The Answer? A Domestic CIA. in an Age of Terror, When the Enemy Will Often Be Inside America, We Can't Remain Blindfolded

By Zakaria, Fareed | Newsweek, May 27, 2002 | Go to article overview

The Answer? A Domestic CIA. in an Age of Terror, When the Enemy Will Often Be Inside America, We Can't Remain Blindfolded


Zakaria, Fareed, Newsweek


Byline: Fareed Zakaria

Never did we imagine what would take place on September 11," said Ari Fleischer last week, "where people used those airplanes as missiles and as weapons." Actually, as is becoming increasingly clear, many people did imagine it. Forget about government reports. Tom Clancy closed his 1994 best seller "Debt of Honor" with an enraged pilot loading an airliner with fuel and crashing it into the U.S. Capitol during a joint session of Congress, killing most members as well as the president of the United States. But even if George W. Bush had read his Clancy and taken heed of his intelligence reports, he would not have been able to prevent September 11. For that, this country needed something else, something that we have always shied away from--a domestic intelligence agency, a CIA that spies on Americans.

There is a scandal about the events leading to September 11, but it does not involve the Bush White House--nor, for that matter, the Clinton White House. It's a couple of blocks over, at the FBI. How could the bureau, given all the bits of information it had received, not have aggressively investigated the suicide bombers? Why did it not connect the pieces of information into an incriminating whole?

It's simple. No one at the FBI had the job of strategic analysis--i.e., of connecting the dots. And even if someone had made the connections, what could the agency have done? The answer, in hindsight, is clear. Tap phones, raid computers and track bank accounts. (In this case, following the money would have been the real tip-off, since Zacarias Moussaoui was being funded by the same source as the other terrorists.) But the FBI needed court approval to do most of this, and it had scant evidence to make its case. And peeping into bank accounts wasn't easy; the American system is not set up to investigate people at whim. It is not simply a matter of a bad organization. The FBI is a law-enforcement agency, not an intelligence outfit. To begin a massive operation, a crime needs to have been committed.

To have properly analyzed and investigated the leads that pointed to 9-11, the FBI would have had to have been a different organization, a kind of domestic intelligence agency, focused not simply on investigation after the fact but pre-emption and prevention. "The paradox is that once someone enters the United States, they become invisible, shielded by all our laws and restraints," explains Philip Zelikow, director of the University of Virginia's Miller Center. …

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