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A Question of Priorities

Author: Micah Zenko, Douglas Dillon Fellow
May 3, 2011
New York Times

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Since 9/11, successive directors of national intelligence and C.I.A. directors were asked: “Why can't you find Osama Bin Laden?” Their answers are summarized in 2009 by Michael McConnell, the director of national intelligence at the time: “It's a very simple answer — because we can't find them."

Eventually, however, they did find and kill Bin Laden. But why did it take so long, despite the enormous resources poured into the civilian-led intelligence community, which received $55 billion in appropriations last year, as well as support from the Pentagon?

While it is too soon to know — and the White House should release an unclassified report that explains this important intelligence success — there are several possible explanations.

First, two administrations, Congress, and the courts were — and remain — unable to find a constitutional judicial process to detain and question terrorist suspects. It is notable that the identity of Bin Laden's courier came from intelligence extracted from terrorists operatives detained under the covert extraordinary rendition program.

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