A.L. Bardach interviews Bob Inman.

Interviews with a point.
Dec. 16 2004 4:04 PM

Listen to the Admiral

America's most experienced intelligence official on Porter Goss, Donald Rumsfeld, and William Casey's deathbed confessions.

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Adm. Bob Inman, born Bobby Ray Inman in East Texas in 1931, may know more about U.S. intelligence matters than anyone. In the course of his 31-year career, he has served as director of the National Security Agency, vice director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, director of Naval Intelligence, and deputy director of Central Intelligence Agency—under both Republican and Democratic presidents. In the 1990s, he was asked by Bill Clinton to run the CIA as director and also offered the job of secretary of defense. He declined both offers to enter the private sector. He is now chairman of a venture capital company and holds the Lyndon B. Johnson centennial chair in national policy at the LBJ School at the University of Texas in Austin. A.L. Bardach interviewed Inman on two separate occasions, Oct. 14, 2004, and Dec. 9, 2004.

Slate: Let's get right to 9/11. What were the failures that led to it? How did U.S. intelligence not know that airplanes were going to fly into American buildings?

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Inman: Well, there are several different factors. Around 1989-1990, fewer resources began to be allocated to the intelligence community. So you had agencies under great budget pressure, losing people and dollars that could be used to do new things. That's the background. Another factor is the decision, made in 1976, to sharply divide the FBI and the foreign intelligence agencies. The FBI would collect within the United States; the foreign intelligence agencies would collect overseas. The foreign intelligence agencies were specifically precluded from collecting on U.S. citizens or on persons or companies that had the equivalent of a U.S. green card.

Slate: So, basically no one anticipated the form of terrorism we would confront?

Inman: Exactly. Yes. … As best I can tell there was no advance warning of the attack on the World Trade Center in 1993, which was the first significant foreign terrorist activity in the U.S. … No tip-offs that it was coming. And I can't find any evidence that there was any addition of resources to work on that problem after the attack on the World Trade Center in '93.

Slate: So the 1993 World Trade Center attack was not a wake-up call?

Inman: It was not a wake-up call.

Slate: This week, Congress finally passed the Intelligence Reform Bill. Is it a reform bill?

Inman: It's half a reform bill. They've done some positive things, but they haven't dealt with the analytical side. We need what some call a Chinese wall. This is necessary so that the analysts are totally independent from and without any loyalty to any [intelligence] collector.

Slate: And independent of the political process?

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