U.S. INTELLIGENCE PRIOR TO 9/11
AND OBSTACLES TO REFORM
William J. Lahneman
Many factors contributed to the failure of the U.S. intelligence community (IC) to detect the al Qaeda terrorist network’s plans to use hijacked commercial aircraft to carry out the suicide attacks against the United States on September 11, 2001. This chapter focuses on those features of IC performance that were affected by the United States’ political tradition based on democratic principles that emphasize and protect the individual freedom of each citizen. From the very beginning of the Republic, these democratic principles have been canonized in the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, explicitly limiting the ways in which government can intrude into the private lives of citizens.
This emphasis on individual rights presents obstacles to running an intelligence organization. As described in the introduction, intelligence organizations must rely on secrecy, which clashes with the values of an open society. In addition, intelligence agencies must routinely use techniques such as electronic eavesdropping and espionage, and they must at least consider the use of techniques such as assassination and other forms of paramilitary operations that are clearly illegal in all societies. While most people involved in national security agree that a double standard must be used—one set of practices where foreign countries are concerned and another set for domestic conduct— the exact nature of these standards and how they have been implemented in the U.S. system has already been highlighted in Chapters 1 and 2.
The U.S. IC has experienced a number of events and scandals that have resulted in congressional and blue-ribbon investigations. These panels have produced recommendations that, in many cases, have resulted in laws and executive orders imposing new restrictions or clari