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Top G-Men: Terror Ignorance is Bliss

A few weeks back, I wrote about the seemingly unshakeable culture of technophobia at the FBI -- and how nearly a third of Bureau employees still don't have e-mail accounts, as a result.ace_g_man_stories_194304.jpgBut that's not the only bad habit that the G-Men are having trouble breaking. As Jeff Stein reports in his must-read CQ Weekly cover story, there's still a willful ignorance about terrorists and their methods -- even at the FBI's highest levels.

Now listen to the testimony of Gary M. Bald, the FBIs top counterterrorism and counterintelligence official, in a legal deposition last year. Questioned under oath in a whistleblower lawsuit brought by an Arab- American FBI agent, Bald was asked whether he knew the difference between Sunni and Shia, the two strains of Islam at war with each other as much as with the United States.Bald waved off the question. You dont need subject matter expertise, he said. The subject matter expertise is helpful, but it isnt a prerequisite. It is certainly not what I look for in selecting an official for a position in the counterterrorism [program]. In other words, he didnt know the answer: that a 1,400-year-long schism over who should lead Islam, originating in fierce succession battles after the death of Mohammed in 632 A.D., is still being played out between nuclear aspirant and Shiite Iran and Sunni Saudi Arabia, not to mention the armed factions battling for control of U.S.-occupied Iraq. The religious passions that drive the different branches of the Islamic world and the fervor that leads some to violence against the West was not on his radar screen.Nor could Bald, or other top FBI counterterrorism officials questioned last summer, explain the web of relationships of Osama bin Laden and his al Qaeda terrorist organization with other key fundamentalist figures and groupshat its techniques for recruiting informants change on the basis of a persons ethnic background, culture or language, according to testimony by John E. Lewis, another top counterterrorism official at the bureau. It doesnt make any difference whether somebodys from the Middle East or a white supremacist or from Australia, Lewis said, meaning that Middle Eastern terrorists rat out their brethren for the same reason Klansmen do: for money, revenge and disenchantment with the cause.That the FBIs American recruits spoke the Klans language in Mississippi and understood its culture and politics was not seen as any kind of special advantage thats being lost in the battle against foreign terrorists. Under further questioning, Lewis also admitted that he had no previous counterterrorism experience himself.
UPDATE 1:48 PM: "The salient fact is that, approaching five years after 9/11, we still do not have a domestic intelligence service that can collect effectively against the terrorist threat to the homeland or provide authoritative analysis of that threat," John Gannon, a former CIA Deputy Director for Intelligence, told the Senate Judiciary Committee today. "It is not enough to say these things take time. It could not be clearer from the Intelligence Communitys experience over the past 25 years that it is extraordinarily difficult to blend the families of intelligence and law enforcement, and that the Bureaus organizational bias toward the latterfor deep-seated historic reasons--is powerful and persistent."Read more testimony here.
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