An attack with a weapon of mass destruction and other disasters will befall the United States in the next six years unless serious reforms are made in intelligence services, former National Security Council member Philip Chase Bobbitt said yesterday.
Bobbitt discussed the ways in which the United States can avoid the disaster, and warned against certain policy options.
Sounding a note of skepticism, he said the construction of what he considers an “unachievable” national missile defense system instead of the more plausible “theater defense” among individual allied nations is highly problematic.
In the final Montgomery Endowment lecture, Bobbitt said the United States must work to protect international infrastructure, not just its own, and that it must establish an international search warrant to monitor suspected terror groups. He said, however, that he doubts such reforms will occur.
Bobbitt, a professor at the University of Texas since 1976, listed a number of traditional separations that he said need to be redefined in order to prevent further intelligence failures. For example, the division between the public and private sector needs to be diminished, though not eliminated outright, as does the distinction between intelligence and law enforcement, he said.
“I would not like to erase these boundaries,” Bobbitt said, adding that doing so would create a totalitarian state. Such distinctions allow American society to function democratically, he said.
Bobbitt currently serves on the National Infrastructure Assurance Council and the Texas Attorney General’s State Infrastructure Protection Advisory Committee. Among other jobs prior to his NSC position, he was legal counsel to the Senate Select Committee on the Iran-Contra Affair.
The reluctance of the FBI to share its database of criminal information with other agencies or the private sector was one of the principal factors that allowed the attacks, he said to a receptive audience of 100 in Filene Auditorium.
According to Bobbitt, the FBI maintained that the Federal Aviation Administration and the State Department were not law enforcement agencies and thus not entitled to the information. The airlines and the firms that provided security at airports were also not allowed access to the information because they are not government organizations.
Similarly, the relationship between those who gather the information and those who use it must grow more interactive, Bobbitt said. While in the past the producers of information left the decisions about the information’s use up to politicians and other authorities, recent events mandate that this relationship be changed, Bobbitt said.
The inadvertent public revelation by a military authority that U.S. intelligence was tapping into the satellite telephone conversations of suspected terrorist Osama bin Laden led to an end of such calls.
Furthermore, the refusal by the CIA and other agencies to accept public information as opposed to covertly gathered secrets is another issue that needs to be addressed, he said.
Bobbitt also criticized President George W. Bush’s goal of creating a hemisphere-wide free-trade region, which he said was unnecessary with modern transportation and communications. A unit such as the proposed Free Trade Area of the Americas is likely to create worldwide divisions akin to those between Britain and the rest of the European Union, he said.
If Bobbitt’s recommendations are accepted, however, he expects “commercial relations will be a far more important part of our security than in the past.”
The nation should learn from the mistakes that allowed the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, he said, since prior intelligence failures have historically led to reform.
“Many of our most satisfying successes have come in the wake of some of our most catastrophic failures,” he said, adding that “success can come from failure. It’s called learning.”
For example, the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor caused the rapid breaking of Japanese codes which allowed the victory at the Battle of Midway. The surprise attack ultimately led to the creation of the Central Intelligence Agency to conduct foreign intelligence gathering.