The main goal of intelligence collection is to predict and prevent. The disruption of a terrorist plot will only happen if there is information gathered about the identity of the individuals or groups involved and their geographic location. This is important for members involved in supporting the terrorist agenda or planning to carry out an attack. Intelligence can be gathered by monitoring and observing technology or people. A large quantity of information can be gathered, which can make it difficult for investigators to determine what is important. Once a piece of intel has been identified as relevant, it must also be confirmed that it is legitimate and current. Investigators assume that there will be certain steps taken prior to a terrorist attack that will allow ample time for evidence gathering. The main objectives for intelligence gathering are to produce a set of possible threat scenarios, filter the set into a subset of the most likely scenario, determine what leads are worth investigating, and to confirm these threats are credible (Horowitz & Haimes, 2003). Potential attacks must be identified and separated so resources can be used to follow up on the more credible leads. Possible extremist plans can be intercepted if intelligence is gathered accordingly. Three important steps must be taken by the intelligence community. First, terrorist networks must be assessed to establish what the needs are for intelligence gathering. Second, possible scenarios must be developed and compared from different sources. This will aid in the decision-making process for accumulating intel. Lastly, responsibilities for intelligence gathering should be distributed across federal, state, and local homeland security and intelligence agencies. These steps must be taken for a wide range of possible threats, even those that may seem farfetched.
In regards to the 9/11 terrorist attack, a communication breakdown definitely occurred. Intelligence about Al Qaeda was gathered for months, but the information was not shared between federal agencies. The absence of information sharing prevented the dots from being connected and authorities were not able to intercept the terrorist plot. Various officials were aware of the involved individuals, but collaboration between agencies did not occur. Intelligence officials received information of the possibility of an attack with the use of an aircraft as a weapon, but the lead was not pursued or acted on (Busch & Weissman, 2005). Also, the data was somewhat analyzed erroneously because although officials knew there was a possibility of a terrorist attack, they did not specify that it could occur domestically. It was predicted to be an international attack overseas. U.S. intelligence officials should have corresponded with intelligence analysts from around the world to gain intel about the innerworkings of the terrorist group (Busch & Weissman, 2005). The methodology outlined in Horowitz and Haimes’ article was not utilized prior to the 9/11 attack. The information should have been used to predict scenarios that would occur both domestically and internationally. The threat was determined to be credible, but the location of threat was not accurately assessed. There were warnings of an impending attack months before September 11th, 2001 and action was not taken. Government agencies failed to communicate and share their intel.
One way to ensure that these events are not repeated is to guarantee there is coordination between law enforcement agencies. Valuable intelligence information must be gathered and exchanged so all agencies are aware of a potential threat. Scenarios should be theorized and evaluated to better equip officials of the numerous possibilities of an attack. There will never be a 100% effective way to prevent a horrific attack from happening because the likelihood of officials being able to theorize and plan for every scenario is impossible. However, by gathering information, planning for the most likely scenarios, and following up on leads, there is a high probability that a terrorist plot can be intercepted.
Busch, K. G., & Weissman, S. H. (2005). The intelligence community and the war on terror: The role of behavioral science.
Behavioral Sciences & the Law, 23(4), 559–571.
Horowitz, B. M., & Haimes, Y. Y. (2003). Risk-based methodology for scenario tracking, intelligence gathering, and analysis for
countering terrorism. Systems Engineering, 6(3), 152–169.