I've finally got around to reading the 9/11 Commission Report. My general impression after the first 100 pages is that both the U.S. government and the terrorists displayed a fair amount of incompetence before and during the 9/11 attacks. In the earlier bombing of the World Trade Center, for example, one of the plotters kept going back to the truck rental company to get his $400 deposit back. (As a result, he was eventually caught.) On the U.S. side, the contingency planning was notably poor and "unimaginative" (as the commission points out). If the commission's report is to be believed, the FBI appears as a highly politicized organization that clearly failed to do its job.
Apart from the commission's report, I'm also shocked by the number of informants prior to the attack, who provided clear warnings. Paddock, of the LA Times, recently reported that the convicted terorist Jack Roche (an Australian) had volunteered information four years ago in exchange for a more lenient sentence but was "ignored by Australian and U.S. authorities." Arrested in connection with the 2002 Bali bombing, Roche evidently had information on the whereabouts of Bin Laden and other top Al Qaeda figures. He called the Australian Security Intelligence Organization 3 times and also contacted the U.S. Embassy in Canberra, but evidently the agents in both offices felt they had better things to do with their time.
So what conclusion are we to draw from all this? Is U.S. intelligence or the military terribly underfunded? Personally, I find it hard to see how more funding would make a difference. The 9/11 attacks were done with box-cutters and mace, with the perpetrators shouting that they had a bomb. It's hard to see how more tanks or weapons systems would stop such an attack. The most practical and easy step that would stop all such future attacks--the creation of a barrier between the passenger cabin and the cockpit--hasn't been taken yet!
I also feel that excessive funding of intelligence has an inevitable downside in creating a KGB-like apparatus whose activities are hidden from the American people. We are familiar with this from our history--the example oft cited being the team of FBI agents following Martin Luther King Jr. around. Excessive security measures can be used to stifle democratic dissent--as when police recently created lists and questioned protesters before the protest in New York. I find it highly suspicious that the FBI and CIA still seem to be spending so much of their time obsessed with Green Peace activists and elderly suburban peace activists like the cookie-munching Fresno activists shown in Fahrenheit 9/11.