Monday, April 25, 2005

The Athens NEWS: Woolsey's Remarks Don't Analytically Cut It

The Athens NEWS: Twice weekly alternative: "Former CIA operatives debate Sept. 11 and Iraq
By Quinn Bowman
Athens NEWS Campus Reporter

Three veterans of the CIA spoke their minds on the reasons for recent failures at the agency during a Friday morning panel discussion entitled "9/11 and Iraq: What Went Wrong."

The forum was the first of three panels held Friday for the 2005 Baker Peace Conference in Ohio University's Baker Center.

The panel included Graham Fuller, former CIA national intelligence officer for the Near East and South Asia; Reuel Marc Gerecht, former CIA Middle East specialist from 1985-1994; and 22-year CIA vet Michael Scheuer, who served as chief of the CIA Counterterrorist Center's Osama bin Laden Unit from 1996-1999.

Each panelist addressed the audience in a separate speech, but also answered questions afterward. The panel was introduced and moderated by OU associate professor of history John Brobst.

Fuller, the first to speak, criticized the CIA for being unable to understand the culture of the Middle East and the Muslim world. "The Muslim world perhaps understands us better than we understand ourselves," he said.

Contrary to what is generally presented in the mainstream media, he added, "Islamists" do not all fall into line ideologically with al Qaeda. Fuller clarified the situation. "Indeed, there are fascists and totalitarian Islamists, but any Muslim who believes the Quran and the actions of the prophet Muhammad has something to do with Muslim life and governance" is an Islamist, he said.

This diverse group includes bin Laden, but the moderates who control Turkey also fall under this umbrella, he said. The Islamist movement is vital and evolving and its members don't always agree, Fuller said.

On the domestic side, Fuller charged that the Bush administration is dismissive of opinions from the Middle East "at the highest levels.

"9/11 was not a bolt from the blue," he declared. "There were long decades of preceding facts."

Fuller also took a shot at some of former CIA Director James Woolsey's remarks during the keynote address the previous night. The notion that terrorists want to destroy America because of its freedoms "doesn't analytically cut it," Fuller said.

Specific policies, including U.S. support for Middle-East dictators, trigger resentment. "(U.S.) policies are socializing a new generation of rage," he said. "We need to work with Muslims to help them fix problems because ultimately they have to clean up the mess."

GERECHT WAS LESS critical of current U.S. policies toward the Middle East, but focused more of his scope of analysis on intelligence gathering.

In terms of understanding the Arab world, Gerecht argued that America is best qualified. American intelligence experts are pound for pound better informed about the problems of the Middle East than any expert in Europe, he said.

Gerecht maintained that controversial Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, for example, is better qualified to analyze the Middle East than any expert in Great Britain, Germany, or France.

However, restructuring American intelligence agencies and getting political support at home for spy activities is something that needs improving, Gerecht acknowledged. A key problem for U.S. spies is that the structure for gathering information overseas was not calibrated to deal with Islamists, he said.

Gerecht stressed the need for NOC (non-official cover spies) agents as opposed to spies who work as fake diplomats in American embassies. NOC agents are better suited for collecting information from sources such as Islamic clerics, he said.

Even with the best information from overseas, he added, it is hard to change the policy decisions of U.S. politicians who have a set course of action in mind. A member of Congress who opposes preempting terrorist attacks will oppose such preemption no matter what the intelligence says, he said.

Rounding out the panel, Scheuer argued that recent investigatory commissions charged with improving U.S. intelligence in light of the Sept. 11 attacks and the lack of WMD in Iraq did not do their jobs. Moreover, it was the U.S. intelligence community itself that did not do its job, he said.

Scheuer told the audience that it was the human failure and moral cowardice of the intelligence community that led to 9/11 and WMD mistakes, not the structure of the institutions themselves. "It's like a judge who sends the automobile to jail after finding the driver guilty of vehicular homicide," he said.

Scheuer cited the Commission on the Intelligence Capabilities of the U.S. Regarding WMD, otherwise known as the Robb-Silberman report, as a flawed endeavor that did not hold anyone accountable for their mistakes. "The report was 'not here to point fingers.' It couldn't find anyone responsible for anything," Scheuer said. "No names named, no fault found. They not only missed the boat, they missed the dock."

Scheuer concluded by issuing a damning evaluation of the investigatory commissions regarding intelligence failures. "No senior leader was sanctioned because they were more concerned about protecting the political aristocracy that appointed them," he said.

Joy Parr, a junior exchange student from the University of Wales Swansea, was particularly interested and in agreement with Gerecht's evaluation of European intelligence capabilities. Europeans have a different set of terrorists to deal with, she said. "Europeans have to deal with their own internal terror problems like the IRA and the Basques in Spain," she said."