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Last Updated: Thursday, 24 July, 2003, 21:41 GMT 22:41 UK
US spies in the spotlight
By Rachel Clarke
BBC News Online in Washington

The US intelligence community has been put back under intense and unflattering scrutiny by the release of a Congressional report into the events leading up to the attacks on 11 September 2001.

FBI 'whistleblower' Coleen Rowley
Insiders such as FBI agent Coleen Rowley pointed out failures
Many of the failures highlighted by the 900-odd page report were already known.

But the detail of mistakes made or leads not followed by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Central Intelligence Agency and the National Security Agency is damning.

The long-delayed release of the report also happens to coincide with continuing questions being raised about the intelligence used to justify the invasion of Iraq and whether the White House heeded the advice of its analysts.

And the greatest recent success - the location and killing of Saddam Hussein's sons - came as the result of an Iraqi tipping off the Americans to get a $30m reward, not from intelligence gathering.

Agencies 'broken'

Paul Light of the Brookings Institution, a think tank, said there had been strong criticism of the intelligence agencies well before 11 September 2001.

"These are agencies that have been broken for a long time," he told BBC News Online.

It was not simply that there was a catastrophic series of events which led to al-Qaeda being able to launch its attacks, but more ongoing problems in almost every area.

I'm sure they are doing better than were, but only because they were doing so poorly
Paul Light,
Brookings Institution

"If these agencies were doing a robust job at the usual things, you could have some [comfort]. But pre-September 11th, the FBI was just falling apart," said Mr Light, who has testified to Congress on homeland security matters.

He said it was too early to judge the Department of Homeland Security which was established after the attacks on New York and Washington, in part to bring better intelligence co-ordination.

But he said scrutiny of the agencies was merited, and that the latest evidence does not bode well.

The continuing row over how an unproven claim about Iraq seeking uranium got into the president's State of the Union speech has led to more finger-pointing between the CIA and NSA, among others.

"It's almost like a confirmation that nothing has changed. I'm sure they are doing better than were, but only because they were doing so poorly," Mr Light said.

Art of intelligence

Chuck Pena of the Cato Institute said it was important to realise that it was not possible to prevent all terrorist attacks and that simply finding someone to blame would not be useful.

It's always easier to look backwards
Chuck Pena,
Cato Institute
"The real question is what have we learned, not who can we blame."

The gathering of intelligence was by its very nature more art than science, he said.

"It's always easier to look backwards once an event has happened and then to track bits and pieces of information and put the puzzle together because now you know what the puzzle is," he said.

Mistakes had certainly been made - such as focusing so much on rogue states rather than organisations such as al-Qaeda, he said.

But there have also been successes, some of which may not be publicised - while the scale of others may not be obvious, he added, simply because an attack was stopped before it happened.




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