National Review
October 27, 2003
Books, Arts & Manners
Unequal Struggle
By Angelo M. Codevilla

Bush vs. the Beltway: How the CIA and the State Department Tried to Stop the
War on Terror, by Laurie Mylroie (HarperCollins, 272 pp., $25.95)

This book is the best available account of the reasoning behind the conduct
of the war on terror. But it is based on a faulty premise, the one implicit
in its title: that presidents neither control nor reform their
bureaucracies. This is an analgesic for Republicans, because it shields
President Bush from responsibility for the incoherence of terrorism policy
that the book documents. If all presidents are equally beset by bureaucrats,
then Bush can be excused, even praised, for making U.S. policy come out no
worse than it has.

In fact, however, the image of a president battling bureaucrats on nearly
equal terms applies only to those who have not tried to master their
servants, or proved inept at it. It certainly does not apply to FDR or
JFK -- or even to Jimmy Carter or Bill Clinton. Nearly a half-century ago,
Kennedy's defense secretary, Robert McNamara, bequeathed an organizational
structure -- an elite, and a culture -- that dominates the armed forces as
well as the thinking about them; none of his successors have challenged it.
Jimmy Carter's CIA and NSA directors -- respectively, Stansfield Turner and
Bobby Ray Inman -- made their agencies into what they are today by firing
one kind of senior bureaucrat and elevating another. Similarly, bureaucrats
knew that Bill Clinton could not be crossed with impunity. (Ask James
Woolsey and John Deutch.) Laurie Mylroie never attempts to show the general
applicability of her judgment that "even after a clear decision is made [by
the president], sub-Cabinet and sub-sub-Cabinet officials may work to
undermine it, while the overruled Cabinet official may continue to emit
public signals of his unhappiness with the policy." In fact, Democrats have
tended to shape, staff, and be served by the bureaucracy, while Republicans
have lived with it and complained. With precise mathematical accuracy,
presidents get from their bureaucracies neither more nor less than they

Although Mylroie writes much and well on the intelligence bureaucracy's
grievous shortcomings regarding terrorism, she does not directly shed light
on President Bush's connection to the bureaucracy's failings -- except at
one point, where she writes: "Even senior administration officials --
including the president -- may not have understood how strong the case
against Iraq was." This points to the heart of what the title obfuscates: In
fact as well as formally, President Bush is responsible. On this the sources
she cites agree: Repeated reality checks to the contrary notwithstanding,
Bush II, like Bush I, trusts U.S. intelligence, and the State Department as
well. He staffs them and keeps them. He does not battle them. No one but he
is responsible for the actual mix of judgment and policy.

This book's substantial value is as a case study of intellectual
incompetence with regard to terrorism and Iraq. That incompetence has two
sources: self-indulgent adherence to mistaken prejudices about policy, and
failure to apply proper quality control to intelligence operations (the kind
of watchfulness usually called counterintelligence).

Mylroie begins with the FBI's handling of the investigation into the fall
2001 anthrax mailings. There was never the slightest evidence that the
spores came from an American, never mind a lone "right-wing" scientist; but
the FBI angrily dismissed the massive evidence pointing in other directions.
It did not deviate from its course, even though the anthrax letters -- the
first of which was mailed on 9/11 from a location near where the hijackers
had operated, and all of which contained references to Islamic causes --
practically begged the Bureau to think that they had come from al-Qaeda.

Then Iraq's Saddam Hussein publicly suggested that bin Laden was behind the
anthrax attacks. Why was one of our enemies trying gratuitously to implicate
al-Qaeda? One plausible answer begins with the fact that the essence of
terrorist warfare is cover: giving the target the impression that the
orchestrators of the attack are in fact innocent, and sending the target to
look elsewhere. The anthrax attacks were small, and may have been a test --
not of the powders or the delivery system, because those were sure to
work -- but of whether the cover would work: Would the American hounds go
baying off after al-Qaeda and leave Iraq alone? Mylroie concludes that the
FBI's focus on domestic terrorism baffled the Iraqis, who did not think that
the FBI's theory would offer sufficient cover for larger attacks. In the
absence of a firm disposition to blame al-Qaeda, the Americans might come
after Iraq itself.

Within hours of the 9/11 hijackings, too, much evidence pointed to al-Qaeda.
But this information was "low-hanging fruit": People expert at covering
their tracks had left some tracks to be found. The media and the CIA pounced
on the easy meat. Mylroie writes: "The willingness of the American media to
accept simple (if flawed) explanations is matched only by the willingness of
the U.S. government agencies to promote such explanations -- even in the
face of disturbing evidence to the contrary." The agencies did after 9/11
something like what they had done after the 1993 bombing of the World Trade
Center. In 1993, they picked up a suspect who had been left behind
intentionally (left without money, the sap went back to Ryder to collect the
rental deposit on the van that had blown up with the bomb). Even though he
had made 46 telephone calls to Iraq, the official judgment was that both the
fool himself and the overall plot were about pure Islamist extremism, having
nothing to do with any state. Similarly, U.S. intelligence went out of its
way to ignore the fact that the professional doctoring of bombing mastermind
Ramzi Youssef's Kuwaiti identity documents pointed to his being an agent of
Iraqi intelligence.

Who, then, was ultimately behind the attacks on the World Trade Center, in
1993 and 2001? That is the question Laurie Mylroie has done more than anyone
else to advance. In a nutshell, the official U.S. intelligence line -- the
basis on which President Bush has been acting -- is that Youssef and the key
organizers of 9/11 all belong essentially to one family, who are ethnic
Baluchis, born and raised in Kuwait, and working for al-Qaeda. In fact,
however, their activities began long before their 1997 association with
al-Qaeda could have brought them the financial and organizational tools;
furthermore, the notion that a single family could be at the heart of a
worldwide assault on America is inherently implausible. Mylroie also argues,
persuasively, that there is much reason to believe that these persons are
not who they claim to be at all. In addition, at least five of the 19
persons whose names and photos U.S. intelligence published as those of the
9/11 hijackers did not match real people.

The CIA and FBI need to ask -- and be asked -- uncomfortable questions. In
Mylroie's words: "People's egos and careers almost inevitably come into play
[in intelligence] . . . the deceiver quickly finds an unlikely ally in the
deceived." Until this problem is confronted, the title Bush vs. the Beltway
will remain more a wish than a statement.

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