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.