Award-winning FBI historian Theoharis (The FBI and American Democracy, 2004, etc.) brings a unique perspective to the question of how and why the intelligence community failed to uncover the 9/11 terrorists and prevent the attack.
His balanced, meticulously researched history begins in 1882, when the Office of Naval Intelligence was established. Theoharis describes the proliferation of intelligence agencies over the 100 years since the formation of the FBI in 1908, but dismisses this as a principal cause of the 9/11 failure. Instead, he blames the intelligence community’s cult of excessive secrecy, which he attributes to their attempt “to shape the political culture” by focusing more on extralegal political subversion than on potential criminal activities. He describes how this attitude was abetted by the willingness of presidents from FDR on to empower the extralegal activities of the FBI—and later the CIA and NSA—by using secret executive authorizations to bypass congressional oversight. He disagrees with many of the conclusions of the National Commission on Terrorist Acts, which in 2004 cited deficiencies in information-sharing as the primary reason for the intelligence breakdown prior to 9/11. Theoharis also disagrees with the commission’s recommendation that oversight be centralized in the executive branch, calling for more congressional oversight rather than less. Using the intelligence services to consolidate their own power has been a prime objective of many presidents, he contends, and it has led to significant intelligence failures and constitutional abuses.
An important, provocative book, sure to be widely discussed.