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Former CIA agents visit Darien to discuss security

Published 2:10 pm, Thursday, November 10, 2011
  • Former CIA agent Joseph Wippl explains how security measures have changed in the United States since the 9/11 attacks. Photo: Ben Holbrook
    Former CIA agent Joseph Wippl explains how security measures have changed in the United States since the 9/11 attacks. Photo: Ben Holbrook

 

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Two former CIA agents paid a visit to Darien to shed some light on the security measures taken to improve the country's defenses since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

David Hunt and Joseph Wippl explained the progress that's been made since the attacks as well as some measures that weren't as effective.

Hunt kicked off Monday's event by discussing increased security, specifically in New York City.

"Before the 9/11 attacks, New York was not prepared in any way for an attack," he said. "New York City is one of the most important targets for terrorism."

Since then, Hunt said New York has implemented a number of programs, including increased surveillance in New York City.

"They installed 3,000 cameras around the city that are monitored virtually 24 hours a day," Hunt said. "They also have radiation detectors around the city and implemented a program where officers go to businesses that sell materials that could be used in the construction of bombs. If someone purchases materials that could be used to construct a bomb, then the businesses report it."

Hunt said the New York Police Department also deploys units that are heavily armed with machine guns to further deter terrorist activity.

However, one of the greatest concerns police have is the number of Somalian immigrants in the country.

"Somalia has become of great interest recently because there are nearly 1 million immigrants in the country," he said. "Somalians are targeted by terrorists and converted. It's a shame they come here, and now they are being exploited."

Wippl, who spent years stationed overseas, said a terrorist attack would most likely target a location like New York City first, and then possibly Chicago or Los Angeles.

He said one of the best ways to counter possible attacks is to make sure intelligence agents are cooperating with each other.

"It is a little bit strange because we have never had a just an internal intelligence service, so that makes us a sort of different," he said. "There are people out there engaged in disturbing the civil order. The government needs to find a balance between ensuring the public that it is doing everything it can to protect them while also acknowledging its limits."

Over the years, Wippl said, an enormous amount of money was spent on security, but not all of it was spent wisely.

"We are now reaching our limits on what we can spend and some areas have been overdone," Wippl said. "A group of people can still engage in terrorist acts. There is no 100 percent safety."

One of the areas Wippl and Hunt said was most ineffective was the creation of a national director of intelligence.

"Politically, this is what happens after an attack. There is this movement to just do something and it's done to soothe the nerves of the country," Wippl said. "We created the national director of intelligence position, but the problem is that the position has very little authority."

Hunt agreed with Wippl's assessment, and noted that one of the problems with the DNI is that the organization puts out requirements for other intelligence agencies but none of its staff operates in the field.

"The political impact of the 9/11 victims was enormous and nobody could resist it, including President Bush at the time," Hunt said.

Wippl also pointed out that since 2001, the defense budget has doubled twice.

The final topic of discussion was the role of the CIA during overseas operations. Both Wippl and Hunt had experience operating overseas and explained how the actions to combat terrorism in foreign countries will change.

"The CIA's role is more becoming that of a covert action agency. We will deal with terrorists with covert action made up of CIA and Special Forces," Wippl said. "I think deploying thousands of troops overseas will be viewed as a non-starter."

He also noted that even though drone use had received some criticism, there were few programs implemented by the U.S. that had such broad congressional support.

Hunt said one of the biggest changes to overseas operations has been the use of drones.

"Our extensive use of drones has prompted some scrutiny and other countries are beginning to build their own drones. One of the downsides to this program is that civilian casualties do occur, and we may be looking for ways to defend ourselves from drones in the future," Hunt said.

During their closing statements, Wippl and Hunt said the U.S. was significantly safer since the Sept. 11 attacks, but the country would never be completely safe.

"We are safer now but we aren't absolutely safe," Wippl said. "However, no one else is either."