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In U.S., Terrorism's Peril Undiminished
Nation Struggles on Offense and Defense, and Officials Still Expect New Attacks

Two weeks after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, President Bush consults with political adviser Karl Rove, center, and Deputy Chief of Staff Joseph W. Hagin. Bush's decisions on fighting terrorism are questioned by several officials interviewed for this story. (File Photo/ George Bridges -- Krt)

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_____America at War News_____
Smallpox Plan May Force Other Health Cuts (The Washington Post, Dec 24, 2002)
FBI Charges Qatari Man in 9/11 Probe (The Washington Post, Dec 24, 2002)
Saudis Alter Promise to Help Afghans (The Washington Post, Dec 22, 2002)
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By Barton Gellman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, December 24, 2002; Page A01

Late last year, in secret, the Bush administration erected a provisional defense against nuclear terrorism in the nation's capital.

It was called "Ring Around Washington," and it aimed to detect a nuclear or radiological bomb before the weapon could be used. Still under development, according to three knowledgeable sources, the system was pressed into service in a large-scale operational trial. Scientists placed a grid of radiation sensors in the District and at major points of approach by river and road. Vehicles patrolled with mobile sensors. And an elite combat unit from the Joint Special Operations Command, already trained to render harmless a nuclear weapon or its components, moved to heightened alert at a staging area near the capital.

Ring Around Washington has since been shut down, the sources said. Under some conditions, which The Washington Post will not describe, the neutron and gamma ray detectors failed to identify dangerous radiation signatures. In other conditions they raised false alarms over low-grade medical waste and the ordinary background emissions of stone monuments. The Energy Department's national laboratories "learned a lot about how to operate" a distributed network of sensors, one official said, but not enough to keep it in place.

U.S. exposure to ruinous attack, more than 15 months into the war with al Qaeda, remains unbounded. The global campaign launched by President Bush has destroyed Osama bin Laden's Afghan sanctuary, drained his financial resources, scattered his foot soldiers and killed or captured some of his most dangerous lieutenants. But there is nothing in al Qaeda's former arsenal -- nothing it was capable of doing on Sept. 11, 2001 -- that the president's advisers are prepared to say is now beyond the enemy's reach.

The threat of bin Laden's network -- which the White House considers to number perhaps three dozen men at its vital core -- continues in important ways to outpace the national response. Working-level and senior participants in the conflict, many of them interviewed at length, displayed a striking fatalism even when describing their common belief that the United States will eventually prevail. Nearly all of them, when pressed, said they would measure their success by the frequency, not the absence, of mass-casualty attacks against the American homeland.

"They're not 10 feet tall, they're not supermen, and in a lot of cases they're very primitive," said retired Army Gen. Wayne A. Downing, who was President Bush's deputy national security adviser for counterterrorism until July 8, referring to al Qaeda. "But they are probably more capable than before."

One Bush appointee, working full-time in counterterrorism, pointed to Director of Central Intelligence George J. Tenet's testimony as recently as two months ago that "we were vulnerable to suicidal terrorist attacks and we remain vulnerable to them today." The official said: "With untold billions spent -- money, personnel and blood -- how can we claim any kind of success if we're just as vulnerable as before? It just doesn't balance. It can't balance."

The elements of the U.S. "security deficit," as another current official termed it recently, are varied. In their own fields of responsibility, across a wide range of government functions, nearly all of those interviewed acknowledged laboring under threats for which they have no present answer. In some cases they described the challenge as unavoidable. In others they said they had lost opportunities to respond. In still others, implicitly and explicitly, the officials raised questions about the president's choices in the war on terrorism.

Thirteen of 20 men that The Post could identify on the government's classified roster of "high value targets" remain unaccounted for. Bush's overriding objective, a high-ranking official at the heart of the effort said Friday, is to capture or kill the small cadre of leaders he sees as uniquely responsible for al Qaeda's potent threat. "We want to get that inner core more than anything," the official said, describing their number as roughly 30. The Post identified the 20 (see box) from interviews and a set of notes made by a participant in the hunt. Called "HVTs" in the argot of government, the 13 men believed at large include four of the five in the uppermost tier. National security adviser Condoleezza Rice, in a brief interview for this report, said "we are hunting down systematically members of terrorist networks, but that said, this is not just a numbers game."

Some of those involved in the hunt said the government lost many and perhaps most of its best chances to kill the top targets in the critical first month of the war in Afghanistan. Disputes at the time over rules of engagement and lines of command, some of which have not been described before, are more significant in retrospect. In October and November 2001, they said, the most wanted enemies were concentrated in Afghanistan. Struggles within the CIA and U.S. Central Command, and between them, prevented operators of the armed Predator drones from opening fire on terrorist targets with Hellfire missiles at least 15 times, according to sources directly involved. The disputes persisted through two changes of the rules of engagement, with more missed opportunities to fire, until spring.

Now scattered, al Qaeda's network remains capable of global command and control. As it did with box cutters and jetliners on Sept. 11, al Qaeda makes innovative use of ordinary technology to frustrate U.S. efforts to get "inside the plot," the term used by Tenet.

Of all the uncertainties about al Qaeda operators, the most serious one for the Bush administration is whether there are undiscovered "sleeper cells" now present in the United States. That concern, expressed widely among those interviewed, results from a common belief that there may have been in-country conspirators in the Sept. 11 plot who have not been identified by the FBI. Director Robert S. Mueller III has expressed the view that there were none.

There are at least two important disagreements among the officials interviewed for this story, one of fact and one of policy. They have no consensus on whether al Qaeda is replacing its top operatives with competent successors as fast as it loses them, which has important implications for the success of the president's strategy. And they do not agree on how soon, and with how much priority, U.S. policy should turn to addressing sources of grievance in the Arab and Islamic worlds -- a difference that leads them to different views on whether the war on al Qaeda will be enhanced or set back by war against Iraq.

'These Guys Continue to Go Back'

The gravest risks from al Qaeda combine its affinity for big targets and its announced desire for weapons of mass destruction.

"Most sobering to me was their research on chemical weapons, radiological dispersion devices, and their fascination with nuclear weapons," said Downing, who granted no interviews during his White House tenure and had not spoken about it until now. "They are obsessed with them."

Terrorism in its latest form has brought home the paradox of "asymmetric war," in which even a powerful nation may be badly hurt by an antagonist of incomparably lesser strength. But the fight with al Qaeda has a symmetry as well. Bush wants to kill al Qaeda from the top, and much the same describes al Qaeda's plan for the United States.

In an interview conducted in June but broadcast in September by the satellite television network al-Jazeera, al Qaeda operative Ramzi Binalshibh said United Flight 93, which crashed in Pennsylvania on Sept. 11, had been aimed at Congress.

U.S. analysts lean to the view that Binalshibh was lying. Four officials said the better evidence points to the White House as the target.

Downing declined to address intelligence questions, but he stated an observation that was also made by currently serving officials on condition that their names not be published. Al Qaeda returned on Sept. 11, 2001, to the World Trade Center, which allied terrorists nearly succeeded in toppling in a 1993 bombing. It failed, then succeeded, in attempts to kill an American diplomat in Amman, Jordan. And after missing the USS The Sullivans in port in Yemen in January 2000, he noted, al Qaeda mounted an identical attack with an explosives-laden boat -- this time successful -- against the USS Cole eight months later.

"These guys continue to go back after targets they have tried to get before," Downing said. "That's why I expect they're going to go back to Washington and why I expect they're going to go back to New York, both because of the symbolic impact of those attacks and the economic effect."

The strongest expression of that view came in very personal terms from a participant in efforts against al Qaeda whose office is adjacent to Pennsylvania Avenue.

"They are going to kill the White House," the official said. "I have really begun to ask myself whether I want to continue to get up every day and come to work on this block."

Continuity of Government

Among all the upheavals of war with al Qaeda, the surest indicator of the historic stakes is the ongoing rotation of top U.S. government managers -- scores at a time -- into a bunker deep underground and far from Washington. No president before Bush considered the "continuity of government" to be in doubt or took the costly step of maintaining a permanent presence under shelter.

Those who serve weary tours there describe the experience as surreal -- "pretty cool for about an hour," one said, "but then very, very sobering." Among the sobering features, more than one of them said, is recognition that vital elements of constitutional authority are still at risk, even if planners have foreseen enough to provide for all the eventualities of a catastrophic attack.

The visiting officials work at stainless steel desks and sometimes sleep two to a room when the facility is crowded. Packed with computers and communication gear, the underground vault maintains the records and capabilities that planners think they would need to reconstitute government and shift their headquarters to field offices outside Washington. The Energy Department, for example, has designated the Albuquerque Operations Office, its largest, as its successor headquarters, and the FBI has designated its own largest satellite office, in New York.

Three people with experience in the bunker said members of Bush's Cabinet take turns being present, residing in slightly less humble digs that are designated, with some irony, as the "commander in chief suite." There are many days when no one in the constitutional line of succession is at the site -- for example, when the president, Vice President Cheney or Cabinet secretaries are traveling. And there are Cabinet members whose presence is not relevant to succession. Housing Secretary Mel R. Martinez and Labor Secretary Elaine L. Chao -- born, respectively, in Cuba and Taiwan -- are barred from the presidency.

At the White House, some officials see a dangerous hole in the Presidential Succession Act of 1947, a subject Bush has yet to address. If the top three constitutional successors are killed -- the vice president, speaker of the House and president pro tem of the Senate -- then succession moves down a list of Cabinet secretaries. But once the House elects a new speaker, the law is silent on whether the speaker may reclaim priority and replace the former Cabinet member as president. That sets up a potential struggle at a moment when the nation would need every available resource of unity and calm.

Congress has the gravest problems of survival after a catastrophic attack. The House, in particular, has yet to resolve a quandary that would shut down its lawmaking power for months -- at the height of a national emergency -- if a majority of elected members were killed or disabled. The Senate can be replenished swiftly by each state's governor in temporary appointments. The House requires special elections, which now take an average of four months. In the chaotic days after a national calamity, according to testimony by American Enterprise Institute scholar Norman J. Ornstein before a congressionally appointed Continuity of Government Commission, simultaneous special elections in many districts would take at least six months, leaving Congress without a constitutionally mandated quorum.

Some House members oppose any proposed remedy that allows the designation of emergency successors without election. "Never has a member . . . of the House of Representatives of the United States served who has not been elected," said Rep. Christopher Cox (R-Calif.), who co-chairs another study group on the subject.

Rep. Brian Baird (D-Wash.), who favors allowing House members to make advance designations of their own emergency successors, said Cox's objection is one of the most common. Another is reluctance to amend the Constitution for any reason.

"People simply sometimes say, 'Well, people would figure out what to do,' " Baird said. "I don't find that a valid argument, but that's the third most common offered."

Limits on Anticipating Attacks

With the dismantling of the Ring Around Washington, officials said, there is no adequate prospect that the unexpected arrival of an atomic weapon or a radiological device -- conventional explosives packed with radioactive materials -- will be detected.

Combat teams drawn from Delta Force soldiers and Navy SEALs, who receive months of additional training for the nuclear disarmament mission, remain available on short notice to respond. Their mission, a secret adjunct to the well known Nuclear Emergency Search Team, or NEST, of civilian scientists, was disclosed by The Post in February.

Around the time of the Ring Around Washington experiment, the Joint Special Operations Command ordered the special teams to a readiness status that cut 30 minutes from their standard launch time. More than a year of that hair-trigger alert has begun to show its wear.

The nuclear response mission is now embroiled in interagency dispute. The Defense Department is pushing to shed responsibility for domestic nuclear response. According to sources in both departments, the FBI, which agreed to take on the job in 1999, did not staff or train a unit and is now asking to back out of the assignment.

With existing technology, random sweeps of cities and ports might find a terrorist with nuclear materials, one official said, if "he tries to bring in a big chunk or doesn't shield it right." The Energy Department's two NEST units exercised in random cities before Sept. 11, 2001. Now they exercise where intelligence points to a threat.

For all the work of the national laboratories, there have been no dramatic changes recently in the available instruments. "Until we can change the laws of physics we're not going to make the detectors a great deal better," a knowledgeable official said.

"It's not going to be about the technology," the official said. "It's going to be about intelligence. I am 100 percent sure we will fail if you tell me there's a nuclear weapon 'somewhere in New York City.' If you tell me Lower Manhattan, the odds are a little bit better. If you tell me a neighborhood, we will probably find it."

In the field of biological weapons, there is almost no prospect of detecting a pathogen until it has been used in an attack. After settling a long argument over smallpox inoculation, the Bush administration is working through scenarios in which a large-scale disease outbreak takes place.

"The United States may have to declare martial law someday," Downing said, "in the case of a devastating attack with weapons of mass destruction causing tens of thousands of casualties. This could mean that the military would be given the authority to impose curfews, protect businesses and communities, even make arrests."

Governors normally have jurisdiction over public health emergencies, but a widespread biological attack would cross state boundaries. Secretary of Health and Human Services Tommy G. Thompson has the power to declare a national public health emergency, in which he could impose a quarantine and require inoculation or treatment of unwilling citizens in the name of public health.

But Thompson has no troops at his direct disposal, and the Bush administration is still working through the complex questions of his relationship to the military's new U.S. Northern Command, which is responsible for homeland defense.

Julie L. Gerberding, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, will have her first extended meeting with Air Force Gen. Ralph G. Eberhart, who heads the Northern Command, in January. She said the two institutions needed "to touch base and identify any gaps in what we understand to be our respective roles."

Some government exercises run to date have used scenarios in which quarantine is breached and a disease spreads uncontained.

"Remember," Gerberding said. "These are imaginary experiments . . . so we decide how we're going to handle it."

High Value Targets, Lost Chances

Because defending against even the highest-priority threats is so difficult, offense has been at the center of Bush's thinking.

But his favored strategy -- decapitating al Qaeda by hunting down its three dozen top leaders -- has had mixed results elsewhere. Japan's Aum Shinrikyo cult, which unleashed a nerve gas attack in Tokyo's subway system, withered with the arrest of its founding generation of leaders. In the Middle East, the Islamic Resistance Movement, or Hamas, and Palestinian Islamic Jihad have grown new leaders and redoubled their suicide bombing attacks in the face of Israel's relentless campaign of "targeted killings."

"As we go after some of these" al Qaeda leaders, "some of them will get replaced," said the official made available by the White House for answers on strategy. "It doesn't appear they can replace them with people of the same quality and training." He acknowledged, however, that "we don't know these [new] guys in great detail."

Downing had a different view.

"Certainly they've been blooded, which has strengthened their misguided commitment to their cause," he said. "Those who have survived have learned valuable lessons. They have adapted, decentralized their organization, grown new leaders. They have had to find new ways of operating. This makes them more dangerous."

In his early White House days, Downing had been among the foremost advocates of accelerating the hunt.

At one meeting in November 2001, according to two people present, he glowered at his colleagues and slammed the flat of his hand against the table, a gesture seldom indulged in the White House Situation Room.

"We've got to kill the [expletives]!" Downing said, voice raised.

His frustration stemmed from what he viewed as missed opportunities. The CIA had a "profile," an official there said, of the appearance from the air of the class of al Qaeda leaders they wanted most. The profile looked for a small traveling party in sport-utility vehicles, with a security team close by and another around a perimeter. Taliban or al Qaeda fighters would show one figure special deference, perhaps kissing the hem of his garment.

Predator drones have about the weight and engine power of a golf cart and resemble mosquitoes with 58-foot wings. But they have lived up to their name. They are uniquely valuable in hunting individuals because they are the only known U.S. technology for finding and shooting at a person in the same moment.

Under its first rules of engagement, the CIA pulled the trigger "in support of" Army Gen. Tommy R. Franks at U.S. Central Command, which led the military's effort in Afghanistan. Far too often, Downing thought, the Central Command became mired in "covering its ass," as two colleagues described his remarks. Its legal adviser applied the laws of war, not the broader authority Bush had granted for lethal force in his September intelligence finding. Approval to fire came late, or not at all.

Downing's frustration was mirrored in the teams at the Predator's controls. One operator put his fist through a computer screen after being forced to hold his fire against a top al Qaeda operative, according to a friend who heard his account. Another broke furniture with his helmet on a similar occasion.

Rice and her deputy, Stephen J. Hadley, felt obliged to caution Downing that he had no operational role. His blunt talk and exasperated demeanor struck even friendly critics as unsuited to the interagency debate.

"I know how to play the Washington game," Downing said. "It was just at this stage of my life I didn't have the stomach or patience for it. . . . I felt we spent an inordinate amount of time on the NSC process."

Before Downing's departure, described in the White House as a mutual decision, the consensus had moved somewhat his way. Rules of engagement were changed to give the CIA an escape clause in Afghanistan -- its operators could open fire if Central Command did not give an answer in time. Then it won a measure of independent authority.

Still later -- in October -- the agency got its first go-ahead to use the Predator outside Afghanistan. Abu Ali al-Harithi, who had been listed among al Qaeda's most wanted, died in Yemen on Nov. 3 when a missile obliterated his car.

By then, most of the most-wanted operatives had dispersed.

"It took six months, and I wanted to do it in six days," Downing said.

Sleeper Cells in the United States

Rice, in the interview, said the United States is making progress in "knocking out key nodes of the network, knocking out key operators," adding: "You're not going to get everybody, and you don't get to choose the ones that you get. You get an opportunity, either through hard work or by chance, and you take it."

The hunt for al Qaeda has been slowest in the United States, and inside government there is anxiety about the reasons.

Some of those interviewed said they fear undiscovered sleeper cells in this country, citing gaps in the FBI's knowledge of the Sept. 11 plot. They expressed strong skepticism of the FBI's public stance that 19 hijackers pulled off their complex feat without the kind of local help that al Qaeda always used before.

FBI Director Mueller gave closed testimony in June, made public in September, that "to this day we have found no one in the United States except the actual hijackers who knew of the plot."

FBI investigators acknowledge that mysteries endure. They do not know why, on the eve of his final flight, suspected hijacker leader Mohamed Atta traveled to Portland, Maine.

At first investigators supposed that the detour enabled Atta to avoid Boston's stricter security on the morning he seized control of American Flight 11. But in fact Atta had to pass through security twice, once at each airport. One theory now is that he met on the evening of Sept. 10 with an al Qaeda handler -- to return unused funds or documents, to make a report, or to give the handler a final chance for instructions.

From docks in Portland's Casco Bay, the Quoddy Loop line offers frequent ferries to Canada. No identification was required to buy a ticket. If a handler did meet Atta there, he might have left no trace.

Perhaps because of questions like these, Rice and other top officials give lukewarm backing to the FBI theory that the hijackers worked alone.

"Is it conceivable that there were only the [19] plotters in the United States, and the direction was coming from the outside?" she said. "It is conceivable. If the FBI doesn't have evidence yet, it doesn't mean they won't find evidence."

Larry Mefford, assistant FBI director and chief of the counterterrorism division, said in an interview that the "number one priority in the FBI today is to detect and uncover terrorist sleeper cells" in the United States.

"We have not discovered an operational cell that would be under the model of the 19" hijackers, he said, but the bureau has established "a whole series of tripwires" to "detect highly disciplined and motivated groups of terrorists. I guess I can't tell you with a high level of certainty they're not here. We're looking aggressively to ensure they're not here."

Orange Alert on Orange Street

Some members of Bush's security team conceive homeland security in offensive more than defensive terms. No amount of spending can prevent a severe attack, one senior team member said, but hardening targets forces terrorists "to make more efforts, spend more resources, to overcome" the defensive measures. And every new effort the terrorists make "gives you more chances to see what they're up to."

How to defend themselves locally has been an agonizing question for state and city governments. Their puzzlement emerged clearly on Sept. 10, the eve of a traumatic anniversary, when Attorney General John D. Ashcroft announced an increase in the national threat level from yellow to orange -- high risk.

In New Haven, Conn., Mayor John DeStefano Jr. asked the White House Office of Homeland Security in a conference call what to do.

Answering that question is not the way Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge has conceived his job. The theory behind the advisory system, with danger expressed on a continuum from green to red, is that any change of threat level will be accompanied by "an appropriate set of protective measures." Only local authorities, Ridge tells them, can decide the meaning in their own settings of his generic advice, such as "taking additional precautions at public events."

On Sept. 10, DeStefano decided to open his city's Emergency Operations Center, in the "sub-sub basement" of the government complex on Orange Street. Police, fire and health departments, along with agencies responsible for roads, bridges and utilities, began standing 24-hour watches. Police increased their port patrols, looking for they knew not what.

"After two days, after incurring a lot of overtime, we made the decision to shut it down," DeStefano said.

Gaps in Homeland Defense

As Ridge makes the transition to a new role as secretary of the new Homeland Security Department, he will have major gaps to address. The biggest, in the view of many experts, is port defense.

The government's new Transportation Security Agency now screens the shoes of millions of airline passengers but less than 2 percent of the 21,000 shipping containers that arrive in U.S. ports every day. Each is 40 feet long and easily holds the contents of a private home. Customs Commissioner Robert Bonner has said there is "virtually no security for what is the primary system to transport global trade."

Bonner calls for a container security initiative to screen incoming cargo offshore, or in its originating port overseas. White House officials often praise the initiative but its funding is unclear. In fiscal 2002, according to legislators in both parties, the president's lobbyists negotiated a reduction in funding for that initiative to $39 million. Bush signed the bill but did not spend the money. In Bush's fiscal 2003 budget, he has proposed no specific funding for container security.

"Obviously if there's an attack in ports, you could have hundreds of thousands of people die, depending on the weapons used, and there certainly is a colossal risk to the economy," said Rep. David R. Obey (D-Wis.), who has clashed with the White House over spending.

Gordon Johndroe, spokesman for Ridge, said there was no time to spend last year's appropriation for container security. Customs will fund the initiative this year, he said, out of general increases in its budget.

Snakes, Weeds and Iraq

Disagreements about the president's strategy, among officials interviewed for this story, sometimes took the form of competing analogies. Those who believed al Qaeda is losing leaders faster than it can replace them spoke of cutting the head off the snake. Those who disagreed spoke of the need to pull up weeds by their roots.

"Roots" was a taboo word in the Bush administration for a time, with "evil" the only acceptable explanation for the attacks of Sept. 11. More recently, senior Bush advisers have addressed other sources of al Qaeda's support.

Speaking on Dec. 11 of cooperation with Islamic and Arab allies, Tenet said, "We can't let this engagement stop at the level of tactical wartime cooperation, as necessary as that is. We also need to make more fundamental connections. Because at the end of the day, we cannot hope to make lasting progress in the war against terrorism without serious steps to address 'the circumstances that give it rise.' "

Secretary of State Colin L. Powell followed that two days later with a call to bridge "the hope gap" among the young men and women in the Arab world who have grown hostile to the United States. "It has become increasingly clear that we must broaden our approach to the region if we are to achieve success," he said. "We must work with peoples and governments to close the gulf between expectation and reality."

Powell, declaring that "hope begins with a paycheck," accompanied his remarks with an offer of $29 million in new assistance to be divided among 23 countries. They have a combined population of about 260 million.

The debate over roots has also addressed the prospect of war with Iraq, with some officials saying it will intensify rage against the United States. That rage promotes a "functional sanctuary," as one official put the argument, among sympathetic populations in the Arab and Islamic world.

Bush and his senior advisers argue that war to dislodge Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, should it come, would be integral to the global struggle with al Qaeda. They say Iraq's undeclared biological and chemical weapons, in potential combination with al Qaeda's ruthless intentions, make for the most dangerous possible terrorist threat. Deputy Defense Secretary Paul D. Wolfowitz has taken to using a new shorthand for that formula: "weapons of mass terror."

Most officials interviewed acknowledged some tradeoffs at the tactical level between the two conflicts.

The FBI, according to sources, has been obliged to shift some emphasis in its counterterrorism and counterespionage units from al Qaeda to Iraq, though senior officials said the shift was modest. And in the event of war with Iraq, formal priorities in intelligence-gathering will give that war first call on scarce resources such as photo interpretation, translation and satellite coverage.

"There's no such thing as a tie in priorities," one national security official said. "One of them is going to win, and for the duration of any war it will be Iraq."

Among the costliest tradeoffs comes in the currency of linguists and regional specialists. No authorized government spokesman acknowledged a conflict, but every affected agency has said in the past year that it had shortages in those skills.

Downing said the scarcity of foreign language speakers with top-secret security clearances had left "reams of material waiting to be exploited" in the war against al Qaeda. He was so alarmed by the gap that he suggested, before leaving the White House job, that intelligence agencies hire native speakers with abbreviated security checks.

The D.C. area, he said, has "probably the best-educated cab drivers in the world that can speak any language you want."

In the months after Sept. 11, one of the CIA's most important South Asia resources was a man named Bob, then station chief in Pakistan, who will be identified here by first name only. Conversant with local languages, he was immersed in the people and institutions of the nation that arguably remains most important to the war on al Qaeda.

Recently he returned to headquarters in Langley. His new assignment: "issue manager" for Iraq.

"He completed his tour," said a senior intelligence official. "When you have something like Iraq come up, you want to put your best guy on it."

Staff researchers Lucy Shackelford and Margot Williams contributed to this report.

2002 The Washington Post Company

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