On Point: Investigating 9-11

by Austin Bay
May 23, 2002

The binder marked "TOP SECRET" is both treasured family heirloomand sad testament to poor coordination and drastic lack of imagination.

My father-in-law served as Lt. Gen. Walter Short's defensecounsel in his Pearl Harbor court-martial. Short had the wicked luck ofbeing senior U.S. Army commander in the Hawaiian Islands on Dec. 7, 1941.

After World War II, my father-in-law managed to wring severalbookshelves of court-martial documents from the War Department, including aseries of strategic intelligence reports given to President Roosevelt in themonths preceding the Day of Infamy.

The documents are no longer state secrets, of course, and arereadily available, to historians, conspiracy theorists and evencongressional investigators.

Peruse the intel assessments, and you enter a world of prisms,fogged glass, the vaguely known, the suspected and the speculative. Theintelligence briefs capture "the big picture," the grand aims of Germany andJapan. War between the United States and Japan looms -- but as for when andhow, much less where? The "middle picture" -- the military operationfeaturing Japanese naval air striking Hawaii -- was missed. Only hindsightclarifies, 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 TradeCenter and flames licking the Pentagon.

History doesn't repeat itself, not literally. Pearl Harbor was adefensible military target. The targets of 9-11 were American cultural andpolitical icons, targets far more difficult to anticipate and harder for afree society to protect from fanatics.

However, history does repeat thematically. The Army and Navynever quite figured out who was in charge of defending Hawaii. Defense ofthe Islands was not centralized, either, and a key radar pick-up ofapproaching Japanese aircraft was neither properly understood nordisseminated. At the national level, there was no overall honcho for intelassessment and dissemination. The aftermath of 9-11 indicates the CIA andFBI failed to coordinate intelligence. The FBI handles domestic security,but CIA sources are critical when we face foreign enemies. U.S. domesticsurveillance runs smack into the Bill of Rights, the guarantor of Americanfreedom. Our freedom allows terrorists to operate with few restrictions.

Putting the pieces together -- foreseeing an impendingoperation, that "middle picture" -- is particularly difficult. In 1984, Iparticipated in a war game featuring a Cessna rigged with a tiny nuke andflown by a suicide pilot. The kamikaze idea was out there. Emerging evidenceindicates the FBI speculated in summer 2001 that hijackers might fly planesinto buildings. The "little picture" traces of Osama bin Laden's millennialkamikaze operation were being detected. The "very big picture" was alsoavailable -- Islamist zealots hate America with a hate that recognizes noearthly boundaries.

The middle picture, however, remained sketchy. The dots andcolors didn't form a pattern in the minds of men and women unable to see anew design for evil. Besides, intuition is not a skill honed bybureaucracies, and CIA and FBI are bureaucracies. Thus improvements ininformation analysis and dissemination might not have stopped 9-11.Apparently, several hijackers didn't know their mission was suicidal, whichreinforced the terrorists' "operational security." This suggests definitelyknowing how and when, in the case of terror organizations, means insidesources. Those take time o develop and mean renewed emphasis at CIA onHUMINT (human spies).

A thorough congressional investigation of the 9-11 intelligencefailure must also assay any "pre-emptive" opportunities the United Stateshad to penetrate bin Laden's network. Did Sudan really offer bin Laden tothe Clinton administration? How close did our cruise missiles come tokilling him in 1998? Pre-emptive operations can prevent 9-11s.

Adm. William "Bull" Halsey had a pre-emptive operation in mindwhen he took his carriers out of Pearl in early December 1941. Bull told hissailors if they met Japanese they were to attack. Some thought the bluffcarrier commander was borderline nuts. History indicates the son of a gunhad imagination and an astute, intuitive mind.

Read Austin Bay's Latest Book

To find out more about Austin Bay and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.


On Point Archives:

On Point Archives: Current 2023  2022  2021  2020  2019  2018  2017  2016  2015  2014  2013  2012  2011  2010  2009  2008  2007  2006  2005  2004  2003  2002  2001



Help Keep Us From Drying Up

We need your help! Our subscription base has slowly been dwindling.

Each month we count on your contributions. You can support us in the following ways:

  1. Make sure you spread the word about us. Two ways to do that are to like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.
  2. Subscribe to our daily newsletter. We’ll send the news to your email box, and you don’t have to come to the site unless you want to read columns or see photos.
  3. You can contribute to the health of StrategyPage.
Subscribe   Contribute   Close