Central Intelligence Agency Director Leon Panetta’s warning about an imminent al Qaeda strike against the United States is certainly politically astute, although it is operationally irrelevant. Such public statements do little to enhance the country’s readiness—classified intra- and inter-agency communication married to intensified liaison cooperation with foreign-intelligence and internal security services will do a lot more to keep Americans safe. And if we do not have an al Qaeda attack in six months, then the next time Mr. Panetta warns us of an imminent attack, his credibility will drop as we all become a bit more cynical.
• Daily Beast experts on how America can prepare for a terror attack What was true on September 10, 2001 remains true today: The CIA has had little success in penetrating al Qaeda. I guarantee you that if the clandestine service had an agent in the inner circles of al Qaeda in Pakistan or in Yemen and was feeding us valuable information about possible attacks against us and our Western allies, Mr. Panetta would not be having a public chat about the group’s plans. The fiasco with the double-agent al-Balawi in Khost gives outsiders a good idea of where we are with espionage against Islamic terrorist targets. It’s a good guess that Mr. Panetta’s present anxiety springs from intercepted al Qaeda “chatter,” what foreign-intelligence and security services have passed to Langley, and growing awareness among intelligence officials that we may have a serious internal-security threat from American Muslims who’ve radicalized. This information and analysis may well be highly credible. And it is certainly a good thing that Democratic officials now bear the heaviest responsibility for protecting the United States. Mr. Panetta just might consider carrying the responsibility more quietly. Before 9/11 and after, George Tenet suffered from pert loquacity. Lesson learned: Less is more.
Reuel Marc Gerecht, a former CIA case officer, is a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracy.