Following the 11 September terrorist attack a number of media revelations asserted that it could have been prevented if only the intelligence community (IC) had acted on information in its possession regarding the impending attack. This article explains why and how the intelligence agencies failed on 11 September, and assesses the need for and viability of preemptive military options for striking first to combat terrorism. First, it describes how the IC doggedly refused to regard terrorism as war through the 1990s. Second, the authors explain that an alternative perspective challenged this orthodoxy in the early 1990s, arguing that war was changing and entering its fourth generation. Third, based on new information about Al-Qaeda, the article addresses how Al-Qaeda organized for war and how it carried it out by delineating Al-Qaeda's organizational structure, ideology, linkages with other terrorist groups and supporting states, use of sanctuary, and financial base, and then detailing its targeting, weapons and warfighting strategy. This assessment reveals how intimately the Al-Qaeda network bears an unmistakable resemblance to fourth-generation asymmetrical warfare and not to the 1990s profile of the IC. Finally, the authors demonstrate that President Bush has grasped fourth generation warfare by advocating preemptive first strikes against terrorists in his new national security strategy.
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Document Type: Research Article
Professor of International Politics and the director of the International Security Studies Program at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy
Program and research coordinator of the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy's International Security Studies Program (ISSP)
Publication date: 2003-03-01