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Wednesday, 12 September, 2001, 22:36 GMT 23:36 UK
Spotlight on failed US intelligence
The Pentagon partly collapsed and caught fire after the hijacked airliner hit one of its walls
Many are alarmed that even The Pentagon was not safe
By BBC News Online's Lars Bevanger and the BBC's defence correspondent Jonathan Marcus

The almost simultaneous attacks in New York and Washington have raised serious questions about the failure of US intelligence units to prevent them from happening.

Since the Cold War there has been a relaxation of tension... one of the effects has been an effect on how people handle classified information

Donald Rumsfeld

By hitting high-profile targets in the heart of two of America's main cities, the attackers unmasked how vulnerable the US can be to attacks by those willing to use extreme tactics like suicide missions.

The biggest investigation in US history, involving more than a quarter of those employed by the FBI, is now under way to identify the hijackers and any accomplices, both inside and outside the United States.

On Wednesday, US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld blasted leaks of classified information, warning that it could reduce the chances of tracking down the terrorists behind Tuesday's attacks.

In a message directed at the military personnel who deal with classified information, Mr Rumsfeld blamed a relaxation since the cold war ended.

Information mishandling

"Since the Cold War there has been a relaxation of tension... one of the effects has been an effect on how people handle classified information," he said.

Donald Rumsfeld
Rumsfeld: Lives are being put at risk

"When people deal with intelligence information and make it available to people who are not cleared for that classified information, the effect is to reduce the chances that the United States Government has to track down and deal with the people who have perpetrated the attacks on the United States."

He also warned that mishandling of information put more lives at risk.

"I think it's time for all who deal with that information to treat it with the care and respect that it merits," he added.

Major setback

Many commentators have reacted with disbelief that even the Pentagon - the very nerve centre of the US military - was not safe from such a major hit.

Others question how the world's largest intelligence gathering organisation, with a budget of billions of dollars, could not have known anything about what was about to happen.

The World Trade Center on fire after two hijacked airliners hit its twin towers
The targets were symbols of US power

The BBC's defence correspondent Jonathan Marcus said the attacks in Washington and New York were directed at the very symbols of US power and prestige.

Consequently, "they represent a major setback for the US intelligence services," he said.

He said shadowy groups have sought to attack US interests around the globe for years but usually targeted overseas sites.

"The fact that four separate terrorist teams seem to have been involved - each hijacking one airliner - suggests a level of organisation that should not have gone unnoticed by the intelligence services."

Methods questioned

Our correspondent said questions would need to be asked about the way US intelligence services co-ordinated their campaigns against international terrorism.

"Ironically President Bush charged his vice president Dick Cheney last May with just such a task.

All the bombers and army divisions in the world cannot protect against this type of onslaught

Jonathan Marcus

"He had been expected to offer his recommendations to Congress next month.

"While the United States is an unrivalled military superpower its open society makes it highly vulnerable to this sort of attack," Marcus said.

"All the bombers and army divisions in the world cannot protect against this type of onslaught - especially if the vital intelligence warnings and leads are absent."

Massive rethink

Daniel Plesch of the Royal United Services Institute in London told BBC News Online the attacks must lead to a massive rethink in the US about its approach to security.

"Despite a great rhetoric there are very, very poor security procedures, which I witnessed myself on innumerable occasions. The Americans do not take security at all seriously.

"There is also I think a great complacency perhaps born of lack of real experience that tragically will change now."

Dame Pauline Neville Jones
former head of the Joint Intelligence Committee believes intelligence techniques will have to be adapted
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