Terrorists would not have much more difficulty attacking the U.S. today than they did before September 11, 2001, says a former senior analyst of the Central Intelligence Agency.
"The reason it's going to occur is because we've done nothing about our borders," said Michael Scheuer, former head of the CIA's Osama bin Laden unit. Scheuer also authored, anonymously, a controversial analysis of the war on terror entitled Imperial Hubris: Why the West is Losing the War on Terror.
Scheuer is one of several experts who contributed to Inside 9/11, a documentary that airs on the National Geographic Channel. The documentary uses declassified documents and scores of interviews to piece together how terrorists succeeded in catching the U.S. intelligence apparatus off guard.
Can it happen again? National Geographic News interviewed Scheuer about this and other issues in the war on terrorism.
What's your impression of the intelligence changes that have been made since 9/11?
I don't think it would be much harder to conduct a surprise attack today than it was before 9/11 or before the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor.
Just look at recent events. London may be the best policed city in the Western world, and their security services (the British equivalent of the FBI) are probably the best in the Western world. They were defeated twice in two weeks.
Even the Egyptians had an attack last April and another last month on two very important tourism targets. They have more security services than they know what do with, and they have no human rights issues or legal concerns [to complicate their work].
If you want your national security to depend on stopping surprise attacks, you're going to be a very beat-up society at the end of the day. We've given the police an impossible task, because the politicians of both parties are too cowardly to enforce the laws already on the books as far as immigration and finding out who's in the country illegally.
There will be no end of people who blame the FBI and the police after the next attack, but the reason it's going to occur is because we've done nothing about our borders.
The recent attacks you mention have been on a far smaller scale than those of 9/11. Why might that be?
The London attacks, I think, should be viewed as part of a secondary campaign that al Qaeda has been conducting since at least mid-2002. Bin Laden [and others] have warned the allies of the United States, especially those who supported us in Afghanistan and Iraq.
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