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date: 07 October 2022

Institutional and Organizational Crisis: The CIA After 9/11locked

Institutional and Organizational Crisis: The CIA After 9/11locked

  • Simon WillmettsSimon WillmettsInstitute of Security and Global Affairs, Leiden University
  •  and Constant HijzenConstant HijzenInstitute of Security and Global Affairs, Leiden University

Summary

The events of 9/11 profoundly changed the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency. To begin with, 9/11 itself was a crisis that came to be regarded by many as an “intelligence failure.” Questions were soon asked about what the CIA had known about the 9/11 hijackers before the attacks and whether they could have done more to prevent them. These questions eventually inspired two separate official inquiries, exposing the CIA to considerable public scrutiny. Soon after, the quality of CIA intelligence was once again called into question. In 2003 the United States invaded Iraq. The Bush administration based its case for war on faulty intelligence that suggested Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction. After the invasion, it became clear that he did not. Following another series of inquiries, mounting evidence suggested that not only had mistakes been made by the CIA but also that the Bush administration had exaggerated the intelligence in public and ignored the significant reservations and counterarguments within the U.S. intelligence community, which challenged the conclusion that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction.

Ironically, given that these two major scandals in the aftermath of 9/11 focused attention on the quality of the CIA’s intelligence analysis, 9/11 also shifted the main focus of the CIA’s attention away from traditional intelligence work. For obvious reasons, after 9/11, the CIA focused increasingly on counterterrorism. This changed the CIA. Counterterrorism, as opposed to more traditional intelligence work, often involves intervention, and sometimes violent intervention. After 9/11 the CIA led special forces operations and played a leading role in the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan. In Afghanistan, and across the globe, the CIA captured terrorist suspects, rendered them to secret prisons in foreign countries, and tortured them. After President Barack Obama closed the CIA’s secret prisons and ended the practice of torture, increasingly the preferred method of dealing with terrorist suspects was to kill them, via drone strikes or through special forces raids. As a result, CIA intelligence collection and analysis became less of a passive activity, where the aim is to understand a particular strategic question, and more “kinetic” in obtaining information that might help target terrorist suspects and mark them for death. As a result, the traditional line within the CIA between operatives and analysts began to blur. Moreover, the CIA’s increasing involvement in these violent, military-like activities exposed them to numerous scandals that became crises of their own.

Subjects

  • History and Politics

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