Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Restrictions on Intelligence Gathering May Have Deadly Consequences

It's a truism that intelligence is a key weapon against terrorism. The best way to stop a terrorist operation is to find out about it in advance, and nip it in the bud. Once an act of terrorism reaches the execution stage it is very difficult to stop, and we are reduced to relying on luck or the mistakes of the terrorist himself to prevent disaster. Marc Thiessen, writing in the Washington Post, argues that we may be "passing up chances to stop terrorist plots."
just a few months before Shahzad attempted to blow up a car bomb in the heart of Manhattan, U.S. and Pakistani officials captured the highest-ranking Taliban leader ever detained in the war on terror -- Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar. This raises a critical question: Could Baradar have warned us about the Times Square attack?
That's a good question. As Theissen points out, the foolish legalistic restrictions placed on the CIA prevent us from gaining such intelligence. Instead we have to rely on the unreliable Pakistani intelligence service to take the lead conducting interrogations -- a service known to have close ties with Islamist groups.
officials said they have learned nothing from Baradar that could be used to track down other Taliban leaders, or inform the planning of U.S. military operations." The failure to properly exploit Baradar prompted the CIA to push for his transfer to a U.S.-run prison in Afghanistan -- a request that was apparently denied.
Apparently the ISI is taking its time getting information from Baradar, and allowing him to set the agenda.
It would be a different story in a CIA black site. But President Obama shut down the CIA's black sites and dismantled the agency's interrogation program.
And we may yet pay for those idiotic actions with a terrorist plot that escapes detection. The Obama administration is not even making use of the new interrogation unit it created.
he created something called the High-Value Interrogation Group (HIG) -- a less controversial alternative for questioning senior terrorist leaders like Baradar and KSM. Yet according to multiple media accounts, the HIG has not been deployed to participate in Baradar's interrogation. Why not? While the HIG is not authorized to use even the most mild enhanced interrogation techniques that could compel Baradar's cooperation, it was purportedly created for just such a circumstance. If the HIG is not going to being used to question the highest-ranking Taliban leader ever taken into custody, who exactly is it going to interrogate?
Another good question. I give the Obama administration credit for aggressively going after terrorist enemies both militarily and with its expanded drone assassination campaign. But by caving at least partially to the whining of terrorist rights supporters -- people far more concerned about the imaginary rights of foreign enemies than U.S. national security -- the administration has damaged our intelligence gathering capabilities, putting us in a position where we need even more luck than usual to avoid a terrorist strike. When we capture a known enemy terrorist leader such as Baradar, our primary concern should be gaining intelligence necessary to protect the U.S. What's better for U.S security, an extensive CIA interrogation with all options available to extract information, or relying on the cooperation of Pakistan's ISI? The answer seems pretty obvious -- at least if you aren't a terrorist rights supporter. But since that's no longer an option, let's hope our luck continues to hold, we continue to have people in the right place at the right time to spot terrorist plots unfolding, and that all the terrorists make as many mistakes as the last few. 

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