This article was first published in the online edition of UCLA Magazine on Sept. 11, 2007.
By Stan Paul
FAILURE TO ADAPT from a decades old Cold War organization to new post-Cold War threats left the United States vulnerable to a large-scale terrorist attack such as the September 11, 2001 attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, according to author Amy Zegart, professor of public policy at the UCLA School of Public Affairs.
Six years later not much has changed.
In her newly published book, Spying Blind: The CIA, the FBI and the Origins of 9-11 (Princeton University Press), Zegart argued that deeply rooted organizational problems, not individuals, led inevitably to 9-11, and that today the worst deficiencies remain.
"If ever we would expect to find a catalyst to transform the U.S. Intelligence Community, the worst terrorist attacks should be it," said Zegart in her book, the product of personal interviews with more than 60 current and government officials, and study of numerous unclassified documents and more than 300 intelligence reform recommendations. "There is no longer any doubt of the failure of our intelligence agencies in the years following the cold war," said Thomas H. Kean, chairman of the 9-11 Commission. "Amy Zegart has examined the reasons for this failure in addition to the well-meaning but mistaken attempts to address the problem."
U.S. agencies including the FBI and the CIA were, in fact, nowhere near being at their best before 9-11, Zegart charged. While the 9/11 Commission and the House and Senate Intelligence Committee's Joint Inquiry provide a good picture of what went wrong before 9-11, Zegart takes on the challenge of explaining why, writing that the answer lies in "deeply rooted organizational weaknesses that have afflicted our intelligence agencies for decades and in the enduring impediments to fixing them."
The problems had less to do with isolated mistakes or poor decisions by individuals but rather were symptoms of three organizational deficiencies, she said. These deficiencies include:
Cultural policies that led intelligence agencies to resist new technologies, ideas and tasks
Promotional incentives that rewarded intelligence officials for all the wrong things
Structural weaknesses dating back decades that hindered the operation of the CIA and FBI and prevented the U.S. Intelligence Community working as a coherent whole.
In tracing the history of the CIA and FBI counterterrorism efforts from 1991 to 2001, Zegart said, "... with a 40-year-old intelligence structure that gave no person the power to match resources against priorities and knock bureaucratic heads together, the U.S. Intelligence Community did not have a fighting chance against al Qaeda."
Zegart is an associate professor at UCLA's School of Public Affairs, where she teaches courses in U.S. foreign policy and public management. Her research focuses on the design problems of U.S. national security agencies.
Zegart has been featured by The National Journal as one of the ten most influential experts in intelligence reform. She worked on the Clinton Administration’s National Security Council staff in 1993, served as a foreign policy advisor to the Bush-Cheney 2000 presidential campaign, and has testified before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.
For more, read Six years later, we’re still vulnerable, published Aug. 24 in the Los Angeles Times.