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Saturday, 18 May, 2002, 00:08 GMT 01:08 UK
US intelligence efforts fractured
World Trade Centre ruins
US intelligence did not make sense of the information it had
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By Kevin Anderson
BBC News Online Washington Correspondent

The controversy over whether the Bush administration failed to act on warnings of terrorist threats has again highlighted the failure of US intelligence that lead to the 11 September attacks.

Intelligence gathering and analysis is spread across 13 agencies and organisations in the US Government and military.

Experts say that turf battles between the agencies and an inability of key classified computer systems to work together has led to US intelligence agencies having pieces of the puzzle without anyone having the ability to fit those pieces together.

"Ninety percent of intelligence failures are not failures to collect information but failures to put it together properly," says counter-terrorism expert Thomas Badey.

While the war on terror has poured more money into intelligence gathering and counter-terrorism, experts say that co-ordination and not more players is the answer.

Central role required

"They had bits of information, but it made no sense. And nobody could really pull the strings together," Mr Badey said.

There is a counter-terrorism unit at the CIA, a newly created counter-terror division at the FBI and various state agencies that gather information.

"Everybody is involved in a piece of terrorism," he said.

Loch Johnson - who served on two investigations of the CIA - sees a battle between key players in the US intelligence community.

CIA logo
Despite the name, US intelligence is anything but centralised
George Tenet is not just the head of the CIA. His role as the Director of Central Intelligence (DCI) is to oversee the efforts of 13 agencies in the US government and military.

However, that role has been hampered by turf wars between the office of the DCI, the secretary of state and what Mr Johnson calls the "800-pound gorilla" of the intelligence community, the secretary of defence.

The DCI must have real co-ordinating power to oversee US intelligence efforts, "otherwise, the office is merely titular," Mr Johnson said.

Computers incompatible

In addition, communication is sorely lacking between all of the players.

An agent may not think that a piece of information is important, but when known in the context of a information gathered by another agency, the pattern of a plot might become apparent, Mr Badey said
Classified computer systems cannot communicate

But in some instances, Mr Johnson says part of the problem is digital islands of information created by computer systems that cannot communicate.

Policy makers in the Old Executive Office building next to the White House are technically not able to receive classified e-mails from the CIA, he said.

The Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR) at the State Department is responsible for "interpretive analysis of global developments" and is the focal point for activities involving the intelligence community at the department.

However, classified computers at INR are incompatible with other classified systems at the State Department, Mr Johnson said.

This does not even begin to address communicating with the Coast Guard, airport security or local law enforcement, he added.

Money not the answer

And Mr Badey sees little being done to address this lack of cohesion, communication and co-operation in US counter-terrorism efforts.

He conducted a review of President Clinton's counter-terrorism programmes and is currently undertaking a review of emerging efforts under President Bush.

The main difference between the two administrations has been one of scope and breadth, he said. They are not addressing the primary cause of the intelligence failure - an inability to make sense of the intelligence gathered.

The reaction to increased threats of terrorism under presidents Clinton and Bush has largely been to increase funding, and he says that has not helped - it has only created more actors with larger budgets.

The system must be streamlined and the process centralised.

He said: "There can't be administrative divisions. That is where stuff gets lost."

See also:

17 May 02 | Americas
Row deepens over terror warnings
17 May 02 | Americas
Terror warnings: Who knew what when?
16 May 02 | Americas
Q&A: US terror intelligence
17 May 02 | Americas
Bush seeks damage control
16 May 02 | Americas
Bush rapped over 11 September photo
25 Sep 01 | Americas
Profile: Condoleezza Rice
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