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The perilous state of U.S. intelligence

In this June 6, 2013, file photo, the National Security Agency's Utah Data Center in Bluffdale, Utah, is viewed.
In this June 6, 2013, file photo, the National Security Agency's Utah Data Center in Bluffdale, Utah, is viewed.
Rick Bowmer, Associated Press

United States intelligence capabilities have continually eroded; terrorist resources and atrocities are now greater and more widespread than at any time since the 9/11 attack on the U.S. that resulted in some 3,000 deaths and billions in economic impact. Although Osama bin Laden was finally removed with bravado and pronouncement by the administration, bin Laden surrogates are now deeply established through an international network of terrorist support that is endemic throughout the Middle East and Europe.

The National Counterintelligence Center estimate is that enemy combatants in Syria and Iraq alone include over 20,000 foreigners from 90 countries, in addition to thousands of indigenous and dedicated fanatics. More than 3,000 of these radicalized foreign recruits may return to the West and invade the United States, as well as Europe, to continue their avowed and ruthless war against humanity. The alarming situation is that the U.S. intelligence community knows less about the future plans and intentions of these terrorists since 9/11.

Terrorists are now able to operate with impunity, exploiting the world's information resources for recruitment and exploitation activities. When al-Qaida launched its tragic attack on the U.S., it was centrally located, operating principally in Afghanistan, and possessed only limited communication capabilities through its networks. Now, more than 800,000 individuals appear on the U.S. Terror Watch list and they must be monitored even in the absence of a budget for the Department of Homeland Defense.

Terrorism has now metastasized and operates from international communication channels using disguised and encrypted communications for the “Order of Battle.”

The political vacuum in the weak nation-states of Syria, Nigeria, Pakistan, Mali, Libya, Iraq, Yemen, Somalia and Egypt’s Sinai now portends terrorism, destruction and death. Furthermore, U.S. ability to analyze and destroy terrorist networks has greatly eroded, and perception of U.S. weakness and lack of strategic detection and response has emboldened radical terrorists, as evidenced by public beheadings and human immolations.

U.S. telecommunications, software, hardware and social media firms are now reluctant to cooperate with the intelligence community, and our intelligence capabilities have suffered, to our peril. Edward Snowden and his abettors have opened the National Security Agency’s operations to a critical and hostile world. Publicizing top-secret and covert U.S. intelligence operations has undercut the trust of both foreign allies and U.S. private-sector partners, placating the terrorists.

Even the U.S. Congress has openly criticized the CIA Detention and Interrogation Program, undermined U.S. foreign alliances and tarnished the CIA’s ability to provide essential intelligence and protection regarding terrorist activities. The actions by the U.S. Senate have degraded the ability to identify, capture, interrogate and imprison terrorists. The administration’s present policy is now to deploy drones to kill uncertain terrorists, often with collateral impact upon innocent bystanders and greater worldwide animosity.

The U.S. administration and Congress must recognize the essential role of the U.S. intelligence community and its role in defending the peace and welfare of the American public; nothing less is expected and demanded. If and when a major terrorist attack next occurs in the U.S., it cannot be excused as another “intelligence failure.”

Gary Sandquist is a retired Navy Commander Intelligence Officer.