Reflective Evaluation of Counterintelligence Support to Counterterrorism Operations with Reference To the 2001 Pentagon Attack


The September 2001 attacks on the US showed the threats posed on the country by terrorists graphically. The attacks, and other previous ones, led to the loss of the lives of persons working for the US Department of Defense (DoD). The terrorist attacks against the Beirut-located Marine Barracks, the Saudi Arabian-located Khobar Towers, and the Yemen-located USS Cole demonstrate the terrorism-related risks that DoD employees face worldwide. The capability to gather, as well as process, intelligence related to force protection is essential to the DoD’s capability to keep civilian staff, military staff, and own families safe.

The DoD has made considerable efforts to enhance its capabilities related to force protection. Even then, threats from terrorists persist in posing considerable dangers. Certainly, the DoD can further bolster own antiterrorism plans by enhancing counterintelligence (CI) hold up, or support, towards force protection. This paper is a reflective appraisal of the CI support related to counterterrorism operations, with a focus on the 2011 Pentagon attack case history. As well, the paper demonstrates the support’s role using various CI activities, operations, and functions from both threat and friendly viewpoints of the attack.



The term terrorism refers to all acts aimed at occasioning terror. In spite of the name terrorism, some actions deemed terrible or terrifying are not characterized as terrorist acts. Still, there has not emerged a universally accepted characterization, or definition, of terrorism. Even then, it is by and large appreciated as featuring political aims. The pursuit for the aims may be fueled by differences in social class, ideological, religious, ethnic or nationalist politics or persuasions. The definition adopted for terrorism throughout the paper is that it refers to violent acts or the related threats, which are geared towards creating terror, or fear, owing to particular nationalistic, socioeconomic or religious interests.


Generally, counterterrorism refers to the responses that state actors formulate and actualize against terrorist acts or planned terrorist acts. Given that that the acts are indications of struggles with nationalistic, socioeconomic or religious motivations, the responses against them are as commonly shaped by class, beliefs or ethnicity. Besides, given that attitudes to societal statuses, religion, and nationalism tend to change over time, terrorist acts and terrorists are commonly criminalized or legitimized based on the extant political interests or perspectives.


CI is the information collected, as well as the activities executed, to safeguard particular interests or installations against sabotage, espionage, or other intelligence engagements executed for foreign entities or global terrorist acts. Collective CI is the gathering of information regarding the intelligence gathering potential of enemy parties. Defensive CI refers to the efforts aimed at thwarting the efforts made by enemy intelligence services to go through a given intelligence service. Offensive CI refers to the manipulation of enemy intelligence services’ efforts by affording them sham information that they convey back home or taking up their agents for duplicitous roles.

Numerous nation-states organize CI agencies distinct, as well as separate, from own intelligence gathering services for dedicated purposes. In many nation-states, CI missions are shared among several agencies. Even then, one agency commonly predominate the others. In contemporary practice, multiple missions are linked to CI from diverse levels. The missions include Defensive Analysis, CFSO (Counterintelligence Force Protection Source Operations), and Offensive Counterespionage.

CFSO refers to the human source-level operations executed in foreign lands to bridge existing gaps in the domestic-level coverage of given forces or field stations from espionage as well as terrorism. In the US, CI is essentially an element of the country’s ICS (Intelligence Cycle Security), which, sequentially, is an element of the country’s ICM (Intelligence Cycle Management). Various security-related disciplines as well fall under complement CI and ICM. They include operations security, security classification as well as communications security. Others include physical security, information system security as well as personnel security.

In the US, the OICI (Office of Investigations and Counterintelligence) is charged with conducting robust CI programs. The programs are aimed at deterring, detecting, as well as neutralizing foreign intelligence agencies’ efforts aimed at the Department of State’s diplomatic missions globally, facilities, and personnel. Notably, the OICI has a dedicated CI division, which executes aggressive CI inquiries, as well as counterespionage investigations, jointly with other federal government agencies. As well, the division trains government personnel on security and CI awareness, especially the personnel accessing sensitive information and facilities under the Department of State. The training helps build the personnel’s appreciation of espionage and foreign intelligence risks and the related countermeasures. The personnel gain an increased understanding of alien, or foreign, intelligence environments.

The OICI is populated with security engineers who help it in deterring, detecting, as well as neutralizing, foreign intelligence agencies’ efforts aimed at penetrating domestic residences and office buildings technically. Each of the engineers has specific CI roles. For instance some of the engineers may be assigned the role of making out listening devices fixed on walls. Others may be assigned to counter intricate digital eavesdropping systems or devices.

September 2011 Pentagon Attack and Counterintelligence

The 9/11 terrorist attacks comprised of four, highly-coordinated attacks on the several US’ landmarks by al-Qaeda. Nineteen al-Qaeda operatives hijacked passenger airliners after leaving various airports along the country’s eastern coast. The airliners were headed to California. The 19 terrorists flew the airliners into USA’s landmark buildings. Two of the airliners were flown into the then complex referred to as the World Trade Center. Another airliner crashed in Pennsylvania while probably being flown into a landmark building within Washington. Another airliner was flown into the Virginia-located Pentagon, a landmark DoD facility.

Immediately following the attacks, the al-Qaeda was highly suspected of executing the attacks. The US reacted to the attacks through efforts aimed at deposing the Afghanistan-based Taliban, which was then thought to be harboring al-Qaeda. As well, the country launched a wide-ranging WAT (War against Terror) program. The airliner flown into the Pentagon building approached it from the west and hit part of its first floor façade, exploding on impact. The part of the building hit comprised of largely unoccupied but newly renovated offices. Owing to the attack on the building, 125 Pentagon-based DoD employees lost their lives.

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Following the 9/11 attacks, including the Pentagon attack, the CIA (Central Intelligence Agency) Inspector General facilitated an in-house appraisal of the CIA’s performance just prior to the attacks. He markedly blamed senior CIA officers of not acting satisfactorily to address terrorism. He particularly condemned their inability to stop two of the terrorists who executed the attacks from entering the US. As well, he condemned their failure to give the FBI the information that they held regarding the terrorists in a timely way. Overall, the US Senate judged the CIA and the FBI as having showed marked ineptitude as regards stopping the attacks before they happened.

The CI agencies in the US had considerable information regarding the attacks well before they happened. For instance, in the first quarter of 2001, the US ONCE (Office of the National Counterintelligence Executive) sent out warnings regarding persons presenting themselves as art students from Israel trying to circumvent set security checks. The persons were attempting to enter various federal facilities along with senior federal officer residences’ illegally.

From the end of 2000 to mid-2011, the ONCE had intelligence that there were terrorists of Arab origin who had set up terror cells particularly in Miami, Hollywood, and Phoenix. The Arab cells had been set up near Israeli espionage cells according to ONCE reports. As well, the office was aware that Mossad spies were gathering intelligence regarding two leaders of the teams that executed the 9/11 attacks; Marwan al-Shehi along with Mohammed Atta.

In mid-2002, a number of officials dismissed information about the existence of a spy ring that made CI efforts ineffective in stopping the attacks. In the wake of the attacks, the FBI took up a counterterrorism role, which is markedly comparable to CI and espionage in addition to its policing roles. Over the years, the FBI has had challenges in transforming itself to effectively discharge CI-related roles since own counterterrorism roles have expanded under the recently formulated homeland security laws. Notably, counterterrorism and CI share numerous operational aspects, a marked frustration factor, and a feeling of urgency. Such challenges are likely to persuade un-procedural practices.

Probable Reasons Why Counterintelligence Did Not Stop the Pentagon Attack


In 2001, the FBI’s CI capabilities were too low to be of help in stopping attacks of the scale of the 9/11 attacks. That is because it got CI from limited foreign spy agency decrypts, which were deemed ultra-secrets. Even when it was able to arrest enemy spies, it did not since it required to cover up own sources. Notably, much of the FBI’s predicament was not related to the compromising of sources deemed sensitive but the disclosure of incriminating data, or information, which could not keep going cases in court owing to its illegal acquisition.

As well, FBI is poor in CI work owing to its political manipulation to serve particular domestic interests rather than focusing on CI and espionage in general. That means that it does not adequately concentrate on foreigners spying for their mother countries. Most enemy spies uncovered by the FBI long after ceasing their covert work, making their arrests acts of vanity. The FBI can have its CI effectiveness bolstered significantly to stem the recurrence of events comparable to those of 9/11 by shielding its operations from political or sectarian interests.

Pentagon Field Commanders’ Control of Counterintelligence

Possibly, the Pentagon attack and the other 9/11 attacks came about owing to the actuality that the Pentagon’s field commanders did not exercise control of CI. Had they had the control prior to the attacks, they could have considerably helped the DoD in coping with the persistent efforts by al-Qaeda operatives to access the sensitive information, which helped them execute the attacks. It is only after the attack that the commanders were allowed the control.

That has allowed the DoD more force protection capacity since, now, groups like Special Operations Command along with Central Command can opt to execute their CI work within own organizations. Presently, the DoD has better CI capabilities for protecting facilities like the Pentagon since different combat commands are allowed to either depend on the DoD or formulate organic CI abilities. The commands are no longer obligated, or legally compelled, to rely on MDCIOs (Military Defense Counterintelligence Organizations) for own CI work.

Overseeing DoD Counterintelligence Enterprise

Possibly, the Pentagon attack and the other 9/11 attacks came about because then, the DoD did not have an agency charged with effectively, as well as efficiently, managing along with overseeing the DoD’s CI enterprise. There was no agency mandated to synchronize CI across the DoD, jointly with other federal intelligence units. As well, there was no specific agency charged with managing priority CI projects and plans to satisfy combatant commander, departmental or national requirements. Consequently, the enterprise was run poorly, there was no synchronization of CI across the DoD, and CI projects and plans were not managed satisfactorily to satisfy combatant commander, departmental or national requirements.

To forestall the happening of events like those of 9/11, the Counterintelligence Field Activity (CIFA) was created in 2002. It could contribute greatly to the force protection CI programs of the DoD. Specifically, the CIFA was charged with efficiently, managing along with overseeing the DoD’s CI enterprise, synchronizing CI across the DoD, and managing priority CI projects and plans to satisfy combatant commander, departmental or national requirements. When the CIFA was shut down in 2008, all its mandates were conferred on the DIA (Defense Intelligence Agency). To ensure that the agencies charged with effectively, as well as efficiently, managing along with overseeing the DoD’s CI enterprise are effective in their mandates,  they should be allowed to choose, as well as develop, specific CI operational support strengths and increasing their accessibility to the larger intelligence community. As well, they should be allowed to make out, develop, as well as deploy advanced CI field technologies.

Counterintelligence Doctrine

Possibly, a review of the DoD’s CI doctrine would have stemmed the happening of the 9/11 events. Notably, ensuring that field commanders exercise control of CI can heighten the utility of the CI by allowing them control over it. The DoD’s CI doctrine should be made increasingly comprehensive to increasingly help it in coping with the persistent efforts by al-Qaeda operatives to access the sensitive information, getting precise, opportune, and applicable knowledge concerning the adversary (or potential adversary) and the neighboring environment. The commanders should be supported to protect friendly forces via CI active, as well as passive measures.

The DoD’s CI doctrine should be reformulated to make certain that CI affords field commanders decisive intelligence aid in executing their force protection programs. The CI should help the commanders make possible threat potentials and threats along with considered intentions to operations considered friendly. Concurrently, CI should assist the commanders deceive adversaries regarding friendly intentions, vulnerabilities, and capabilities.

Pentagon Police

Had the PFPA (Pentagon Force Protection Agency) had CI mandates before the attacks, possibly it would have prevented the occurrence of the Pentagon attack. Indeed, the agency was only formed in mid-2002. It is essentially charged with securing and enforcing elementary law on behalf of the Pentagon. Presently, its mandates include handling administrative and information technology issues, antiterrorism, consequence management, building surveillance, operations security, protection of DoD personnel and facilities, crisis prevention, handling explosives and CI.

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