National Security Agency, CIA Criticized For Lack of Proper Terrorist Intelligence

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America's intelligence agencies were grossly unprepared for the Sept. 11 attacks, said author and journalist James Bamford in a speech at UC Berkeley last night.

The author of the only books written about the National Security Agency, Bamford is recognized as the foremost expert on the top-secret organization.

Bamford, a former Washington Investigative Producer for ABC's World News Tonight, said both the CIA and NSA did not utilize proper techniques to predict and prevent the terrorist attacks.

He attacked the CIA's method of obtaining information, arguing that "the problem with the CIA is that it doesn't cover much intelligence and what it does collect is not very good."

According to Bamford, the CIA primarily uses "human sources" to collect its information, which is an unreliable method of collecting intelligence. These sources are usually not connected to the organizations the CIA is trying to infiltrate, he said.

Rather, "the key is getting these people to actually infiltrate enemy organizations. For years they said it's absolutely impossible. All of a sudden a kid from Marin County grows a beard and learns the Koran, and manages to get into Afghanistan and learn about Sept. 11 before it happened," Bamford said.

But the CIA has claimed that it did everything it could to prevent the terrorist attacks.

During testimony before the Senate Select Intelligence Committee, CIA Director George Tenet said, "Intelligence will never give you 100-percent predictive capability on terrorist events."

He added that "failure means no focus, no attention, no discipline-and those were not present in what either (the CIA) or the FBI did here and around the world."

Bamford provided several explanations for the NSA's failure to foresee the terrorist attacks, including its overpreparation for Cold War-like attacks.

He said the NSA was "geared to look for missiles after the Cold War but was not geared to look for bin Laden."

Keeping track of Al Qaeda is particularly difficult for the NSA because, unlike actual nations, Osama bin Laden does not communicate with large-scale armed forces, and therefore does not use the communication methods of nations like the former Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, he added.

While bin Laden had used satellite technology to communicate in the past-allowing the United States to pick up his location and even listen to many of his conversations-in recent years he has shifted to the use of the Internet and public telephone lines. Both are more difficult for eavesdropping.

Bamford said since the Cold War, there has been a global proliferation of "trouble spots"-areas that pose a threat to U.S. security-including Haiti, Africa, the Balkans and North Korea.

"All these (trouble spots) began building up," he said. "There were far more trouble spots than the NSA could possibly cover."

Bamford concluded by arguing that a certain degree of terrorist activity is unpreventable.

"I don't think it's a hard and true fact that we can prevent a surprise attack. I think the government should level with the people. There are certain risks in life, and people just have to accept that."

But not everyone at the lecture believed the NSA and CIA were solely to blame.

Merilyn Jackson, a UC Berkeley alumna, said she faulted journalists, because they released information that compromised national security.

Tami Rowen, a UC Berkeley junior, called the speech "fascinating."

"One of the things I love about Berkeley is being able to get this kind of information," she said.


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