July 31, 2003

DONALD RUMSFELD AND CATASTROPHIC INTELLIGENCE FAILURES — Austin Bay’s latest column is on both. He concludes:

Infiltrating a terror clique to obtain detailed planning information, “the truly accurate information” — is extremely difficult. We do information technology without peer, but in the dirty, gray world of James Bond cloak and dagger deception, we’re Joe Average. America’s gravest intelligence weakness is a lack of HUMINT, human spies, capable of penetrating al Qaeda.

Until that changes, the president should be tossing and turning.

Read the whole thing. And ponder that John Walker Lindh had no trouble penetrating Al Qaeda.

UPDATE: Reader James McKenzie-Smith emails:

I think that he had no trouble penetrating the Taliban, not AQ. In that being a member of the Taliban allowed him a certain interaction with AQ, this avenue of approach for a penetration of AQ has probably closed itself.

And Austin Bay himself emails:

Johnny Lindh was perhaps (ultra wild estimate) three to five years away from being inside the planning clique. That’s a way of saying it takes time and foresight to place the human spy. Like you, I’ve thought about Lindh as a model. At the time he entered Al Qaeda it was relatively easy to become a foot soldier, if you could display the zealot’s fervor. I can see a scenario where the Al Qaeda bigwigs select a Lindh jihadi for a terror strike because he is an American. There might even be a “test” strike to gauge his reliability. Now we’re getting novelistic, but the same imaginative faculties that go into plotting a novel go into “plotting” an operation.

The easiest way to penetrate the terror clique’s planning cell is cash, I suppose, but that also takes inside information to find the “corruptible” religious fanatic.

Both good points. My phraseology above was sloppy, and overstated things. Lindh “penetrated” Al Qaeda to the extent that he met bin Laden and had some contact with his circle, but he didn’t really get on the inside. Still, he got awfully close to the center of things, considering.