agencies such as the Transportation Security Agency. The TSA has little ability to analyze the import of a piece of intelligence, and so, frequently overreacts to innocent incidents, while ignoring very significant intelligence finds. The TSA is also hamstrung by an overly bureaucratic, politically sensitive leadership that places form before function and appearance before substance.
Across the board, however, there is weakness in the depth of intelligence analysis and the sharing of intelligence with frontline operators who not only have a need to know but who may be able to provide additional insight into the intel itself, as well as respond more effectively by being familiar with it. First responders, such as pilots, flight attendants, police and fire officials, and local leaders, report sometimes being left out of the loop, especially when they are being called upon to utilize vital resources to defend against an unspecified threat.
- When the FBI issued a bulletin in late 2004, that terrorists might use lasers to blind pilots, the bulletin’s dissemination did not include flight crews. Little more than a month later, multiple flight crews were targeted by lasers, with some pilots sustaining corneal burns to their eyes. While evidence does not currently suggest the laser attacks were terror related, if the bulletin had been issued to flight crews, there is no question they would have been better prepared.
But, by and large, these failures are due to bureaucracy. The premiere intelligence agencies, are, for the most part, operating in good faith. This is supported by occasional reports of new intelligence gathered and used to support changes to the present threat status, and cogent intelligence evaluations of new incidents and threats.
APSA believes our premiere intelligence agencies’ reliability in preventing new 9/11 attacks is fairly significant at around 50%, particularly since pre-9/11 intelligence existed but was simply not acted upon. We do not believe that will be the case again. But, we caution that sole reliance on intelligence is insufficient. Given the dramatic weakness in all other areas of airline security, if intelligence fails and a coordinated terror team reaches the airport, a successful attack is a virtual certainty.