THE MAGAZINE

20-20 Spy Sight

By Marta Roberts

In early July 2001, an FBI field agent in Arizona, alarmed that al Qaeda operatives were training at U.S. flight schools, penned a memo recommending a national program to track suspicious flight school attendants. The single-line synopsis of the memo, with portions redacted by black marker, appeared on several Web sites, including The Memory Hole. It read: "UBL [Usama bin Laden]... supporters attending civil aviation universities/colleges in state of Arizona."

This was but one of the sobering facts brought to light first in joint hearings held by the House and Senate intelligence committees and then by the 9-11 Commission. Using 20-20 hindsight, these facts have been viewed as intelligence failures.

Whether that's a fair assessment or not, it was the premise that drove the passage last December of the National Intelligence Reform Act. The act creates a director of national intelligence (DNI) to oversee the 15 government agencies involved in intelligence and a National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC), among other measures. (Several sections of the bill are unrelated to intelligence collection and are, therefore, not part of this analysis.) The question now is whether the reorganization will help the intelligence community get any closer to the tall order the nation sets as its goal: 20-20 foresight.

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