No, says the CIA, we’re not going to let you see our internal review of how we managed to miss the 9/11 plot despite numerous red flags. But … look over there! Ancient abuses!

No, says the CIA, we’re not going to let you see our internal review of how we managed to miss the 9/11 plot despite numerous red flags. But … look over there! Ancient abuses!

My colleague Amy Zegart writes:

Don’t let the glitter of the CIA’s “family jewels” dazzle you. The 693-page document, which was compiled in 1973 and details the agency’s abuses over a twenty-five year period, is about to be declassified. But before you get caught up in the agency’s plots to slip Fidel Castro LSD or make his beard fall out (all real plans–I couldn’t make this stuff up), consider two things:

1. The CIA’s newfound glasnost only applies to ancient history. For the past 2 years, the agency has steadfastly refused to release ANY of its internal review of 9/11 intelligence failures, despite repeated and often bipartisan requests by the Senate Intelligence Committee. Dirty tricks from the 1970s make for interesting reading. Understanding what went wrong before 9/11 makes for better intelligence. I like CIA Director Mike Hayden, and think he’s

committed to reform and doing the right thing. But don’t buy his claims of greater openness at Langley until he starts coughing up documents not written on stone tablets.

2. Abuses are horrible, disturbing, sexy and riveting. But they do not cause intelligence failures. No black site, assassination plot, or torture technique led to 9/11 or the flawed intelligence about Iraq’s WMD programs. These massive failures were caused by massive, decades-old weaknesses in intelligence agency structures, cultures, and incentives. Preventing abuse is the morally right thing to do and soothes the national conscience. But it does not provide for national

security. Our national fixation with abuses distracted Congressional attention from reforming the CIA back in the 1970s, and continues to do so today.

Some background: Zegart’s thesis adviser at Stanford was Condoleeza Rice. Her first book was on why the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the National Security Council, and the CIA were all designed to fail due to the bureaucratic pressures that shaped the National Security Act of 1947. She is about to come out with a new book called Spying Blind: The CIA, the FBI, and the Origins of 9/11. I’ve read it in manuscript, and it’s a bombshell.

Until the CIA starts to open its books, the rest of us will have to satisfy ourselves with reading Amy’s.

Update If you want to watch some high-class dumpster-diving, Amy and some other national-security wonks are pawing through the “family jewels” here. Yes, Allen Dulles did indeed sign off on an assassination plot directed at Castro, and shortly before the Watergate break-in E. Howard Hunt went to the CIA’s placement agency for ex-spooks and asked for a lock-picker.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: Markarkleiman-at-gmail.com