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A Call For Smarter Intelligence

A Call For Smarter IntelligenceIna recent Boston Globe op-ed column, a Fletcher SchoolPh.D candidate calls on U.S. officials to consider our nation’shistory of terrorist attacks in order to make intelligence reformeffective.Medford/Somerville,Mass.

Medford/Somerville, Mass. [12.16.04] In light of the 9/11 commission’s intelligencereform proposals – which were recently approved by bothhouses of Congress – a Ph.D candidate at the FletcherSchool suggests that in order for intelligence to work, itis in need of some serious changes.

“Inreality, none of the proposed legislation will do much to preventanother intelligence failure on the scale of 9/11,” ErikDahl wrote in an op-ed column published in The Boston Globeprior to the legislation’s approval. “In order totruly improve our intelligence capabilities, we must heed thelessons learned from our long history of official investigationsfollowing earlier intelligence failures to anticipate surpriseattacks against the United States.”

Dahl –a retired naval intelligence officer – said that this problemis not merely a matter of organization and legislation.

“Themore fundamental problem lies in a failure to understand the intelligenceat hand, and the solution involves changing the mind-set and cultureof the intelligence community more than simply passing legislation,”Dahl wrote.

Dahl citedthe Pearl Harbor attack, explaining that “while the U.S.military had been planning for a Japanese attack against PearlHarbor since the 1920s, military commanders simply could not imaginesuch an attack actually taking place – until some 2,400died on Dec. 7, 1941.”

A similarexample is the 1983 attack on U.S. Marine headquarters in Lebanon,which killed 241 American military personnel. According to Dahl,intelligence officials knew about the dangers but failed to preventthe attacks.

“Despitemore than 100 warnings of car bombings during the months leadingup to the attack, and even though the U.S. Embassy in Beirut hadbeen attacked by a car bomb earlier that year, the commanderson the scene testified afterward that they had not been warnedby intelligence to consider the threat from a much larger truckbomb attack,” Dahl explained.

The Fletcherstudent proposed several solutions to the problem.

First, accordingto Dahl, intelligence commanders must spend less time on turnaroundin reaction to current information, and focus instead on long-termanalysis.

Dahl alsosuggested that U.S. intelligence needs to anticipate that theenemy will be innovative, emphasizing the importance of makingquick – but informed – decisions, rather than expectingprecise warnings of when and where attacks will occur.
“In the past, when our leaders have hesitated because theintelligence wasn’t clear, Americans have died,” Dahlwrote.

He did, however,give the current intelligence community some credit for its attemptat reforming the current system – while encouraging policy-makersto consider the country’s past when making reforms.

“True,no nation and no intelligence can ever provide a 100 percent guaranteeagainst disaster,” Dahl wrote. “But history suggeststhat the footprints of tomorrow’s terrorist attack can beseen today.”






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