The Corner

Stupid Intelligence

You’ll recall the July 10th 2001 New York Times op-ed by Larry C. Johnson, a former CIA and State Department counter-terrorism specialist (now one of those campaigning against Karl Rove).

In it, Johnson wrote that terrorism that “Americans have little to fear” from terrorism, Fears about terrorism, he added, were only being stirred up by “24-hour broadcast news operations too eager to find a dramatic story,” by “pundits who repeat myths while ignoring clear empirical data,” as well as politicians who “warn constituents of dire threats and then appropriate money for redundant military installations and new government investigators and agents.”

Well, it now turns out that, “Three weeks before the London bombings of July 7, Britain’s Joint Terrorist Analysis Center advised policymakers that ”at present there is not a group with both the current intent and the capability to attack the UK.’”

Jeff Jacoby has more in this column.

In particular, Jeff asks this pertinent question: “Which kind of intelligence failure is better — the kind that badly understates a threat, such as the one in London, or the kind that overstates a threat, such as the insistent warnings before the invasion of Iraq that Saddam Hussein was armed with weapons of mass destruction?”

I find his answer persuasive: “If intelligence failures are inevitable — and in a world of human fallibility, they are — we are better off worrying too much about our enemies and taking steps to defeat them than worrying too little and being caught, unready, when they attack. Worrying too much led the United States and Britain to topple a brutal tyrant. Worrying too little led to 9/11 and 7/7.”

Clifford D. MayClifford D. May is an American journalist and editor. He is the president of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a conservative policy institute created shortly after the 9/11 attacks, ...

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