Intelligence analysts must go through a sea of data in efforts to prevent another terror attack.
It’s an exercise Washington has launched before, most notably after the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941 and after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. In both cases, investigators aimed to construct a timeline – who knew what, when they knew it, and what they did with what they knew – to identify missed opportunities and to propose fixes.
At least some of the post-9/11 fixes worked, say Obama administration officials. Threat assessments were available across agency lines – unlike in the run-up to the 9/11 attacks. The name of suspect Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab was on a broad terrorist database maintained by the National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC), which both intelligence and law-enforcement agencies could access.
But Mr. Abdulmutallab’s name was not elevated to a no-fly list or flagged for special notice. In retrospect, that appears to be a shortcoming. On Monday, the White House announced that terrorist databases have been scrubbed since the Dec. 25 incident.
Yet connecting the dots in hindsight doesn’t capture the issues facing intelligence analysts on a daily basis, these analysts say. They have a sea of data to go through – and finding and acting on the crucial bits can be a formidable challenge.