Private intelligence companies capable of more success


A July investigative report from The Washington Post entitled “Top Secret America” detailed a problem with American intelligence. The investigation explains that in this post-9/11 world, the response to terrorist threats has been to expand the number of private intelligence agencies to the point that the intelligence community has become “so large, so unwieldy, and so secretive that no one knows how much money it costs, how many people it employs, how many programs exist within it or exactly how many agencies do the same work.”

Perhaps it is a good problem to have too many intelligence agencies rather than too few, but why invest in so many intelligence agencies that do the same thing? For example, the 51 federal organizations and military commands that track the flow of money to and from terrorist networks.

Unfortunately, intelligence problems are not a new phenomenon in America. In his Pulitzer Prize-winning book “The Looming Tower: al-Qaida and the Road to 9/11,” author Lawrence Wright detailed the many problems that hindered intelligence gathering prior to Sept. 11. Chief among these problems included mistrust between agencies like the FBI and CIA that led to “institutional warfare.” For example, in 1998 8212; two years after Osama bin Laden declared war on the United States 8212; CIA operatives cloned a laptop computer that belonged to a member of al-Jihad which contained al-Qaida organizational charts and a roster of al-Jihad members in Europe. The CIA refused to turn over this document, also known by some as “the Rosetta Stone of al-Qaida,” to the FBI.

There was a fundamental institutional conflict between the two agencies: The FBI wanted to obtain evidence to capture and convict Osama bin Laden, whereas the CIA simply wanted to kill him. How nice it would have been for either of these two goals to be accomplished.

One of the benefits of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan has been the lack of successful attacks by terrorists inside of the United States. Under the pressure of the American and international forces fighting in the Middle East, al-Qaida and other terrorist networks have had to rely on less-qualified and less-skilled individual jihadists to carry out attacks. Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the infamous “Underpants Bomber,” failed to blow up an international airliner headed to Detroit on Dec. 25, 2009, not because intelligence officials prevented him from boarding the plane, but because of a failure of operation. Faisal Shahzad, also known as the “Times Square Bomber,” failed to blow up a self-made car bomb in Times Square.

In both these situations, more private intelligence companies and, consequently, more bureaucracy for important information to filter through do not seem reasonable solutions. In fact, the National Security Agency had intercepted communications between Abdulmutallab and Anwar al-Awlaki, a radical Yemenite who had contacts with two of the 9/11 hijackers and a U.S. Army psychiatrist located in Fort Hood, well before Abdulmutallab boarded the plane heading towards Detroit.

So the question is this: Has the American intelligence community, large enough as it is already, proved that more private intelligence companies are a good thing and worth the billions of dollars being invested into them? Prior to 9/11, the FBI and CIA were reluctant to share information with one another for fear of compromising their different goals. Recent terrorist attempts suggest that the members of the intelligence community are still struggling to share relevant information with one another, or at least connect the dots on their own.

Andrew Mabry is a senior political science major from Southlake.