Experts: A variety of intelligence factors may have played a role
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- A variety of factors, such as a lack of up-to-date technology, rules restricting the use of certain informants, and more, all may have affected why the United States had no advance warning about the series of stunning terrorist attacks on Tuesday, intelligence experts told CNN Sunday.
"People call this attack the biggest event since Pearl Harbor, the biggest attack on the U.S., surprise attack," said retired U.S. Army Lt. Gen. William Odum, former director of the National Security Agency.
"The intelligence community was completely caught off-guard then," he said. "And the CIA and the intelligence community was created by the 1947 National Security Act to prevent future such surprises, which raises real questions about what has happened in the last 50 years."
The September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon have sparked a new debate over the state of the U.S. intelligence system. On Sunday, the Bush administration said it was re-examining all intelligence rules and considering changes -- such as lifting the ban on CIA assassinations -- in order to better fight terrorism across the world.
In Congress, sources said that officials also are considering the creation of a new "terrorism czar" to streamline the flow of intelligence information across agencies, such as the FBI and the CIA, that collect it.
The subject of U.S. intelligence was discussed by Odum, along with former CIA director James Woolsey and former U.S. Ambassador Paul Bremer, the chairman of the National Commission on Terrorism, on a joint appearance on CNN's Late Edition Sunday afternoon.
Odum said leaks about U.S. intelligence over the past 10 to 15 years may have allowed people such as Osama bin Laden -- the Saudi multimillionaire and suspected terrorist who the Bush administration believes may be behind the attacks on Washington and New York -- to learn a great deal about how to evade it.
In addition, he said, the nation's intelligence community may not have kept pace with modernization in communications technology.
Bremer said he believes technology may have played a role, but in a different way. Since the 1970s, the focus has been on technical intelligence instead of human intelligence. "And you can't get good intelligence against terrorist groups, really good intelligence, without having spies in terrorist groups," Bremer said.
In addition, Bremer said, restrictions put in place under the Clinton administration on the use of informants with criminal pasts have hindered efforts.
"We were basically spying with one arm tied behind our back," said Woolsey, agreeing. "These restrictive limitations on not being able to recruit people who have some violence in their past as spies were ridiculous."
But the experts suggested that the very structure of the U.S. intelligence system may have to be looked at, especially because of the case that seems to be developing as the massive investigation into Tuesday's attacks continues. Federal investigators believe the attacks were carried out by hijackers from the Middle East, many of whom had been living and operating within the United States for months, or years.
Meanwhile, under the U.S. intelligence structure, the CIA gathers information internationally, while the FBI focuses within the U.S. borders.
"It's [a division] that we keep for bureaucratic reasons, but it's not one that terrorists keep," Bremer said. "And it's clear that you need to have a more seamless interaction of the intelligence that is collected, however it is collected under whatever guidelines there are."
"And we need better capacity to analyze that," he said. "We don't have enough analysts. We don't have enough linguists to deal with this tremendous flow of information we're getting."
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