Did the tragedy of September 11th proceed
from an intelligence failure or a risk assessment failure?
An intelligence failure involves missing
or misinterpreting a signal through a channel which
an intelligence service should be monitoring. For example,
the CIA's failure to detect and give warning about India's
nuclear tests, which it had been assigned to monitor
through espionage, communications and overhead reconnaissance
channels, was a clear-cut failure of intelligence.
A risk assessment failure involves not
appreciating the probability of an event happening,
and consequently not allocating sufficient intelligence
resources to monitor channels that might give warning.
The September 11th tragedy proceeded
from a risk assessment failure. The US security establishment
had underestimated the threat of a handful of hijackers
converting an airliner a piloted missile. If they had
properly appreciated this risk, they could have increased
surveillance through channels likely to produce a signal.
For example, counter-surveillance at airports, surveillance
aboard planes through undercover federal marshals and
crew members and dredging through the activities, including
financial transactions and phone calls, of recently
trained student pilots associated with Suicidist and
extremist organization. To be sure, such surveillance
prior to September 11th might have produced an intelligence
failure (missed signals, such as the Algerian pilot
in Minnesota). Or, possibly, an intelligence success.
But because of the risk assessment deficiency, such
intelligence coverage was not instituted. So it was
a risk assessment failure.