Thursday, May 16, 2002
Instapundit has a good rant over the ineptitude of our intelligence agencies in failing to anticipate 9/11 after extensive warnings. He's particularly peeved at people who suggest that the attack was "unimaginable" given that similar planned attacks were foiled several times and given that fictional accounts of such attacks appeared in major novels and television shows. His rant continues here, with a little help from his friends.
I'm less surprised that no one at the top put the pieces together. Why? Because 9/11 was an act of war, and we did not believe we were at war - and we didn't believe we were at war because we didn't want to take the necessary action in response. Look, the same Islamofascist thugs tried to blow up the WTC in 1993, with a goal of killing 250,000 people. We treated it as a law-enforcement problem. If the Japanese had tried to attack Pearl Harbor in the 1930s and their aircraft carriers had sunk en-route, would we have made no change in our threat perception with respect to Japan? Admitting that someone could be planning the 9/11 attacks would have meant admitting that we were at war, and no one wanted to do that. So we had a bureaucratic mental block that Mohammad Atta flew his plane through.
So I don't specifically blame the FBI or the CIA for their failure. But I still agree with Glenn that the failure to sack people like George Tenet is disastrous. The way you get a bureaucracy to change is you fire people. It's not a matter of finding fault; it's a matter of communicating urgency. Even if missing the signs of 9/11 wasn't a "mistake" in the sense that everyone did as well as could be expected, it was a massive failure. To get a bureaucracy on a wartime footing, you have to communicate that failure is no longer an option. I'm not saying that you can turn a bureaucracy around entirely through fear, but I'm pretty sure you can't do without it.