by Austin Bay
The binder marked "TOP SECRET" is both treasured family heirloom
and sad testament to poor coordination and drastic lack of imagination.
My father-in-law served as Lt. Gen. Walter Short's defense
counsel in his Pearl Harbor court-martial. Short had the wicked luck of
being senior U.S. Army commander in the Hawaiian Islands on Dec. 7, 1941.
After World War II, my father-in-law managed to wring several
bookshelves of court-martial documents from the War Department, including a
series of strategic intelligence reports given to President Roosevelt in the
months preceding the Day of Infamy.
The documents are no longer state secrets, of course, and are
readily available, to historians, conspiracy theorists and even
Peruse the intel assessments, and you enter a world of prisms,
fogged glass, the vaguely known, the suspected and the speculative. The
intelligence briefs capture "the big picture," the grand aims of Germany and
Japan. War between the United States and Japan looms -- but as for when and
how, much less where? The "middle picture" -- the military operation
featuring Japanese naval air striking Hawaii -- was missed. Only hindsight
clarifies, in the deadly light of consequences.
In the aftermath of Sept. 11, instead of burning battleships,
our deadly light of consequences is the fiery demise of the World Trade
Center and flames licking the Pentagon.
History doesn't repeat itself, not literally. Pearl Harbor was a
defensible military target. The targets of 9-11 were American cultural and
political icons, targets far more difficult to anticipate and harder for a
free society to protect from fanatics.
However, history does repeat thematically. The Army and Navy
never quite figured out who was in charge of defending Hawaii. Defense of
the Islands was not centralized, either, and a key radar pick-up of
approaching Japanese aircraft was neither properly understood nor
disseminated. At the national level, there was no overall honcho for intel
assessment and dissemination. The aftermath of 9-11 indicates the CIA and
FBI failed to coordinate intelligence. The FBI handles domestic security,
but CIA sources are critical when we face foreign enemies. U.S. domestic
surveillance runs smack into the Bill of Rights, the guarantor of American
freedom. Our freedom allows terrorists to operate with few restrictions.
Putting the pieces together -- foreseeing an impending
operation, that "middle picture" -- is particularly difficult. In 1984, I
participated in a war game featuring a Cessna rigged with a tiny nuke and
flown by a suicide pilot. The kamikaze idea was out there. Emerging evidence
indicates the FBI speculated in summer 2001 that hijackers might fly planes
into buildings. The "little picture" traces of Osama bin Laden's millennial
kamikaze operation were being detected. The "very big picture" was also
available -- Islamist zealots hate America with a hate that recognizes no
The middle picture, however, remained sketchy. The dots and
colors didn't form a pattern in the minds of men and women unable to see a
new design for evil. Besides, intuition is not a skill honed by
bureaucracies, and CIA and FBI are bureaucracies. Thus improvements in
information analysis and dissemination might not have stopped 9-11.
Apparently, several hijackers didn't know their mission was suicidal, which
reinforced the terrorists' "operational security." This suggests definitely
knowing how and when, in the case of terror organizations, means inside
sources. Those take time o develop and mean renewed emphasis at CIA on
HUMINT (human spies).
A thorough congressional investigation of the 9-11 intelligence
failure must also assay any "pre-emptive" opportunities the United States
had to penetrate bin Laden's network. Did Sudan really offer bin Laden to
the Clinton administration? How close did our cruise missiles come to
killing him in 1998? Pre-emptive operations can prevent 9-11s.
Adm. William "Bull" Halsey had a pre-emptive operation in mind
when he took his carriers out of Pearl in early December 1941. Bull told his
sailors if they met Japanese they were to attack. Some thought the bluff
carrier commander was borderline nuts. History indicates the son of a gun
had imagination and an astute, intuitive mind.