Recent Bombings:

The bombings in Saudi Arabia demonstrate the degree of freedom of movement al Qaeda enjoys in that, their home, country. After a firefight on 6 May, and a week-long manhunt for nineteen specific fugitives by Saudi authorities, al Qaeda seems to have employed that same cell to carry out these suicide attacks. The Saudi government reports, through the AP, that at least some of the nineteen men they have been seeking were involved, and may have been killed, in the attacks.

The Saudi soldiers who fought off the suicide bombers at length deserve praise: the short firefight seems to have been the reason for the low death toll, as it alerted sleeping families to the danger and allowed them time to fly. The intelligence and investigative wings of the Saudi government, though, are largely nonfunctional.

Far more important in the war on al Qaeda are the two recent bombings in Chechnya. The first bombing in particular was a crippling strike to Russian efforts in the region. Directed against the intelligence service tasked with leading the war against terrorists in the region, the strike destroyed their headquarters and killed at least fifty-nine people. A similar attack in Lebanon in the 1980s killed only a handful of CIA officers, but because they were the men with decades of experience in the region, the men who knew everyone and everything, operations never recovered from the loss. We don't know who was killed in this strike, as to whether they were the top men or not. At the least, massive amounts of documentation, computers and files have been lost. If they got some of the leading officers as well, it may ruin the Russian offensive.

The Russian government has linked that bombing to the one in Arabia, without direct evidence but for good cause. They were not perfectly coordinated, but al Qaeda's ability to coordinate internationally appears to be degraded. Meanwhile, we know that al Qaeda is heavily involved in the Chechen cause, which has for many years been both a recruiting tool and a training ground for them. With the destruction of Afghanistan, it is reported that Qaeda camps have been erected in Chechnya. The Center for Defense Information puts the number of terrorists trained there at about 350.

The Chechens are more likely than al Qaeda to use woman mujahedeen, as in this morning's attack. You will remember that the Russian theater seized by Chechens saw the use of women militants as well: in fact, it was originally reported to be a team solely composed of suicidal women guerrillas, come to die to avenge their fallen husbands. The fight in Chechnya has been especially ugly, and has generated large numbers of women (and men) who have suffered rape and other forms of "shaming" at the hands of Russian soldiers. Dying in battle cleans such shame as nothing else: as Alexandre Dumas wrote in The Count of Monte Cristo, "Blood washes away dishonor."

The opportunity for the United States is to offer help to the Russian government, conditionally. With their intelligence capacity blunted, and the situation destabilizing, they may be willing to accept. In return for a strong policy against rapes and other shaming attacks, and a commitment to a form of Chechen autonomy and the protection of their rights, we could offer to share intelligence resources and even commit special operations troops operating from Afghanistan to the elimination of al Qaeda and other militant camps in Chechnya. Right now al Qaeda has a free hand in the area, which is protected by its ownership by a weak former superpower: strong enough that we can't invade without permission, but too weak to deal with the threat alone. In return for seeing the Chechens treated decently, we ought to help the Russians eliminate our common foes.

A shocking admission:

From the C.I.A.'s Center for Intelligence Studies. This comes as part of a long article called "The Intelligence Community: 2001-2015."
Now we are facing the same reality that confronted the Soviets: technology is, and has always been, ideologically neutral. It benefits anyone with access and means. This simple fact now represents an enormous challenge to US intelligence.

The technology used by the Intelligence Community has become antiquated. New solutions remain undiscovered and new funding will take time to have an effect. This is a strange and unprecedented condition for the United States, long accustomed to having technology as an ally.
How has it happened that the CIA has lost its technological edge? Since so much of the intelligence budget is hidden, we can't really know if it is underfunding.

It is likely, though, that the real problem has been bureaucratic overload. Intelligence is best run on a venture-capital model, which rewards risk and encourages innovation at all costs. The CIA's culture was originally heaviliy influenced by its founder, "Wild Bill" Donovan. But Wild Bill is long gone, and the American intelligence community is now flush with bureaucrats who have never been field operatives (cf. See No Evil by R. Baer). Bureaucracies make change difficult and ponderous. That's fine if you're trying to work a field that benefits from a reliable approach. Intelligence, though, demands high risk in order to reap its rewards, and there is nothing more risk-averse than a bureaucracy.