The Wall is Gone

Brian Friel reports that,

The failure of the federal government to catch the 9/11 hijackers before they could carry out their attacks has been blamed in part on an artificial barrier between intelligence agents and law enforcement officers and organizations — known as “the Wall.” Four and a half years later, the Wall is mostly gone, and it’s probably not a coincidence that there hasn’t been a terrorist attack since. A reorganization of the Justice Department offices overseeing terrorism and intelligence prosecutions is getting under way this spring, one of the last steps in eliminating the Wall.

Much of this change has been invisible from the outside, with even knowledgable observers like Tony Zinni claiming that we have done nothing but add additional layers of bureaucracy.

Still, Friel may well be going too far in attributing the lack of terrorist attacks on U.S. soil to the restructuring of the security bureaucracy which was, after all, not immediate. Fareed Zakaria credits our immigration policy. Others credit the war in Iraq. Others chalk it up to blind luck and claim it is only a matter of time before another 9/11-style attack–perhaps with a dirty bomb–happens.

FILED UNDER: Intelligence, Terrorism, , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. ken says:

    Well, the threat of another terrorist attack was never very large to begin with. It was one of those things, like getting struck by lightening or winning the lottery, where the chances of it happening were very small, but the consequences would be very big.

    It warrented some increased precautions, a few adjustments, but not a total overhaul of our security agencies.

  2. LJD says:

    Our new HS strategy! Stay indoors during storms, and don’t gamble…

  3. Steven Plunk says:

    It would seem likely that each response would have something to do with stopping another terrorist attack. The actual mix is immaterial, a continued multifaceted approach is certainly the wisest way to go.

    The injection of common sense into policy decisions could take all the credit for our success.

  4. legion says:

    I think Friel is making one of the basic logical errors… Here’s a question – If there’s so much better flow and cooperation between intel and law enforcement, and if that’s the prime reason we haven’t had any more terror attacks, how come we have had much success in the way of prosecuting accused terrorists?

    Moussaui doesn’t count – he’s been in custody forever. Padilla’s fate is still up in the air, legally speaking. How many other terror arrests have we made? And of those, how many haven’t had their cases dismissed?

  5. Legion,

    On the other hand, the article did point out that the justice department is being the last to reorganize. I blame Ashcroft.

  6. James Joyner says:

    Legion: I would argue that taking down “the wall” necessarily means fewer criminal cases. Intelligence agencies operate in such a way as to violate people’s due process rights.

    Taking down “the wall” is a move reflecting the judgment that we are fighting a war rather than catching criminals. The objective changes to one of preventing attacks rather than punishing wrongdoers after the fact.

  7. Jack Ehrlich says:

    Ken, did no notice what happened in Spain and the UK? Why is it that you anti-American leftists insist this was a random act at best and a one time deal at worst? Remember the first attack on the WTC? What is with you people anyway. Do you hate George Bush so much that you would forsake the security of the United States? At times I think people like you cannot be that stupid, then I read your posts on this board and know better.

  8. legion says:

    You bring up an excellent point. My problem is that the gov’t is trying to have it both ways – using intel assets like the NSA to track down possible terror plotters, but then trying to bullshit their way through criminal cases with evidence even a pre-law would know is tainted, or at least inadmissable, and then tying the whole thing up for years by declaring everything related to the case classified. A free society can’t work like that.

  9. Ugh says:

    One way to guarantee another attack on U.S. soil would be to invade/bomb Iran. Just sayin.

  10. Tyler R. says:

    What about the idea that the best defense is a good offense?

    Ever since 9/11, we have been more aggressive on a global scale – and not just in Afghanistan and Iraq. I know for a fact we have been active in the Philippines, and I keep hearing persistent rumors of ongoing special forces actions all over the globe.

    That, coupled by the breaking down of the wall which allowed intelligence and law enforcement to go after terror group resources (especially money) and an international desire to make up for getting caught unawares on 9/11 has resulted in a more vigorous campaign on international terrorism than we have ever seen before.

    It is not a strategy that makes for glorious victories – but the point is to win wars, not battles. By dominating the battlefields which terrorists can play on, you limit their ability to launch successful attacks.