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Last Updated: Wednesday, 28 July, 2004, 10:12 GMT 11:12 UK
US agent attacks 'intelligence failings'
By Richard Allen Greene
BBC News Online

In the wake of the 9/11 Commission's report into the 2001 attacks on the US, BBC News Online spoke to Anonymous - a serving US intelligence official whose recent book Imperial Hubris is sharply critical of American counter-terror efforts.

Anonymous praised the long-awaited report as an "exhaustive and admirable job in outlining" the attacks, but expressed astonishment at the lack of blame it had attributed.

World Trade Center tower burns on 11 Sept 2001
Anonymous: "Someone was asleep at the switch"
"You can't have a disaster the size of 9/11 without someone having been asleep at the switch," he said.

"I don't see how we can come away from [the attacks] without a single person having been disciplined. It's typically American in that no-one is at fault."

CIA Director George Tenet resigned in June 2004, shortly before the 9/11 commission released its report. He cited personal reasons. The report did not criticise him personally.

Inaction

Anonymous charged that US intelligence agencies are more concerned with navigating political and legal obstacles than with protecting American citizens.

"The American intelligence community is so afraid of criticism - always asking: 'What will happen if we do this?' - that protecting Americans is not the priority," he said.

The CIA is not commenting on Imperial Hubris. A spokesperson declined to answer questions from BBC News Online about specific allegations by Anonymous.

Anonymous blamed "senior civil servants" for the intelligence debacle that allowed the attacks to take place, arguing that they did not pass intelligence up to the politicians.

George Tenet and George W Bush stand in the lobby of the CIA
Intelligence did not go high enough, Anonymous charged
"Senior leaders didn't act on it, so politicians didn't act on it," he said.

He said "leaders across the board in the intelligence community" - a network including up to 15 agencies - were too concerned about the potential fallout of counter-terror operations.

Counter-terrorism expert MJ Gohel said some of the intelligence official's criticism was valid, but that he overstated the case.

"I really cannot accept that all civil servants, when presented with credible and actionable evidence, would be afraid of giving priority to the protection of lives ahead of any personal career concerns," said Mr Gohel, director of the Asia-Pacific Foundation.

Anonymous warns in his book that another attack on the United States is very likely, and argues that the invasion of Iraq has played into the hands of Osama Bin Laden without making the US safer.

He told BBC News Online that reorganising the intelligence services since 2001 had not improved their capabilities - and in some cases had worsened them.

'Gutting counter-terrorism centres'

He was particularly scathing about the creation of the Terrorist Threat Integration Center (TTIC).

"TTIC is draining some of the most expert counter-terrorist people from an organisation that has an attack arm [the CIA] to one that's analytical. They're gutting the counter-terrorist centres," he said.

Osama Bin Laden in an undated file photograph
The intelligence official says the US is no closer to Bin Laden
He warned that the personnel shuffles were particularly damaging because it takes so long to acquire expertise in counter-terrorism.

"There has been a vast increase in the number of people working in counter-terrorism, but this is not an issue you learn in three months."

"The cadre of expertise against Osama Bin Laden is not much greater than it was on 9/11. Everyone's working as hard as they can, but expertise is so hard to come by," he said.

Mr Gohel supported the intelligence official's analysis, saying it was "ridiculous" to expect the "immediate expertise" that governments demanded - especially when intelligence budgets were slashed after the end of the Cold War.

But he said there was need for agencies like TTIC.

He warned against adding "unnecessary extra layers of bureaucracy", but said that 9/11 had shown the importance of coordination between agencies that guard their secrets jealously.

"No one agency had all the pieces of the jigsaw to complete the picture. In that sense, there is a vital need to centralise intelligence," said Mr Gohel.

Unreasonable expectations

But Anonymous said that even if agencies did share information, they were paralysed because the system demanded an unreasonable standard of evidence.

"Law enforcement has infected intelligence," he said.

"We're now looking for information that you could use in a US court - you're never going to get that level [of intelligence]."

MJ Gohel agreed with that charge, saying lawmakers were not moving swiftly enough to deal with new types of threats.

"Politicians, legislators, lawmakers worldwide, have not really understood the nature of the unconventional threat we face, and have therefore not enacted laws which can assist security services in confronting and combating this new threat."

Publicity for Imperial Hubris describes its author as having "nearly two decades of experience in national security issues related to Afghanistan and South Asia".

He declined to comment on reports that he had led the US hunt for Bin Laden from 1996 to 1999.

His book was vetted for classified material and approved for public release by his superiors, his publicist said.

They allowed him to publish on the condition that he maintain his anonymity and not disclose his agency of employment.

He spoke to BBC News Online by telephone from northern Virginia, the home of the CIA.




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