Permeable border hurt U.S. defense


The U.S. government did not discover false statements made on visa applications. Fake… The U.S. government did not discover false statements made on visa applications. Fake passports were not identified. Operatives from the bombing of the U.S.S. Cole were not linked to others currently in the United States.

Mark Bittinger, a former staff member for the 9/11 Commission and a Pitt alumnus, spoke Monday to a packed room at the Pittsburgh Athletics Association about the findings of the commission and the reasons for the intelligence failures leading up to the attacks. Pitt’s Graduate School of Public and International Affairs, from which Bittinger graduated in 1993, hosted the event.

“Non-state actors were not seen as a threat to the United States, by and large,” Bittinger said of the years preceding Sept. 11, 2001. “The CIA didn’t see Al-Qaida as a serious threat.”

Bittinger spent 15 months investigating the causes of the terrorist attacks and helped write the report revealing the committee’s findings.

He also gave some long-term causes of the terrorist attacks, such as an unsuccessful diplomatic program with the Arab world and a lack of military options to deal with terrorist leaders without collateral damage, or the death or injury of civilians.

Blaming a “permeable” border, Bittinger also cited a lack of response on Sept. 11, 2001, from the Federal Aviation Administration and the North American Aersopace Defense Command.

“It’s as if their feet were stuck flat on the ground that day,” Bittinger said. “We saw the trees but failed to see the forest.”

Bittinger asked the audience a vital question in dealing with terrorism: How do you defeat an ideology?”

Warning against delaying the recommendations of the committee, Bittinger also pointed to the Department of Defense, which receives a large percent of the annual intelligence budget.

“It may be a blueprint after the next attack; that may be how the system operates,” Bittinger said.

GSPIA professors formed a panel, and were asked to discuss Bittinger’s comments and take questions from the audience. William Keller, one of the professors, suggested that the changes recommended by the committee were imperfect, since they were based only on the Sept 11, 2001, attacks.

“It gives us a kind of tunnel vision in a way. They may or may not be helpful in foiling another terrorist plot,” Keller said, blaming intelligence failings for the invasion of Iraq.

“It was this congress and this president that is responsible for the loss of blood and national treasure,” Keller added.

Don Goldstein, a Pitt professor introduced as a leading historian on Pearl Harbor, talked about the commission and attacks from a historical viewpoint.

“Smart people learn from other people’s mistakes. Dumb people learn from their own,” Goldstein said.

Goldstein stressed the importance of human intelligence, and that the United States has relied too much on satellites and information gathered electronically.

“I see my friend’s glasses and I know they are fake, but from the sky, I don’t know that,” Goldstein said, adding that the best recommendations of the committee are in the middle of the report.

“They make some damn good recommendations about airport security and other things, but the newspaper guys only look at the stuff at the end,” Goldstein said.

“The tragedy of [Sept. 11, 2001,] was that they caught us asleep, by god, and we wonder why,” Goldstein said, showing the audience how history has revealed a pattern that can be learned from.

“The bottom line is that history is repeating itself. All the recommendations have been made before, and it will remain the same unless you put some teeth into those recommendations,” Goldstein said.