We should be most grateful for the immense hard work of the supremely expert CIA for providing us with the priceless warning of an imminent al Qaeda terrorist attack.
True, the billions of dollars spent on the salaries, fringe benefits, health care and frequent travel of the CIA analysts and case officers who devote themselves to the gathering, studying, discussing, and publicizing of terror warnings are not enough to tell us when the attack might eventuate—"from three to six months" is a bit on the vague side. Indeed it’s hopelessly and uselessly vague because, as all know, maximized states of alert can only be sustained for days, not months or even weeks.
A great nation should not live in fear of attack from handfuls of barbarous fanatics. And it should not spend a dime to have those fears pointlessly increased.
It is also true, alas, that the billions we spend for the immense hard work of the supremely expert CIA is not sufficient to tell us how the terrorists will attack. Will it be an airline passenger again? Perhaps with his—or her—body cavity filled with home-made explosives? That is perfectly possible of course, because by now in every souk of Araby and every bazaar of Af-Pak-istan all know that any wild-eyed youngish man with a one-way ticket and no baggage can sail through security controls. Because everyone is so intent on searching through the diapers of Swedish infants and the handbags of retired Japanese schoolteachers—not being named Muhammad, Hassan or Hussein, they cannot complain of racial profiling ( racial? why not religious?), let alone sue airlines or airports. After all, from the president on down, every leader, preacher and teacher tells us that the enemy is terrorism and that is that—not terrorism by anyone in particular.
• Daily Beast experts on how America can prepare for a terror attack Or will the next attack have nothing to do with airports or aircraft, showing a bit more imagination? After all, the possibilities are endless, although my favorite would be booby-trapped stuffed alligators sent through the mails in a fake marketing promotion for distressed Florida real estate.
Finally, it must be admitted that the billions we spend for the immense hard work of the supremely expert CIA is not enough to tell us where the attack or attacks might take place, although I can here reveal that my own secret source within the CIA tells me that it is not, repeat not, likely to be in Antarctica, although he is not sure about northern Antarctica.
In spite of my profound admiration for the CIA's immense achievements, I must therefore reluctantly conclude that Mr. Panetta's warning is entirely, utterly and irremediably useless. What is the point of a warning that cannot be used to safeguard anything, anywhere, at any time?
The issuance of worthless warnings cannot mitigate the institutional incompetence ultimately proven by the total failure of the CIA to do the job it was implicitly assigned on September 12, 2001, which is to capture or kill Osama bin Laden. It has had more years to do that than the U.S. needed to fight two world wars, and now the time has come to reduce our budget deficit by shutting down the CIA, to start anew with a much smaller outfit manned by people who actually know something, even if it is only the languages of our foes.
A great nation should not live in fear of attack from handfuls of barbarous fanatics. And it should not spend a dime to have those fears pointlessly increased, without an iota of information that could serve to protect anything, anywhere, at any time.
Edward N. Luttwak, a senior associate at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, is author of the recently published The Grand Strategy of the Byzantine Empire.