The Net Tightens on Terrorism
Not connecting the dots. That is the intelligence failure for which the CIA and FBI have been most criticized since Sept. 11, and which the 9/11 Commission's recommendations aim to fix.
But recent weeks have shown some serious dot-connecting going on, resulting in more than 30 arrests of suspected terrorist operatives in Pakistan and Britain, the securing of terrorist targets in the US, and the disruption of plots.
As former antiterrorism chief Richard Clarke, one of the administration's harshest critics, said on ABC's This Week Sunday: "This has been the best week in counterterrorism since perhaps December 1999 - the best series of leads, leads going to other plots, leads going to other people, international cooperation."
An exaggeration, perhaps, given that the war in Afghanistan probably did more to disrupt Al Qaeda than anything else during the past five years, but an acknowledgement, nonetheless, of significant successes - especially in sharing intelligence in the US and with other countries.
The Pakistanis made their arrests based on help from the CIA. And the mother lode of information from those apprehensions helped spur the British last week to their largest netting of terrorist suspects.
What came of this sharing? Valuable information about operatives and their targets, including financial institutions, the Capitol building, and a US Navy aircraft carrier. Further afield, South Africa is on notice that it, too, has problems. That country had thought that Islamic terrorism was more of an issue for Kenya and Tanzania. But among those arrested in Pakistan July 25 were two men from Pretoria, with maps of several South African cities.
Meanwhile, the Los Angeles Timesreports US intelligence analysts and their Saudi colleagues have been working closely together in a secret location in Riyadh for a year. The Saudis have made progress on their terrorist countdown. Of the 26 terrorists on their most-wanted listed, 11 are at large.
Of course, these victories concern tactics only. In Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, the increased cooperation stems more from the terrorist threat to these leaders' regimes than from serious willingness to take strategic steps. Madrassahs, breeding grounds for young terrorists, remain open and unregulated in Pakistan, and demo- cratic reform a dream for Saudis.
Still, as it goes, the US would rather have more tactical help than less. And as Congress considers intelligence reform, it should keep in mind this string of successes and examine how much the intelligence community has actually improved since 9/11.