UCLA Professor Analyzes U.S. Intelligence


Author: Marjorie Camarda

Oxy was visited by UCLA Professor Amy Zegart, one of the nation’s authorities on government intelligence, Friday, April 13. Zegart has a long list of experiences in her field that includes serving as an advisor for both the Clinton administration and the Bush-Cheney campaign, and receiving the most coveted national dissertation award in political science.

During her lecture, Zegart described the nation as being in the midst of a crisis of which 9/11 was only the beginning. The only way to head off this impending disaster is through intelligence reform, Zegart said.

Following 9/11, a flurry of theories arose about its cause, including low wages for airport security workers and failures during both the Clinton and Bush administrations. But these were minor problems, in relation to the attack, Zegart said.

“The greatest reason we couldn’t prevent 9/11 was the inability of intelligence to adapt to the end of the Cold War,” she said.

Some critics of Zegart’s theory contend that blaming the FBI for 9/11 is unfair, given that the nature of threats on homeland security changed so rapidly after the Cold War. But Zegart points out that even in the early 1990s, terrorism was an important political issue. In 1999, former Secretary of Defense William Cohen predicted in a Washington Post editorial that there would soon be a major terrorist attack on American soil.

Others like to place the blame on individuals. “This view is understandable, comforting and dangerous,” Zegart said. In her opinion, the entire system is faulty and begs complete reorganization. “When so many things fall through the cracks, the only explanation is that there are too many cracks,” she said.

Though this is a problem that demands attention, as it determines the safety of an entire nation, Zegart said there is no simple solution for intelligence reform. Many politicians are wary of taking on such a complex cause, she said, especially since those who do are usually met with what may be insurmountable barriers. Every resolution that is passed to address the security issue is so “watered-down” that, in the end, it doesn’t help at all and as a result “there is an astounding record of lack of oversight of the FBI by Congress,” Zegart said.

Zegart called the FBI a “hopeless case,” and said it will take another catastrophic attack to inspire reform.

Zegart was careful not to make the FBI into a scapegoat, though. She pointed out that the media and the Bush administration have all made the situation even more difficult for the FBI. The media, she said, publishes “tilted literature” that focuses too much on individual shortcomings and not enough on the “greater historical picture.” She also said that in summer 2002 the Bush administration manipulated intelligence to justify the Iraq War.

These days, most people see terrorism as a war that is fought on foreign soil. But perhaps it would be wise to reassess the homeland agencies that are the root of the campaign against terrorism. One cannot help but consider Zegart’s call for intelligence adaptation and evolution after hearing the common FBI saying, “Real men don’t type. The only thing a real agent needs is a pen [. . .] and a gun.”

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