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Last Updated: Thursday, 22 July, 2004, 20:02 GMT 21:02 UK
New mentality for new war
By Paul Reynolds
BBC News Online world affairs correspondent

The 9/11 commission report is an effort to reconfigure not just the US intelligence agencies but America itself into a new mentality.

George W Bush
Bush promised to listen to the report's recommendations
The US is facing an unseen enemy who is filled with fervour and who strikes with skill and stealth. It needs new methods, new structures, new ideas.

That is the message of this sober and thoughtful report.

It makes the old Cold War seem quite straightforward.

This time, there are no tanks lined up to face the Red Army on the northern plains of Germany, no rockets ready to retaliate.

'Two-pronged strategy'

Instead, nobody knows where the enemy will come from. The vast apparatus of intelligence must be switched to looking for the smallest clues, not the largest threats.

The report proposes a two-pronged strategy.

The United States government was simply not active enough in combating the terrorist threat before 9/11
Thomas Kean
Commission chairman

There has to be, as there was in the Cold War, an ideology. And there has to be a better way of getting information.

Ideologically, it suggests, the US cannot just confront the rest of the world with muscle, especially the Islamic world. It must get the support of the world with ideas.

It accuses both Presidents Clinton and Bush of not understanding the nature of the new threat. In a phrase which sums up its findings, it says there was a "failure of imagination".

But it does not blame them too heavily.

The 9/11 attacks were a shock, but they should not have come as a surprise

Instead it calls on the US to "define the message and stand as an example of moral leadership in the world. To Muslim parents, terrorists like [Osama] bin Ladin have nothing to offer their children but visions of violence and death".

The US, the report says, must "communicate and defend American ideals in the Islamic world. Our efforts here should be as strong as they were in combating closed societies during the Cold War".

That is easier said than done.

But the experienced political leaders on this commission are not gung-ho.

What comes over is that they know this is a long haul and, while they accept that military action might at times be needed (they agree that it was in Afghanistan), it is not the only thing that is needed.

"There is no silver bullet, no decisive blow," remarked the vice-chair Lee Hamilton, a former Democratic member of congress.

'Missed opportunities'

Then there was the intelligence failing. Here the blame is harsher.

There were missed opportunities.


The FBI and the CIA did not or could not talk to each other properly, sometimes for very proper reasons arising out of past abuses. Within the FBI, though, people also did not talk to each other.

All that will now have to change. Already to an extent it has.

The FBI has reshaped itself to gather and assess intelligence better.

As a result, it has escaped having intelligence taken away from it to be given to a British-style domestic agency but like the CIA it could now have to submit to a new intelligence supremo.

'Iran hints'

In keeping with its sober approach, the commission has dropped a dose of cold water on theories that Iraq was somehow involved closely with al-Qaeda. It turns out that bin Laden refused an Iraqi offer of asylum.

There is some suspicion that Iran was playing some background role in helping the Islamist movement.

Interrogations with al-Qaeda prisoners have revealed that some activists passed through Iran in and out of Afghanistan.

So there are hints here of future confrontations if the administration follows them up. But the commission is cautious and wants more information.

New war

There are some in the intelligence field who are not that impressed so far.

It was quite easy to deal with the Soviet Union. It presented a fixed target. It is very difficult dealing with non-state people. There is no conflict resolution with them, no diplomacy
Alex Standish
Jane's Intelligence Digest
"Unless you get agents into place who can provide real information to the politicians, this will be like re-arranging the deck chairs on the Titanic," said Alex Standish, editor of Jane's Intelligence Digest and a senior research fellow at Durham University.

He sees the failures of 9/11 as the result of too great a reliance on electronic intelligence. "This also happened over Iraq where everything turned out to be rubbish," he said.

"It is very hard to get human intelligence with people like al-Qaeda. They are secret and inward looking. Only a very few people are capable of penetrating them.

"There is a danger of getting bogged down in structures," he told News Online.

"There has to be a fundamental change from top to bottom in the FBI and the CIA. They must break away from the Cold War. It was quite easy to deal with the Soviet Union. It presented a fixed target.

"It is not the wild card which is international terrorism. It is very difficult dealing with non-state people. There is no conflict resolution with them, no diplomacy," Mr Standish said.

This new war could go on for as long as the Cold War.

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