Bombs, Bugs, Drugs, and Thugs: Intelligence and America's Quest for Security

Bombs, Bugs, Drugs, and Thugs: Intelligence and America's Quest for Security

Bombs, Bugs, Drugs, and Thugs: Intelligence and America's Quest for Security

Bombs, Bugs, Drugs, and Thugs: Intelligence and America's Quest for Security


Recent years have seen numerous books about the looming threat posed to Western society by biological and chemical terrorism, by narcoterrorists, and by the unpredictable leaders of rogue nations. Some of these works have been alarmist. Some have been sensible and measured. But none has been by Loch Johnson.

Johnson, author of the acclaimed Secret Agencies and "an experienced overseer of intelligence" ( Foreign Affairs), here examines the present state and future challenges of American strategic intelligence. Written in his trademark style--dubbed "highly readable" by Publishers Weekly --and drawing on dozens of personal interviews and contacts, Johnson takes advantage of his insider access to explore how America today aspires to achieve nothing less than "global transparency," ferreting out information on potential dangers in every corner of the world.

And yet the American security establishment, for all its formidable resources, technology, and networks, currently remains a loose federation of individual fortresses, rather than a well integrated "community" of agencies working together to provide the President with accurate information on foreign threats and opportunities. Intelligence failure, like the misidentified Chinese embassy in Belgrade accidentally bombed by a NATO pilot, is the inevitable outcome when the nation's thirteen secret agencies steadfastly resist the need for central coordination.

Ranging widely and boldly over such controversial topics as the intelligence role of the United Nations (which Johnson believes should be expanded) and whether assassination should be a part of America's foreign policy (an option he rejects for fear that the U.S. would then be cast not only as global policeman but also as global godfather), Loch K. Johnson here maps out a critical and prescriptive vision of the future of American intelligence.


The tragic terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, directed against the World Trade Center in New York City and the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., caught us by surprise. It was the worst intelligence failure in the history of the United States. We must now try to understand why we were caught flatfooted and move quickly to strengthen our intelligence capabilities—the nation’s “first line of defense.” This book, published several months before the attack, addressed the danger of terrorists and other perils facing the United States. in light of the events of September 11 and continuing terrorist threats, the need to strengthen this nation’s intelligence shield has become all the more compelling.

Intelligence, the means by which we acquire and assess information apt to protect this nation from harm, is a process that has several phases, from planning, collection, and processing to analysis and dissemination. If the United States is to be successful in thwarting future terrorist operations against these shores, we will have to undertake extensive reforms to correct the weaknesses in each of these steps.

The planning phase involves deciding which nations and groups abroad and at home warrant intelligence surveillance. At the beginning of every administration, White House officials work with the Director of Central Intelligence (the dci, who heads America’s thirteen secret agencies) to prepare a “threat assessment”—a priority listing of the most dangerous perils faced by the United States. These officials then determine how much money from the annual intelligence budget (reportedly about $30 billion prior to the September attacks) will be spent tracking the activities of each target.

This planning stage is critical; unless a target is taken seriously in the initial setting of priorities in Washington, D.C., it is unlikely to receive much attention by those with responsibilities for collecting information in the field. During the cold war, the United States concentrated mainly on gathering intelligence about the Soviet Union and other Communist . . .

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