US Intelligence Analysis Prior to 9//11 Attacks and Causes of Intelligence Failure

Paper Type:  Research paper
Pages:  7
Wordcount:  1779 Words
Date:  2022-08-10


The United States intelligence community is a vast enterprise with numerous agencies and hundreds of thousands of employees. Almost half of these employees are analysts in charge of evaluating, integrating and interpreting significant intelligence in order to anticipate uncertainties, provide warning and give insight on new opportunities. Defined by the intelligence agencies they are assigned, these analysts work on various fronts to solve a different set of problems to meet the needs of the diverse intelligence community. However, the diversity of missions and the intelligence agencies have sometimes resulted in significant errors that have led to catastrophic outcomes. For years, the United States intelligence community has suffered from a series of institutional setbacks which often leads to intelligence failures and as a result, failure in the intended mission. As a consequence of these failures, particularly the failure of intelligence, public confidence, and trust in the government and the intelligence agencies have plunged creating a sense of disillusion and disappointment among them. The 9/11 terrorist attacks, for instance, constitute such a catastrophic failure of the United States intelligence. It is a constant reminder of the devastating failure of the US intelligence and the country's inability to protect its borders. Despite the comprehensive tasks performed by the diverse US intelligence community in terms of evaluation, integration, and interpretation of relevant information, the US intelligence failure prior to the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center in New York was due to the policy structure and the diverse nature of the US intelligence agencies.

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The US intelligence community in its primary role seeks to provide relevant and necessary information in a timely manner to help the government make better decisions. Particularly, the intelligence given to the government must be pertinent to the perceived situation or danger prior to its occurrence, therefore, to understand the causes of the 9/11 intelligence failure, one must first consider the role of the US intelligence community prior to the attack. According to Dahl (2013), the devastating incident on the American soil was not an instant occurrence but a result of historic terrorist movements against the US and its allies. For instance, the World Trade Center in New York had been the target of the Al Qaeda group since the dawns of 1993 and later launched an attack which killed six people leaving over a thousand people injured; therefore, the US intelligence knew that a terrorist attack on US soil was a possibility.

Similarly, the same Al Qaeda group had instructed all Muslims prior to the 9/11 attack to kill US citizens anywhere in the world as a retaliation against the values of the America people and their continued support for the hated Israelites and their fight against Arab countries (Pillar, 2011). This led to several overseas terrorist threats against Americans. For example, in 1995, police officers in Manila uncovered a plot to bomb all American airlines flying over the Pacific Rim which was orchestrated by Ramzi Yousef. In addition, two of the American embassies in Nairobi, Kenya, and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania were simultaneously attacked by the Al Qaeda track bombs who later took the responsibility. To make matters worse, different terrorist groups from the Middle East for more than two decades had been using airplanes against the United States as a weapon in their perceived fight for equality and oppression. Moreover, the role of Osama bin Laden who was initially thought to be a mere financier to various terrorist groups in the Middle East was found to central in the al Qaeda activities (Randal, 2011). It was determined that it was bin Laden who orchestrated the thwarted attempt to blow hotels which were frequently visited by the US citizens in Jordan. The attacks continued against the US, and by 2000, a group of al Qaeda rebels in Yemen attacked the US destroyer named Cole and blew a hole on the side after they rode a motorboat full of deadly explosive towards it. All these instances point heavily to the culminating terrorist activities against the interest of the US.

Intelligence activities such as gathering and processing of information for a meaningful outcome are futile unless given to the right analysts and personnel with required expertise to turn the intelligence into a comprehensive report. According to Gertz, (2002), amidst the news of the imminent terrorist threats against the United States prior to the 9/11 attack, the US intelligence agencies had started to inform on the impending danger of the al Qaeda attack on the American soil and the US interests abroad which was on the rise. For instance, according to the same research, the US counterterrorism unit had started receiving different reports from different sources at the dawn of 2001 concerning the constant uprising against the US interests and activities by various terrorist groups, particularly the al Qaeda. Shortly before the attack on the World Trade Center in New York, the terrorist reports received by US intelligence agencies and the government continued to rise indicating that almost all the agencies and the US government knew the perceived dangers on US interests as well as on its soil. For example according to research findings, due to these reports on terrorist attacks; which was steadily on the rise, Richard Clarke, the then chief counter-terrorism adviser to the National Security Council approached Condoleezza Rice who was the National Security Advisor at the time about the perceived attack from both the domestic and foreign terrorists (Miller, Stone & Mitchell, 2002). Specifically, Clarke shared his belief that different terrorist groups including the al Qaeda had several cells within US soil.

However, due to the nature of government operations that usually involves bureaucratic procedures, the CIA without sufficient intelligence, started to issue warnings about al-Qaeda's intentions to attack the United States and its allies without explicitly knowing the exact target of the terrorist group. This continued until March 2001 when the intelligence community all joined the CIA in circulating the perceived terrorist threats especially the rising threat of the Sunni extremists against the USA citizens. Zegart (2009) indicates that the FBI, in particular, reached out to all the field officers mentioned in the reports by the intelligence community and instructed them to use all their available resources including human and relevant technologies to obtain crucial information regarding the Sunni extremists.

According to Marrin (2011), top intelligence officials from various intelligence institutions received reports about the seriousness of the threat, and the vast amount of these reports even reached President Bush. The research further states that this information was shared together with Vice President Cheney and the National Security Advisor at the time, Condoleezza Rice. In addition, the news about the imminent threat was made available to President Clinton during his term, but little actions were taken. At this time, every report seemed to be revolving around targets outside the United States where the country's interest lies such as Kuwait and Israel. However, during the coming months, there were claims that various known terrorist groups were recruiting and marching towards the US borders to join with others already in their multiple cells in the country (Miller, Stone & Mitchell, 2002). Further reports with titles indicating bin Laden started coming in the following months and all were given not only to the National Security Advisor but also to all other counterterrorist departments and even the local law enforcement agencies (Dahl, 2013). Furthermore, according to Zegart (2009), the FBI counterterrorism division stated that they had no credible information pointing directly to the terrorist attack in the United States but further stressed that an attack on American soil could not be discounted. Considering all these constant reports and warnings, it would be prudent to say that the intelligence community had collected, analyzed and reported a significant amount of credible information, but no action was taken.

Causes of 9/11 Intelligence Failure

Even though a significant amount of information was gathered and analyzed prior to the 9/11 attack of the World Trade Center in New York, there were several obstacles during the intelligence agencies cooperation that hindered the success of the mission; which was to prevent any terrorist attack on US soil. One such obstacle that occurred prior to 9/11 was a poor inter-agency corporation (Zegart, 2000). Considering the reports about the imminent threats from various terrorist groups that were received by US intelligence agencies just before the attack of the 9/11, it shows that these agencies did a tremendous job and probably should have prevented the attack. According to Posner (2009), intelligence agencies are responsible for the collection, analysis and reporting serious information that indicates some form of external attack towards the US interests; however, it is not the duty of these agencies to further implement comprehensive measures based on the information they provide without proper direction. Therefore, given that the attack in New York was neither prevented nor minimized, it shows that the efforts of the intelligence agencies were futile or never reached the right personnel with the right expertise of implementing effective measure based on the reports received. This indicates poor coordination among the intelligence agencies. Notably, according to Gertz (2002), the US intelligence community not only suffered from lack of cooperation between the agencies but also from poor operational management from the agencies top officials who received every bit of information concerning the threats from the al Qaeda. Even though the top officials from US intelligence agencies such as the FBI, DIA, US Marshal Service, and the NSA kept receiving constant updates on the al Qaeda threats; some of which they shared with top government officials and the National Security Advisor Rice, poor operational management skills among the agencies heads hindered any significant reaction towards the threats of the terrorist attacks on US soil and its interests abroad. In addition, considering that the United States had received similar threats as early as 1993, the US intelligence community should have had a well-coordinated response plan against such similar occurrences, but since the attack was not successfully prevented, it points solely to the lack of inter-agency corporation and poor operational management.

According to research, the absence of the means of circulating significant intelligence among all the US intelligence departments and institutions was one of the issues that led to the intelligence failure in 9/11 terrorist attack in New York. The United States' intelligence community is characterized by the existence of numerous agencies and departments tasked with the collection, analysis and the distribution of the analyzed intelligence (Betts, 2007). These intelligence agencies often add up to include both the Department of Justice and the Department of Defense when dealing with serious situations such as terrorist threats. Specifically, these aforementioned intelligence agencies including the independent CIA body were tasked with conducting various investigation and collecting relevant information concerning any imminent danger towards the US prior to the 9/11 attack; however, the means of circulating the intelligence received by various ag...

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US Intelligence Analysis Prior to 9//11 Attacks and Causes of Intelligence Failure. (2022, Aug 10). Retrieved from

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