Counterterrorism Post-9/11

Article excerpt

Counterterrorism Post-9/11 Find, Fix, Finish: Inside the Counterterrorism Campaigns That Killed Bin Laden and Devastated Al-Qaeda. Aki Peritz and Eric Rosenbach. Public Affairs. 308 pages; appendices; notes; indices; $27.99. Publisher website: www.

In the conclusion of Roberta Wohlstetter's brilliant assessment of intelligence and decision making in the months before Pearl Harbor - Pearl Harbor: Warning and Decision - she observed that since Pearl Harbor, the United States had developed a robust and very expensive intelligence system employing incredible technology. Nonetheless, she argued, the balance of advantage in achieving surprise had "shifted ... in favor of a surprise attacker." That was in 1962, when the problem was whether the United States might be surprised by the Soviet Union as it had been in December 1941 and June 1950.

Wohlstetter found that the surprise at Pearl Harbor stemmed from a number of factors including signal-to-noise ratio exacerbated by abysmally bureaucratic command-and-control systems, compartmentalization, bureaucratic squabbling and, perhaps above all, an inability to imagine the worst that could happen and find the idea plausible. Much the same has been written following the surprise attack of 9/11. In Find, Fix, Finish, Aki Peritz and Eric Rosenbach, like Wohlstetter, seek to understand the intelligence and decision-making process in Washington with respect to terrorism. In addition, they examine how the United States gradually developed the capacity to become reasonably effective at counterterrorism.

Those who read Peritz and Rosenbach will have taken a good first step on the road to understanding not only what happened that enabled surprise in September 2011 but also what has happened since and the implications for U.S. counterterrorism efforts in the future. The authors are conscious that while operations are under way, certain limitations of what can be achieved exist. Much of what must be known to reach understanding remains classified, and too little is known of what the belligerents were - and are - thinking to enable thorough analysis of what they intended and how they reacted to U.S. efforts to find, fix and finish them.

Theirs is an institutional approach. They seek to understand how the various government bureaucracies, from the Department of Defense to the Department of Justice, interacted with each other and how they responded and /or advised the executive and legislative branches. What emerges is a disheartening reminder that the more things change the more they remain the same. These bureaucracies squabble, maintain barriers and communicate poorly among themselves and with those to whom they report. As in 1941, however, the 9/11 attacks galvanized the country, including the various components of the government. Equally important, the United States learned to collaborate effectively with most of its allies and at least achieve some measure of effectiveness even with Pakistan, the most difficult of allies.

Following the first attack on the World Trade Center in 1993 the United States began to perceive the threat of terrorism and to react to that threat. President Clinton's Presidential Decision Directive (PDD) 39, "U.S. Policy on Counterterrorism," assigned responsibilities within government for deterring and responding to terrorism. …