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America’s Dysfunctional Intelligence Agencies
Posted on Nov 29, 2007
James Harris and Josh Scheer
Scheer: What about the people, we hear Chalmers Johnson about blowback. That 9/11 is blowback from the CIA in Afghanistan and helping bin Laden. And we have blowback from putting our bases in Saudi Arabia. How many of these terrorist actions may be a result in failures maybe in being able to spy, but also our failure in our foreign policy?
Zegart: Well, the foreign policy is obviously a huge part of the equation. You can have the best intelligence and homeland security system in the world, but if your foreign policy is generating interest by angry radical communities to blow themselves up and kill as many Americans as possible, you’re still not going to protect American lives. So the policy in the long run, in solving that demand side of the equation, keeping people from wanting to join extremist, terrorist organizations, is critical.
Harris: If you could tear it all down and rebuild a system that works, where would you start? What’s the most critical or central piece to replace in rebuilding this system so that it begins to function properly?
Zegart: That’s a great question. Initially I would have said the domestic intelligence piece, because I’m hesitating because one of the dangers of intelligence reform is that we hard-wire this system to deal with today’s threat. And we make the system unable to adapt to tomorrow’s threat. As one intelligence official put it to me, by the time we master the al-Qaida problem, will al-Qaida be the problem? So if you think about developing all-around athlete capabilities or intelligence agencies, if I had to focus on one thing, it would be fixing the problem at the top, so that the director of national intelligence has the authority that’s commensurate with his responsibility to knock those bureaucratic heads together. He doesn’t, he hasn’t ever had it; the CIA director before him didn’t have it either.
Harris: Amy, you are about the most pragmatic and straight-forward writer that I’ve talked to in a long time. I think you’ve written a great piece here.
Zegart: Thank you so much. I really appreciate it.
Harris: I hope that people will pick up this book. Where can they get a copy?
Zegart: You can get a copy cheap at Amazon.com or at Princeton University Press on their Web site. And in many Borders bookstores near you.
Harris: And if you see her mom, she has copies in her trunk, so be sure to ask her.
Zegart: She actually may send them by airdrop if you e-mail her.
Harris: For Josh Scheer, for Amy Zegart, author of “Spying Blind,” this is James Harris, and this is Truthdig.
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