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Questions About Security

(Posted by guest blogger Valerie Strauss)

I was reading a story by Craig Whitlock and Dafna Linzer in The Post about how the alleged plotters in Britain were caught:

"It all began with a tip: In the aftermath of the July 7, 2005, suicide bombings on London's transit system, British authorities received a call from a worried member of the Muslim community, reporting general suspicions about an acquaintance."

I gave a silent salute to the good ole' MI5, the British intelligence agency that had taken the tip (which might have been tossed or fumbled by other intelligence agencies) and run with it. Sounds like they had the suspects cold!

And I began wondering if the United States should have a domestic security intelligence service like the MI5, given that the FBI isn't really set up to do the same job. That was the recommendation of the congressionally created Gilmore Commission (officially known as the Advisory Panel to Assess Domestic Response Capabilities for Terrorism Involving Weapons of Mass Destruction).

But I had barely finished when I got a message from my colleague Michael Powell, The Post's New York bureau chief, and I began to reconsider.

Those guys arrested in Britain, he noted, could easily be guilty of trying to plot the next 9-11. Probably are. But, he asked: Remember the 2003 raid on a London apartment in which police claimed to have stopped a plot to spread the deadly toxin ricin?

No, I didn't. What happened?

Turns out of the eight men charged, four were acquitted and the other four weren't tried. No traces of ricin were ever found in the apartment, though there was evidence said to be found of attempts to make it.

And, he wrote, remember the cyanide vest? o, I didn't.

Some 250 London policeman swarmed across east London recently and raided a house because intelligence had told of the location of a cyanide vest. Oops, bad intelligence. No vest.

Surely, I thought, trying to track down terrorists and their wannabes is an excruciatingly difficult job that sometimes leads to dead ends. It can only be expected.

But my unquestioning attitude toward last week's arrests led to this unsettling thought: They couldn't be wrong, could they?

The question: Do we you any more confidence in our security agencies five years after 9-11?

By Valerie Strauss |  August 14, 2006; 12:37 PM ET
Previous: Commemorating Sept. 11 | Next: Enough With The New

Comments

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Yes. They're not perfect, but they're getting better every day.

Posted by: Kalorama Kat | August 14, 2006 12:54 PM

Valerie,

Quick, move to Cuba where the intelegence agencies are on top of everything. All the time. I'm, sure you'll find living with Fidel and Raul more to your liking since you have no tolerance for the US intelegence agencies here that fumble things from time to time. You and your self loathing American liberals should all move out of the country where you'll be much happier. The sooner the better.

Posted by: Give me a break | August 14, 2006 1:26 PM

Not really. The creation of DHS probably set us back five years by disrupting the agencies and processes that preceeded it. The USG seems no better at sharing information today than they were in early 2001. We are the only country in the world that tells terrorists which days are better to attack. (national rainbow of doom) Hint, don't attack on Red days. As far as the latest security convulsion goes, who knows if they got it right or not? Only time will tell. My only question is "where does this end?" What if someone has a bomb surgically implanted next time? Are they going to do exploratory surgery in the TSA lines? Mandatory catherization to ensure that your bladder doesn't contain nitroglycerin? Is that a real baby in your womb, lady, or is it a baby-shaped bomb? Will we all end up flying naked, tranquilized, and chained to the seat before they finally realize that it is the terrorist, not the latest terror tool, that they need to keep off airplanes?

Posted by: Merkwurdigliebe | August 14, 2006 1:32 PM

Um, "the US intelegence agencies here that fumble things from time to time," you say? Are you kidding me? We are in a *war* over "fumbled" intelligence, at best. Valerie poses a fair question. If you find it beneath you, visit a different blog.

Posted by: dc | August 14, 2006 2:51 PM

Yes. Considering the size of U.S., we are doing a great job keeping everyone safe. People might not be able to see what's going on behind the scene, but I am confidence that our security is improving each day.

Posted by: Anonymous | August 14, 2006 2:53 PM

Wow, insulting comments mentioned here, however you make a very good point.

I would like to say...the word liberal is a nice word.

America, (mixed with various cultures,personalities and class of people). Liberal thinking is necessary and then one should ask if not liberal what else is there, I hope the way things are going now in our country pleases you, cause thats down right scary.

Thanks

Posted by: Frankee | August 14, 2006 2:54 PM

Liberal: Not limited to or by traditional, orthodox, or authoritarian attitudes; Principles of social and political liberalism.

Conservative: Favoring traditional views and values; tending to oppose change

Ask yourself which one fits America, for(all) people by the (all) people vs. for traditional views.

How can being liberal be a bad thing? I tell you what back in the 1920's liberals were loved more than ever, cause the liberal thinkers created the soup lines, the conservatives were worried and their money.

Please america stop selling the word Liberal as a bad thing when you know in all your hearts its a good thing for all people.

Posted by: Frankee | August 14, 2006 3:12 PM

If Mr. Give Me a Break has a point, I can't even tell what it is. We should have less intelligence? Or we should do away with any judicial oversight of domestic intelligence, like W. seems to want, so we can be more like Cuba (and safer)? I think maybe he (she?) just had a little bile collected in his mouth he had to spit out...

To answer Valerie's question, I guess we won't know how strong the case is until it's prosecuted. I'm not so familiar with the way the judicial system works over there, but presumably these guys will face an actual trial rather than unspecified years in limbo like the bunch we have in Gitmo. But I also have more faith currently in the UK's intelligence than our own for the same reason Merkwurdigliebe states -- the upheaval involved in the reorganization into DHS. Has our own (domestic) intelligence community had any comparable victories since 9/11? I wouldn't count catching the ragtag bunch down in Miami. And we still don't seem to know who was behind the anthrax scare, 4-5 years on.

Posted by: Jay-El | August 14, 2006 3:19 PM

Well, as the details of the current case have come trickling out it sure sounds like a lot of alarm over something that wasn't really very close to an imminent threat. These guys didn't have passports, real or fake. They didn't have any bombs. They didn't have any plane tickets, but they had done some fare searching online. I search fares online all the time. It sounds like the alleged plot to blow up the Sears Tower by those crazy dudes in Miami who didn't have bombs or access to boms. Didn't even have any money to get to Chicago, and certainly weren't sophisticated enough to create such a large plot as had been alleged. Sure they intel people have a hard job. But a whole lot of this sounds like th government scaring us to keep us cowed, not any real, credible, imminent threat.

Posted by: Glenn | August 14, 2006 3:49 PM

Yeah, I often wonder, how much of this is propaganda so the powers that be can maintain their positions.

Scare tactic's especially in America work

Posted by: Poo | August 14, 2006 4:03 PM

Did they really not have passports? A few of them must have, those that had allegedly recently traveled to Pakistan, no? Or perhaps that will turn out to have been bad intel as well.

Posted by: Jay-El | August 14, 2006 4:34 PM

Valerie,

How many terrorist attacks have there been in the US since 9/11?

Posted by: KK | August 14, 2006 4:57 PM

Considering how preventable 9/11 should have been in the first place, the fact that there haven't been any more attacks in the US since then honestly doesn't impress me all that much. We were asleep on 9/10, I would say we're awake but still groggy now -- much more safe than when we were asleep, but not yet close to wide awake.

Posted by: Jay-El | August 14, 2006 5:20 PM

Jay-El,

How will we know it when we're "wide awake," how long do you think that will take, and how much will it cost?

Posted by: KK | August 14, 2006 6:37 PM

Security officials in all of the allied (and some other) nations are more dilligent than ever when it comes to monitoring terrorist activity. But the U.S. does have the stigma of not sharing much of their intelligence with other nations and it will always be that way. Frankee brought up a good point about liberal vs. conservative. Should the U.S. be more liberal and trust more nations with their security and other intelligence or should they remain cautious?

Posted by: WB | August 14, 2006 6:44 PM

Personally I would rather them fumble a few than miss the big one. Intelligence is not perfect, far from it, but until something perfect comes along it is the best we have.

Posted by: Harry | August 14, 2006 7:23 PM

KK,

Good point, good questions. I don't really have any answers. I haven't really been fair -- In calling our current state "groggy" that's really just an impression I have, based on DHS handling of Katrina, e.g., and assuming the intelligence side of things is in similar disarray as the crisis management side. It could be intel is comparatively on the ball, let's hope so. Unfortunately it seems intelligence can be a bit like offensive line in football -- they're most likely to get noticed when they screw up, not when they do a great job (i.e. we're unlikely to hear about many of their successes, for security reasons)

Posted by: Jay-El | August 14, 2006 9:07 PM

Do I have confidence in our security agencies? NO! There was a story, maybe it was Achenblog, a week ago in which he described European airport security personnel looking passengers in the eye, asking personal questions and in general being on top of the job in an intelligent manner. Contrast this with Chicago's O'Hare, where the surly security personnel chat and talk among themselves while bags and people go by unchecked, where they single out a six-year-old girl telling her to take off her sandals so they can have her assume the position to wave the wand over her, where if a passanger has a question they bark don't stand there! (When in fact there's no one else around and the two TSP guys were just chatting anyway). So the question is do we have more confidence in our security agencies. But today's paper makes note of the fact that the FBI has paid millions to upgrade its computers--to no effect. And how many times and how much money has been wasted on the FBI trying to upgrade their computers? Isn't this about the third or fourth iteration of this story. This administration doesn't even have diplomatic personnel in place to negotiate with Iran or N. Korea--the simpletons! It is now obvious 9/11 could have been prevented (read the story on the FBI agent who was investigating the Cole bombing. He had a line of investigation targeting a couple of the 9/11 conspirators (the one's in San Diego), but the CIA wouldn't share its information until the day after 9/11).
Are we safer? Hell no!!!!!!!

Posted by: Dave, Freeport, IL | August 18, 2006 4:20 PM

By the way, the story on the FBI agent investigating the Cole bombing appeared in the New Yorker a couple of weeks ago. That FBI agent was one of their brightest stars, but the investigation and 9/11 made him totally cynical regarding our fine government; and he now works in the private sector. Does he think we're safer? I don't think so.

Posted by: Dave | August 18, 2006 4:36 PM

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