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you start several years before the Yom Kip-

A CRITIC AT LARGE pur War and work forward, re-creating

what people in Israeli intelligence knew
in the same order that they knew it,
CONNECTING THE DOTS a very different picture emerges. In the
fall of 1973, Egypt and Syria certainly
The paradoxes of intelligence reform. looked as if they were preparing to go
to war. But, in the Middle East of the
BY MALCOLM GLADWELL time, countries always looked as if they
were going to war. In the fall of 1971,

I n the fall of 1973, the Syrian Army

began to gather a large number of
tanks, artillery batteries, and infantry
country’s most trusted intelligence sources.
Egypt and Syria, the source said, would
attack later that day. Top Israeli officials
for instance, both Egypt’s President and
its minister of war stated publicly that
the hour of battle was approaching. The
along its border with Israel. Simultane- immediately called a meeting. Was war Egyptian Army was mobilized. Tanks
ously, to the south, the Egyptian Army imminent? The head of AMAN, Major and bridging equipment were sent to
cancelled all leaves, called up thousands General Eli Zeira, looked over the evi- the canal. Offensive positions were read-
of reservists, and launched a massive mil- dence and said he didn’t think so. He was ied. And nothing happened. In Decem-
itary exercise, building roads and prepar- wrong. That afternoon, Syria attacked ber of 1972, the Egyptians mobilized
ing anti-aircraft and artillery positions from the east, overwhelming the thin again. The Army furiously built fortifi-
cations along the canal. A reliable source
told Israeli intelligence that an attack
was imminent. Nothing happened. In
the spring of 1973, the President of
Egypt told Newsweek that everything
in his country “is now being mobilized in
earnest for the resumption of battle.”
Egyptian forces were moved closer to
the canal. Extensive fortifications were
built along the Suez. Blood donors were
rounded up. Civil-defense personnel
were mobilized. Blackouts were imposed
throughout Egypt. A trusted source told
Israeli intelligence that an attack was
imminent. It didn’t come. Between Jan-
uary and October of 1973, the Egyptian
Army mobilized nineteen times without
going to war. The Israeli government
couldn’t mobilize its Army every time
its neighbors threatened war. Israel is a
small country with a citizen Army. Mo-
bilization was disruptive and expensive,
and the Israeli government was acutely
aware that if its Army was mobilized
Biased by “creeping determinism,” we’re led to think that every surprise was foreseeable. and Egypt and Syria weren’t serious
about war, the very act of mobilization
along the Suez Canal. On October 4th, Israeli defenses in the Golan Heights, might cause them to become serious
an Israeli aerial reconnaissance mission and Egypt attacked from the south, about war.
showed that the Egyptians had moved bombing Israeli positions and sending Nor did the other signs seem remark-
artillery into offensive positions.That eve- eight thousand infantry streaming across able. The fact that the Soviet families
ning, AMAN, the Israeli military intelli- the Suez. Despite all the warnings of the had been sent home could have signified
gence agency, learned that portions of previous weeks, Israeli officials were nothing more than a falling-out be-
the Soviet fleet near Port Said and Al- caught by surprise. Why couldn’t they tween the Arab states and Moscow. Yes,
exandria had set sail, and that the So- connect the dots? a trusted source called at four in the
viet government had begun airlifting the If you start on the afternoon of Oc- morning, with definite word of a late-
families of Soviet advisers out of Cairo tober 6th and work backward, the trail of afternoon attack, but his last two attack
and Damascus. Then, at four o’clock in clues pointing to an attack seems obvi- warnings had been wrong. What’s more,
the morning on October 6th, Israel’s di- ous; you’d have to conclude that some- the source said that the attack would

rector of military intelligence received an thing was badly wrong with the Israeli come at sunset, and an attack so late
urgent telephone call from one of the intelligence service. On the other hand, if in the day wouldn’t leave enough time

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(At the bombing site, he was continu-
ously trailed by a knot of reporters—I
was one of them—who had concluded
that the best way to learn what was going
on was to try to overhear his conversa-
tions.) Miller became friends with the
F.B.I. agents who headed the New York
counterterrorist office—Neil Herman
and John O’Neill, in particular—and
he became as obsessed with Al Qaeda
as they were. He was in Yemen, with
the F.B.I., after Al Qaeda bombed the
U.S.S. Cole. In 1998, at the Marriott in
Islamabad, he and his cameraman met
someone known to them only as Akhtar,
who spirited them across the border into
the hills of Afghanistan to interview
Osama bin Laden. In “The Cell,” the
period from 1990 through Septem-
ber 11th becomes a seamless, devastating
narrative: the evolution of Al Qaeda.
“Well, how long do you want to live?” “How did this happen to us?” the book
asks in its opening pages. The answer,
• • the authors argue, can be found by fol-
lowing the “thread” connecting Kahane’s
murder to September 11th. In the events
for opening air strikes. Israeli intelli- Chiefs of Staff; bombmaking manuals; of the past decade, they declare, there is
gence didn’t see the pattern of Arab in- and maps, annotated in Arabic, of land- a clear “recurring pattern.”
tentions, in other words, because, until marks like the Statue of Liberty, Rocke- The same argument is made by Sen-
Egypt and Syria actually attacked, on feller Center, and the World Trade ator Richard Shelby, vice-chairman of
the afternoon of October 6, 1973, their Center. According to “The Cell,” Nos- the Senate Select Committee on Intelli-
intentions didn’t form a pattern. They air was connected to gunrunners and gence, in his investigative report on Sep-
formed a Rorschach blot. What is clear to Islamic radicals in Brooklyn, who tember 11th, released this past Decem-
in hindsight is rarely clear before the were in turn behind the World Trade ber. The report is a lucid and powerful
fact. It’s an obvious point, but one that Center bombing two and a half years document, in which Shelby painstak-
nonetheless bears repeating, particularly later, which was masterminded by Ramzi ingly points out all the missed or misin-
when we’re in the midst of assigning Yousef, who then showed up in Ma- terpreted signals pointing to a major ter-
blame for the surprise attack of Septem- nila in 1994, apparently plotting to kill rorist attack. The C.I.A. knew that two
ber 11th. the Pope, crash a plane into the Pen- suspected Al Qaeda operatives, Khalid
tagon or the C.I.A., and bomb as many al-Mihdhar and Nawaf al-Hazmi, had

O f the many postmortems conducted

after September 11th, the one that
has received the most attention is “The
as twelve transcontinental airliners sim-
ultaneously. And who was Yousef as-
sociating with in the Philippines? Mo-
entered the country, but the C.I.A. didn’t
tell the F.B.I. or the N.S.C. An F.B.I.
agent in Phoenix sent a memo to head-
Cell: Inside the 9/11 Plot, and Why hammed Khalifa, Wali Khan Amin- quarters that began with the sentence
the F.B.I. and C.I.A. Failed to Stop Shah, and Ibrahim Munir, all of whom “The purpose of this communication is
It” (Hyperion; $24.95), by John Miller, had fought alongside, pledged a loyalty to advise the bureau and New York of
Michael Stone, and Chris Mitchell. The oath to, or worked for a shadowy Saudi the possibility of a coordinated effort by
authors begin their tale with El Say- Arabian millionaire named Osama bin Osama Bin Laden to send students to
yid Nosair, the Egyptian who was ar- Laden. the United States to attend civilian avia-
rested in November of 1990 for shoot- Miller was a network-television cor- tion universities and colleges.” But the
ing Rabbi Meir Kahane, the founder respondent throughout much of the past F.B.I. never acted on the information,
of the Jewish Defense League, in the decade, and the best parts of “The Cell” and failed to connect it with reports that
ballroom of the Marriott Hotel in mid- recount his own experiences in covering terrorists were interested in using air-
town Manhattan. Nosair’s apartment the terrorist story. He is an extraordinary planes as weapons. The F.B.I. took into
in New Jersey was searched, and investi- reporter. At the time of the first World custody the suspected terrorist Zacarias
gators found sixteen boxes of files, in- Trade Center attack, in February of Moussaoui, on account of his suspicious
cluding training manuals from the Army 1993, he clapped a flashing light on the behavior at flight school, but was unable
Special Warfare School; copies of tele- dashboard of his car and followed the to integrate his case into a larger picture
types that had been routed to the Joint wave of emergency vehicles downtown. of terrorist behavior. “The most funda-

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mental problem . . . is our Intelligence Laden in “The Cell,” is to be convinced
Community’s inability to ‘connect the that if the C.I.A. and the F.B.I. had sim-
dots’ available to it before September 11, ply been able to connect the dots what
2001, about terrorists’ interest in attack- happened on September 11th should
ing symbolic American targets,” the not have been a surprise at all. Is this a
Shelby report states. The phrase “con- fair criticism or is it just a case of creep-
nect the dots” appears so often in the re- ing determinism?
port that it becomes a kind of mantra.
There was a pattern, as plain as day in
retrospect, yet the vaunted American in-
telligence community simply could not
O n August 7, 1998, two Al Qaeda
terrorists detonated a cargo truck
filled with explosives outside the United
see it. States Embassy in Nairobi, killing two
None of these postmortems, how- hundred and thirteen people and injur-
ever, answer the question raised by the ing more than four thousand. Miller,
Yom Kippur War: Was this pattern ob- Stone, and Mitchell see the Kenyan
vious before the attack? This question— Embassy bombing as a textbook exam-
whether we revise our judgment of ple of intelligence failure. The C.I.A.,
events after the fact—is something that they tell us, had identified an Al Qaeda
psychologists have paid a great deal of cell in Kenya well before the attack, and
attention to. For example, on the eve of its members were under surveillance.
Richard Nixon’s historic visit to China, They had an eight-page letter, written
the psychologist Baruch Fischhoff asked by an Al Qaeda operative, speaking of
a group of people to estimate the prob- the imminent arrival of “engineers”—
ability of a series of possible outcomes the code word for bombmakers—in
of the trip. What were the chances that Nairobi. The United States Ambassa-
the trip would lead to permanent dip- dor to Kenya, Prudence Bushnell, had
lomatic relations between China and begged Washington for more security. A
the United States? That Nixon would prominent Kenyan lawyer and legislator
meet with the leader of China, Mao says that the Kenyan intelligence service
Tse-tung, at least once? That Nixon warned U.S. intelligence about the plot
would call the trip a success? As it turned several months before August 7th, and
out, the trip was a diplomatic triumph, in November of 1997 a man named
and Fischhoff then went back to the Mustafa Mahmoud Said Ahmed, who
same people and asked them to recall worked for one of Osama bin Lad-
what their estimates of the different en’s companies, walked into the United
outcomes of the visit had been. He found States Embassy in Nairobi and told
that the subjects now, overwhelmingly, American intelligence of a plot to blow
“remembered” being more optimistic up the building. What did our offi-
than they had actually been. If you orig- cials do? They forced the leader of the
inally thought that it was unlikely that Kenyan cell—a U.S. citizen—to return
Nixon would meet with Mao, after- home, and then abruptly halted their
ward, when the press was full of ac- surveillance of the group. They ignored
counts of Nixon’s meeting with Mao, the eight-page letter. They allegedly
you’d “remember” that you had thought showed the Kenyan intelligence service’s
the chances of a meeting were pretty warning to the Mossad, which dismissed
good. Fischhoff calls this phenomenon it, and after questioning Ahmed they
“creeping determinism”—the sense that decided that he wasn’t credible. After
grows on us, in retrospect, that what has the bombing,“The Cell” tells us, a senior
happened was actually inevitable—and State Department official phoned Bush-
the chief effect of creeping determin- nell and asked, “How could this have
ism, he points out, is that it turns unex- happened?”
pected events into expected events. As he “For the first time since the blast,”
writes, “The occurrence of an event in- Miller, Stone, and Mitchell write,“Bush-
creases its reconstructed probability and nell’s horror turned to anger. There was
makes it less surprising than it would too much history. ‘I wrote you a letter,’
have been had the original probability she said.”
been remembered.” This is all very damning, but doesn’t
To read the Shelby report, or the it fall into the creeping-determinism
seamless narrative from Nosair to bin trap? It is not at all clear that it passes

TNY—03/10/03—PAGE 85—133SC.
the creeping-determinism test. It’s an A moment later al Hilal says about the do intelligence services have the luxury
edited version of the past. What we plan, “It is something terrifying that goes of both kinds of information. Nor are
from south to north, east to west. The person
don’t hear about is all the other people who devised this plan is a madman, but a ge-
their analysts mind readers. It is only
whom American intelligence had under nius. He will leave them frozen [in shock].” with hindsight that human beings ac-
surveillance, how many other warnings quire that skill.
they received, and how many other tips This is a tantalizing exchange. It “The Cell” tells us that, in the final
came in that seemed promising at the would now seem that it refers to Sep- months before September 11th, Wash-
time but led nowhere. The central chal- tember 11th. But in what sense was it a ington was frantic with worry:
lenge of intelligence gathering has al- “forecast”? It gave neither time nor place A spike in phone traffic among suspected
ways been the problem of “noise”: the nor method nor target. It suggested only al Qaeda members in the early part of the
fact that useless information is vastly that there were terrorists out there who summer [of 2001], as well as debriefings of
[an al Qaeda operative in custody] who had
more plentiful than useful informa- liked to talk about doing something dra- begun cooperating with the government, con-
tion. Shelby’s report mentions that the matic with an airplane—which did not, vinced investigators that bin Laden was plan-
F.B.I.’s counterterrorism division has it must be remembered, reliably distin- ning a significant operation—one intercepted
al Qaeda message spoke of a “Hiroshima-
sixty-eight thousand outstanding and guish them from any other terrorists of type” event—and that he was planning it
unassigned leads dating back to 1995. the past thirty years. soon. Through the summer, the CIA repeat-
And, of those, probably no more than a In the real world, intelligence is edly warned the White House that attacks
were imminent.
few hundred are useful. Analysts, in invariably ambiguous. Information
short, must be selective, and the deci- about enemy intentions tends to be The fact that these worries did not
sions made in Kenya, by that standard, short on detail. And information that’s protect us is not evidence of the lim-
do not seem unreasonable. Surveillance rich in detail tends to be short on in- itations of the intelligence commu-
on the cell was shut down, but, then, tentions. In April of 1941, for in- nity. It is evidence of the limitations of
its leader had left the country. Bush- stance, the Allies learned that Ger- intelligence.
nell warned Washington—but, as “The many had moved a huge army up to
Cell” admits, there were bomb warn-
ings in Africa all the time. Officials
at the Mossad thought the Kenyan in-
the Russian front. The intelligence was
beyond dispute: the troops could be
seen and counted. But what did it
I n the early nineteen-seventies, a pro-
fessor of psychology at Stanford
University named David L. Rosenhan
telligence was dubious, and the Mos- mean? Churchill concluded that Hit- gathered together a painter, a graduate
sad ought to know. Ahmed may have ler wanted to attack Russia. Stalin con- student, a pediatrician, a psychiatrist, a
worked for bin Laden but he failed a cluded that Hitler was serious about housewife, and three psychologists. He
polygraph test, and it was also learned attacking, but only if the Soviet Union told them to check into different psychi-
that he had previously given similar— didn’t meet the terms of the Ger- atric hospitals under aliases, with the
groundless—warnings to other embas- man ultimatum. The British foreign complaint that they had been hearing
sies in Africa. When a man comes into secretary, Anthony Eden, thought that voices. They were instructed to say that
your office, fails a lie-detector test, and Hitler was bluffing, in the hope of the voices were unfamiliar, and that they
is found to have shopped the same un- winning further Russian concessions. heard words like “empty,” “thud,” and
substantiated story all over town, can British intelligence thought—at least, “hollow.” Apart from that initial story,
you be blamed for turning him out? in the beginning—that Hitler simply the pseudo patients were instructed to
Miller, Stone, and Mitchell make the wanted to reinforce his eastern frontier answer every question truthfully, to be-
same mistake when they quote from a against a possible Soviet attack. The have as they normally would, and to tell
transcript of a conversation that was re- only way for this piece of intelligence the hospital staff—at every opportu-
corded by Italian intelligence in August to have been definitive wold have been nity—that the voices were gone and that
of 2001 between two Al Qaeda opera- if the Allies had a second piece of in- they had experienced no further symp-
tives, Abdel Kader Es Sayed and a man telligence—like the phone call be- toms. The eight subjects were hospital-
known as al Hilal. This, they say, is yet tween al Hilal and Es Sayed—that ized, on average, for nineteen days. One
another piece of intelligence that “seemed demonstrated Germany’s true pur- was kept for almost two months. Rosen-
to forecast the September 11 attacks.” pose. Similarly, the only way the al han wanted to find out if the hospital
Hilal phone call would have been de- staffs would ever see through the ruse.
“I’ve been studying airplanes,” al Hilal finitive is if we’d also had intelligence They never did.
tells Es Sayed. “If God wills, I hope to be able as detailed as the Allied knowledge of Rosenhan’s test is, in a way, a classic
to bring you a window or a piece of a plane
the next time I see you.” German troop movements. But rarely intelligence problem. Here was a signal
“What, is there a jihad planned?” Es (a sane person) buried in a mountain
Sayed asks. of conflicting and confusing noise (a
“In the future, listen to the news and re-
member these words: ‘Up above,’ ” al Hilal mental hospital), and the intelligence
replies. analysts (the doctors) were asked to
Es Sayed thinks that al Hilal is referring to connect the dots—and they failed
an operation in his native Yemen, but al Hilal
corrects him: “But the surprise attack will
spectacularly. In the course of their
come from the other country, one of those at- hospital stay, the eight pseudo patients
tacks you will never forget.” were given a total of twenty-one hun-


dred pills. They underwent psychiatric derestimated the Cubans’ capacity to
interviews, and sober case summaries fight and their support for Fidel Cas-
documenting their pathologies were tro. This time, however, the diagnosis
written up. They were asked by Rosen- was completely different. As Irving L.
han to take notes documenting how Janis concluded in his famous study of
they were treated, and this quickly be- “groupthink,” the root cause of the Bay
came part of their supposed pathology. of Pigs fiasco was that the operation
“Patient engaging in writing behav- was conceived by a small, highly cohe-
ior,” one nurse ominously wrote in her sive group whose close ties inhibited
notes. Having been labelled as ill upon the beneficial effects of argument and
admission, they could not shake the competition. Centralization was now
diagnosis. “Nervous?” a friendly nurse the problem. One of the most influen-
asked one of the subjects as he paced tial organizational sociologists of the
the halls one day. “No,” he corrected postwar era, Harold Wilensky, went
her, to no avail, “bored.” out of his way to praise the “construc-
The solution to this problem seems tive rivalry” fostered by Franklin D.
obvious enough. Doctors and nurses Roosevelt, which, he says, is why the
need to be made alert to the possibility President had such formidable intelli-
that sane people sometimes get admit- gence on how to attack the economic
ted to mental hospitals. So Rosenhan ills of the Great Depression. In his
went to a research-and-teaching hos- classic 1967 work “Organizational In-
pital and informed the staff that at telligence,” Wilensky pointed out that
some point in the next three months Roosevelt would
he would once again send over one
use one anonymous informant’s informa-
or more of his pseudo patients. This tion to challenge and check another’s, put-
time, of the hundred and ninety-three ting both on their toes; he recruited strong
patients admitted in the three-month personalities and structured their work so
that clashes would be certain. . . . In foreign
period, forty-one were identified by at affairs, he gave Moley and Welles tasks that
least one staff member as being almost overlapped those of Secretary of State Hull;
certainly sane. Once again, however, in conservation and power, he gave Ickes
and Wallace identical missions; in welfare,
they were wrong. Rosenhan hadn’t sent confusing both functions and initials, he as-
anyone over. In attempting to solve one signed PWA to Ickes, WPA to Hopkins; in
kind of intelligence problem (over- politics, Farley found himself competing
with other political advisors for control over
diagnosis), the hospital simply created patronage. The effect: the timely advertise-
another problem (underdiagnosis). ment of arguments, with both the experts
This is the second, and perhaps more and the President pressured to consider the
main choices as they came boiling up from
serious, consequence of creeping de- below.
terminism: in our zeal to correct what
we believe to be the problems of the The intelligence community that we
past, we end up creating new problems had prior to September 11th was the di-
for the future. rect result of this philosophy. The F.B.I.
Pearl Harbor, for example, was and the C.I.A. were supposed to be ri-
widely considered to be an organiza- vals, just as Ickes and Wallace were rivals.
tional failure. The United States had But now we’ve changed our minds. The
all the evidence it needed to predict F.B.I. and the C.I.A., Senator Shelby
the Japanese attack, but the signals tells us disapprovingly, argue and com-
were scattered throughout the vari- pete with one another. The Septem-
ous intelligence services. The Army ber 11th story, his report concludes,
and the Navy didn’t talk to each other. “should be an object lesson in the perils
They spent all their time arguing of failing to share information promptly
and competing. This was, in part, why and efficiently between (and within)
the Central Intelligence Agency was organizations.” Shelby wants recentral-
created, in 1947—to insure that all ization and more focus on coöpera-
intelligence would be collected and tion. He wants a “central national level
processed in one place. Twenty years knowledge-compiling entity standing
after Pearl Harbor, the United States above and independent from the dispu-
suffered another catastrophic intelli- tatious bureaucracies.” He thinks the in-
gence failure, at the Bay of Pigs: the telligence service should be run by a
Kennedy Administration grossly un- small, highly cohesive group, and so

TNY—03/10/03—PAGE 87—133SC.
he suggests that the F.B.I. be removed was a relationship “marred by rivalry and our way. Why was the Pacific fleet at
from the counterterrorism business en- mistrust.” But what’s wrong with this Pearl Harbor so unresponsive to signs of
tirely. The F.B.I., according to Shelby, kind of rivalry? As Miller, Stone, and an impending Japanese attack? Because,
is governed by Mitchell tell us, the real objection of in the week before December 7, 1941,
deeply-entrenched individual mindsets that
Neil Herman—the F.B.I.’s former do- they had checked out seven reports of
prize the production of evidence-supported mestic counterterrorism chief—to “work- Japanese submarines in the area—and all
narratives of defendant wrongdoing over the ing with the C.I.A. had nothing to do seven were false. Rosenhan’s psychia-
drawing of probabilistic inferences based on with procedure. He just didn’t think the trists used to miss the sane; then they
incomplete and fragmentary information in
order to support decision-making. . . . Law Agency was going to be of any help started to see sane people everywhere.
enforcement organizations handle informa- in finding Ramzi Yousef. ‘Back then, I That is a change, but it is not exactly
tion, reach conclusions, and ultimately just don’t think the C.I.A. could have found progress.
think differently than intelligence organiza-
tions. Intelligence analysts would doubtless a person in a bathroom,’ ” Herman says.
make poor policemen, and it has become very
clear that policemen make poor intelligence
“ ‘Hell, I don’t think they could have
found the bathroom.’ ” The assumption
of the reformers is always that the rivalry
I n the wake of the Yom Kippur War,
the Israeli government appointed a
special investigative commission, and
In his State of the Union Message, Pres- between the F.B.I. and the C.I.A. is es- one of the witnesses called was Major
ident George W. Bush did what Shelby sentially marital, that it is the dysfunc- General Zeira, the head of AMAN. Why,
wanted, and announced the formation of tion of people who ought to work to- they asked, had he insisted that war was
the Terrorist Threat Integration Cen- gether but can’t. But it could equally be not imminent? His answer was simple:
ter—a special unit combining the an- seen as a version of the marketplace ri- The Chief of Staff has to make decisions,
titerrorist activities of the F.B.I. and the valry that leads to companies working and his decisions must be clear. The best sup-
C.I.A. The cultural and organizational harder and making better products. port that the head of AMAN can give the Chief
diversity of the intelligence business, There is no such thing as a perfect of Staff is to give a clear and unambiguous es-
timate, provided that it is done in an objective
once prized, is now despised. intelligence system, and every seem- fashion. To be sure, the clearer and sharper
The truth is, though, that it is just as ing improvement involves a tradeoff. A the estimate, the clearer and sharper the mis-
easy, in the wake of September 11th, to couple of months ago, for example, a take—but this is a professional hazard for the
head of AMAN.
make the case for the old system. Isn’t it suspect in custody in Canada, who was
an advantage that the F.B.I. doesn’t wanted in New York on forgery charges, The historians Eliot A. Cohen and
think like the C.I.A.? It was the F.B.I., gave police the names and photographs John Gooch, in their book “Military
after all, that produced two of the most of five Arab immigrants, who he said Misfortunes,” argue that it was Zeira’s
prescient pieces of analysis—the request had crossed the border into the United certainty that had proved fatal:“The cul-
by the Minneapolis office for a war- States. The F.B.I. put out an alert on pable failure of AMAN’s leaders in Sep-
rant to secretly search Zacarias Mous- December 29th, posting the names and tember and October 1973 lay not in
saoui’s belongings, and the now famous photographs on its Web site, in the “war their belief that Egypt would not attack
Phoenix memo. In both cases, what was on terrorism” section. Even President but in their supreme confidence, which
valuable about the F.B.I.’s analysis was Bush joined in, saying, “We need to dazzled decision-makers. . . . Rather
precisely the way in which it differed know why they have been smuggled into than impress upon the prime minister,
from the traditional “big picture,” prob- the country, what they’re doing in the the chief of staff and the minister of
abilistic inference-making of the ana- country.” As it turned out, the suspect in defense the ambiguity of the situation,
lyst. The F.B.I. agents in the field fo- Canada had made the story up. After- they insisted—until the last day—that
cussed on a single case, dug deep, and ward, an F.B.I. official said that the there would be no war, period.”
came up with an “evidence-supported agency circulated the photographs in But, of course, Zeira gave an unam-
narrative of defendant wrongdoing” that order to “err on the side of caution.” Our biguous answer to the question of war
spoke volumes about a possible Al intelligence services today are highly because that is what politicians and the
Qaeda threat. sensitive. But this kind of sensitivity is public demanded of him. No one wants
The same can be said for the alleged not without its costs. As the political sci- ambiguity. Today, the F.B.I. gives us
problem of rivalry. “The Cell” describes entist Richard K. Betts wrote in his essay color-coded warnings and speaks of “in-
what happened after police in the Philip- “Analysis, War, and Decision: Why In- creased chatter” among terrorist opera-
pines searched the apartment that Ramzi telligence Failures Are Inevitable,”“Mak- tives, and the information is infuriating
Yousef shared with his co-conspirator, ing warning systems more sensitive re- to us because it is so vague. What does
Abdul Hakim Murad. Agents from the duces the risk of surprise, but increases “increased chatter” mean? We want a
F.B.I.’s counterterrorism unit immedi- the number of false alarms, which in prediction. We want to believe that the
ately flew to Manila and “bumped up turn reduces sensitivity.” When we run intentions of our enemies are a puzzle
against the C.I.A.” As the old adage out and buy duct tape to seal our win- that intelligence services can piece to-
about the Bureau and the Agency has it, dows against chemical attack, and noth- gether, so that a clear story emerges. But
the F.B.I. wanted to string Murad up and ing happens, and when the govern- there rarely is a clear story—at least, not
the C.I.A. wanted to string him along. ment’s warning light is orange for weeks until afterward, when some enterprising
The two groups eventually worked to- on end, and nothing happens, we soon journalist or investigative committee de-
gether, but only because they had to. It begin to doubt every warning that comes cides to write one. ♦

TNY—03/10/03—PAGE 88—133SC.
Repetition, by Alain Robbe-Grillet, trans- port: the precocious schoolboy blithely
lated from the French by Richard Howard speculates that the “announcement of a
(Grove; $23). The grand old man of the future fact has a tenuous hold on the
nouveau roman has published his first present moment,” while the adult re-
novel in two decades, and, faithful to its flects,“It’s always hard trying to imagine
title, it is not at all new but, rather, a the loss of something you never had.”
variation on old themes and obsessions.
In fact, “Repetition” is a sort of deliber- What I Loved, by Siri Hustvedt (Henry
ate distortion—or alteration, or rewrit- Holt; $25). When the narrator of Hust-
ing, or retelling—of Robbe-Grillet’s vedt’s third novel, an affable art-history
earlier books, in particular the first,“The professor at Columbia called Leo Hertz-
Erasers” (1953). The plot, such as it is, berg, buys a picture by Bill Wechsler, a
concerns a French secret agent who, in lugubrious, handsome painter, a friend-
1949, is sent to Berlin, where he wit- ship ensues. It’s 1975, admiration leads
nesses a murder.This leads him to search to intimacy, and the two men and their
out his own past.The reader, meanwhile, wives end up living in the same building
is led to distrust every narrator who pops on Greene Street. The revolver on the
up. Robbe-Grillet’s conviction that the wall is a Swiss Army knife that Leo gives
true writer has nothing to say, only the his son for his eleventh birthday: when
way he says it, remains undimmed, but it goes missing, the book turns from
seldom has the nouveau roman seemed novel of art-world manners to psycho-
so ancien. logical thriller. Hustvedt is terrific at
evoking the milieu of the haute bour-
Any Human Heart, by William Boyd geoisie—the house in Vermont, the
(Knopf; $24.95). Couched as the diary of wine-drenched meals, the migraines.
one Logan Mountstuart—writer, se- But, as a narrator, Leo, now a reminis-
ducer, spy, and all-around charlatan— cent seventy, is full of orotund declara-
Boyd’s novel attempts a panorama of tions about life and love that muffle the
twentieth-century history with its hero well-constructed plot.
constantly at the edge of the frame.
Mountstuart dines with Bloomsbury- A Life of Privilege, Mostly, by Gardner
ites, meets Joyce in Paris, spends the Botsford (St. Martin’s; $24.95). The “priv-
Spanish Civil War hobnobbing with ilege” in the title of Botsford’s gruffly
Hemingway and the Second World War stylish memoir is his upbringing as the
trailing the Duke of Windsor for British son of a Midwestern heiress; “mostly” is
Intelligence. Later, he runs an art gallery his dry way of alluding to the Second
in New York, and gets mixed up in the World War. He served in the First In-
Nigerian civil war and with the Baader- fantry Division (which lost more than
Meinhof gang. Such an antic plot should twenty thousand men) and saw action
not succeed, and yet disbelief remains at Omaha Beach and the Battle of the
suspended, thanks to Boyd’s skill in pro- Bulge.Though he was “damn near killed,”
ducing a novel that successfully mimics he finished the war a heavily decorated
a diary in all its human pettiness. He captain. Among the many miraculous co-
allows Mountstuart’s voice to age like incidences of war—a bullet dodged, an
old friend randomly encountered—Bots-
ford had the good fortune to meet A. J.
Liebling at the front.This came in handy
when, after the war, Botsford became an
editor—and, eventually, Liebling’s edi-
tor—at The New Yorker: “Although it
was an article of faith with him that all
editors were incompetent losers, he must
have decided to be nice to me as a ges-
ture to the First Division.”