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Peter Taylor at Ground Zero, New York
Regulations blunted CIA effectiveness

James Woolsey, a former CIA director, believes the intelligence black hole that led to September 11th was linked to CIA restrictions placed on the recruiting of agents. Peter Taylor reports on the crisis now facing America's Central Intelligence Agency.

The attacks were America's most catastrophic intelligence failure since Pearl Harbour. The CIA was fatally blind to the plans of Bin Laden and al-Qaeda, despite knowing about the threats they posed for almost a decade.

President Bush
Bush supports greater freedom for CIA
President Bush has now encouraged the CIA to take off the gloves as it embarks on the secret war against terrorism. This marks an abrupt change from recent years in which the Agency has operated under growing restrictions.

The CIA introduced draconian new guidelines in 1995 that required all 'assets' to be scrutinized. The restrictions became known as the 'scrub order' designed to vet unsavoury 'assets'.

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James Woolsey, who left the agency just before the guidelines were introduced, believes they were a bad idea. He said, "political correctness and fighting terrorism often don't work well together."


There is nobody in terrorist organisations except people with violence in their background

James Woolsey
Morale in the field crashed after the introduction of the 'scrub order'. Mr Woolsey said that CIA case officers, both past and present, had been deterred from recruiting terrorists.

He said, "They read it as advance disapproval by their bosses of recruiting people with violent pasts and there is nobody in terrorist organisations except people with violence in their background."

In 2000, the US Congress received a prestigious report it had commissioned from America's top terrorism experts. America's former Ambassador for Counter-Terrorism, Paul Bremer, headed it.

One of its key recommendations was that the 'scrub order' should be scrubbed. The Bremer Commission concluded, "In practice, these procedures have deterred and delayed vigorous efforts to recruit potentially useful informants."

It described the CIA creating "a climate that is overly risk averse. This has inhibited the recruitment of essential if sometimes unsavoury terrorist informants."

Swift action

The Commission stressed the need for swift action and chillingly warned of impending "mass casualties on American soil." Ironically the World Trade Centre featured on the report's cover.

Osama Bin Laden
Bin Laden: Wanted 'Dead or Alive'
The warnings were ignored and the 'scrub order' stayed. But it was finally consigned to history, as the Commission had urged, in the wake of September 11th.

President Bush declared he wanted Osama Bin Laden 'Dead or Alive'. Effectively this has untied the CIA's hands.

In the past, the CIA has tried to assassinate Fidel Castro and others in the 1960s. It has worked covertly with "unsavouries" in Central America and elsewhere from the 1970s to the 1990s.

It has also carried out covert operations in Afghanistan to help the Mujahadeen against the Russians in the 1980s. The result - it armed and supported those who became the Taleban.

CIA operatives are now being encouraged to get 'deep down and dirty' in their fight against the new enemy. The question is whether they can do this without being involved in the human rights abuses and the scandals that have clouded the Agency's past.

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