CIA comes under fire for lapses


This is London:

CIA comes under fire for lapses
by Keith Dovkants

America's security and intelligence services are reaping a whirlwind of blame today as mounting evidence points to a colossal breakdown in efforts to provide a defence against terrorist attack.


osamabinladen.jpg (19066 bytes)
Suspicions are mounting in America that the intelligence services have not done adequate homework on the likes of Osama bin Laden

Details are beginning to emerge of bungled counterterrorism measures, complacency, and failures to tackle known threats, including those emanating from the prime suspect, Osama bin Laden.

Security experts and former intelligence operatives alike denounced the FBI and CIA for allowing America to be taken by surprise.

The CIA, the high-spending, much-vaunted mainstay of American intelligence efforts, is being portrayed as a pampered monolith, rendered ineffective against international terrorism because of a reluctance on the part of its agents to penetrate activists' organisations.

In a gritty indictment of America's security operations, former CIA operative Reuel Marc Gerecht accused the agency of ignoring the basic counter-terrorism measure of infiltration. Writing in the Atlantic Monthly - before Tuesday's suicide attacks - he revealed that no attempt had been made to put undercover agents into Islamic fundamentalist organisations.

The use of these "non-official cover" officers - NOCs - had been overlooked by the CIA, he said, quoting one who had served in the Middle East.

Gerecht wrote: "He told me recently: 'We're still a group of fake businessmen who live in big houses overseas. We don't go to mosques and pray'."

The agency considers "behind-the-lines counterterrorism" to be too dangerous, he stated, and mocks its operatives' preference for a cosy life in the suburbs of Langley, Virginia, where the CIA has its headquarters.

He quotes a former operative from the "Near East Division" saying: "The CIA probably doesn't have a single truly qualified Arabic-speaking officer of Middle-Eastern background who can play a believable Muslim fundamentalist who would volunteer to spend years of his life with shitty food and no women, in the mountains of Afghanistan.

"Operations that include diarrhoea as a way of life don't happen."

Failure to make a determined attempt to neutralise Bin Laden seems especially baffling given the amount of evidence collected against him. Earlier this year four Bin Laden volunteers went on trial in Manhattan, a stone's throw from the scene of Tuesday's carnage, for complicity in bomb attacks on US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998.

Incredibly, the CIA and FBI took backseat roles in the trial. The FBI, CIA and the lavishlyfunded Joint Terrorist Task Force also knew that Bin Laden had set his sights on destroying the World Trade Center.

One of his followers, Ramzi Yousef, is now in jail in the US for trying to blow up the building in 1993. He openly admitted the aim had been to destroy the twin towers and background inquiries showed he also had plans for hijacking American passenger planes and kamikaze attacks.

Despite this the intelligence services appeared to have ignored the warnings. There have been other missed opportunities to spot what was coming, other intelligence services believe. Talk of a spectacular attack by Bin Laden's men had been coursing through Arab circles in recent weeks, even reaching the ears of Arab-language newspaper journalists.

In France the counter-espionage agency, the DST, appears to have had reports that an attack on American interests in France was being planned by the Bin Laden network. The French identified a man arrested by the FBI as an Islamic activist involved in the Pakistan-Afghan orbit and were astonished to hear nothing back.

Whatever the reason for what is being perceived as tragic failure, the American intelligencecommunity cannot plead lack of resources.

In his retirement speech last May, outgoing FBI director Louis J Freeh congratulated himself on presiding over the organisation's biggest pay rise in history.

Congress increased the FBI's budget to $3.44 billion (about 2 billion) for 2001, a 58per cent increase during his eight-year tenure.

The CIA, too, consumes billions of dollars of American taxpayers' money, but the perception of an elite group which has lost its way since the Cold War has grown in the public mind with news of successive failures.

These include lamentable incidents like the sale of two dozen computers to the public in 1999 before top-secret information on the hard drive had been removed.

"What we have witnessed is an extraordinary failure on the part of the security and intelligence services," Mike Yardley, a former army officer and security expert said of the suicide attacks. "Heads should roll."

Some say the criticism is unfair. The FBI has recently directed its efforts towards stopping computer crime and the CIA has been preoccupied with its failure to dent Saddam Hussein's position in Iraq.

But there is a growing sense of a job done badly, probably because the people at the top simply could not conceive of something as audacious and simple as the suicide attacks.

Additional reporting: Vicky Ward  site down 12/08

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