The Threat on the Horizon: An Inside Account of America's Search for Security after the Cold War

The Threat on the Horizon: An Inside Account of America's Search for Security after the Cold War

The Threat on the Horizon: An Inside Account of America's Search for Security after the Cold War

The Threat on the Horizon: An Inside Account of America's Search for Security after the Cold War


The Aspin-Brown Commission of 1995-1996, led by former U.S. Defense Secretaries Les Aspin and Harold Brown, was a landmark inquiry into the activities of America's secret agencies. The purpose of the commission was to help the Central Intelligence Agency and other organizations in the U.S. intelligence community adapt to the quite different world that had emerged after the end of the Cold War in 1991.

In The Threat on the Horizon, eminent national security scholar Loch K. Johnson, who served as Aspin's assistant, offers a comprehensive insider's account of this inquiry. Based on a close sifting of government documents and media reports, interviews with participants, and, above all, his own eyewitness impressions, Johnson's thorough history offers a unique window onto why the terrorist attacks of 2001 caught the United States by surprise and why the intelligence community failed again in 2002 when it predicted that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction. It will be the first published account by an insider of a presidential commission on intelligence--a companion volume to Johnson's acclaimed study of the Church Committee investigation into intelligence in 1975 (A Season of Inquiry). This examination of the Aspin-Brown Commission is an invaluable source for anyone interested in the how the intelligence agencies of the world's most powerful nation struggled to confront new global threats that followed the collapse of the Soviet empire, and why Washington, D.C. was unprepared for the calamities that would soon arise.


Entering the Shrouded World of Intelligence

I FIRST BECAME INTERESTED IN the subject of intelligence in 1975. That year I read in the newspaper that Senator Frank Church (D-ID) had been asked by the Senate majority leader, Mike Mansfield (D-MT), to chair an investigative panel that would look into charges of domestic spying by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). With a research trip to Washington already planned for the following week, I decided to use the occasion to drop by the Capitol and offer my good wishes to Senator Church, for whom I had worked as an American Political Science Association congressional fellow five years earlier.

We sat in his Russell Senate Office Building suite, which was dominated by an oil portrait of his childhood hero, Senator William Borah (R), another Idaho and former chair of the august Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Unlike Church, an internationalist, Borah had been a leading isolationist. As Senator Church told me about his new assignment, I became more and more intrigued. At the end of the visit, I ventured to ask if he needed any help with the investigation. He picked up the telephone and told the staff director of the new committee to sign me up and begin a background security clearance, a procedure required for all staff members participating in what was to become one of the most sensitive inquiries in the history of the Senate. The panel’s focus, Church explained to me, would be the question of whether the CIA had spied on American citizens, in violation of its 1947 legislative charter. My job, he continued, would be to prepare him for committee meetings and hearings, write speeches for him, take part in the committee’s research and investigative work, and help write the final report.

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