Nearly two years ago, in the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, official Washington was seized with The Question: Had there been prior warning of these devastating acts of terror? And, if so, could it have been acted upon so as to prevent the premeditated murder of thousands of Americans?
The recently released report of a joint congressional intelligence committee’s investigation into this topic confirms what many experts had assumed: Of course, there were warnings of these attacks -- both of a general and even of a somewhat specific nature. The problem was, as is usually the case, differentiating before the fact such salient information from what the intelligence professionals call the “noise” -- the background clutter that is irrelevant or at least uninformative.
The investigation also confirmed that matters were made worse by various bureaucratic, regulatory and procedural arrangements that impeded such action as might have been taken to disrupt the hijackers’ plot before it was perpetrated. In short, there were “dots” that might have been connected but built-in impediments made even more problematic the always difficult task of connecting such dots without the filtering benefit of hindsight.
Ever since September 11, 2001, the Bush Administration has recognized that, as important as the events and lessons of that day may be, there is an even-more-pressing task: Figuring out how to discern -- and draw appropriate connections between -- the pieces of information that suggest the nature and timing of possible future terrorist attacks. The absence to date of more deadly incidents in this country is, in part at least, a reflection of this focus (together with the President’s offensive strategy aimed at disrupting enemy networks and making it harder for them to operate with impunity in our homeland).
As the Bush team sought to enhance the government’s ability to connect the dots for counter-terrorism purposes, it was fortunate to secure a return to public service of one of the Nation’s most formidable national security practitioners: Retired Navy admiral John Poindexter.
Frank Gaffney Jr. is the founder and president of the Center for Security Policy and author of War Footing: 10 Steps America Must Take to Prevail in the War for the Free World .
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