By Senators Russ Feingold and Chuck Hagel
Almost four years ago, the 9/11 Commission warned that when it comes to threats to our national security, we must focus on ``remote regions and failing states.''
On the map of the world, it's those hidden corners, about which we know so little, where some of the most dangerous threats against the United States may be brewing.
Unfortunately, our government is still not doing enough to gather intelligence and other information in those hidden places. There are far too many gaps on the map that need to be filled in; far too many places where what we don't know could hurt us.
Today, as we look at remote regions like Afghanistan and Pakistan, the terrorist threat has increased, yet we still know far too little.
In a blunt admission earlier this year, State Department counterterrorism chief Lt. Gen. Dell L. Dailey said that ``we don't have enough information about what's going on (in the Pakistan-Afghanistan border area). Not on al Qaeda. Not on foreign fighters. Not on the Taliban.''
Meanwhile, in failing states like Somalia, the State Department recently designated the insurgent group al-Shabab as a terrorist group with links to al Qaeda, the terrorist threat in North Africa is growing, an al Qaeda affiliate operates across the Sahara from Mauritania to Chad, and al Qaeda cultivates stronger operational connections throughout the Middle East, South Asia and elsewhere.
As the threat increases, it's time we fully realize that what happens in places half a world away can pose a real threat to the United States.
By any measure, there are too many places where we don't know nearly enough. We have not yet responded to the 9/11 Commission's warnings. Our intelligence officials are caught up in the threat of the moment, without the time or resources to anticipate what's looming up ahead.
We must build on the work of the 9/11 Commission by strengthening our intelligence and information gathering around the world, especially in places where the U.S. doesn't have enough of a presence on the ground today.
We also need to make sure our analysts are not focused exclusively on the ``threat-du-jour.''
We need to bring together an expert panel, as we did with the 9/11 Commission, to focus on the problems we face in the way we collect and analyze intelligence and information worldwide, and how we can fix them. We are proposing a commission to undertake a serious examination of how we collect and analyze intelligence and other information.
This new commission would look not just at strengthening formal intelligence gathering, but at getting more information from U.S. diplomats and other U.S. officials stationed around the world. It would also study efforts already underway to make sure that both our diplomats and intelligence officers understand the languages and cultures of those remote and failing states that the 9/11 Commission talked about.
The Government Accountability Office already has warned that we need more diplomats, particularly ones with language skills to understand foreign cultures.
Finally, the commission will consider other potential reforms, including putting more and better trained diplomatic personnel in locations where we might not have previously had enough diplomatic presence, or haven't had one period.
After 9/11, the way we see the world has changed, and the way we look at intelligence and information gathering should be too. The new map of the world can't be one where we have a strong presence in one region, while in another we have virtually none at all.
We have to have intelligence and diplomatic personnel in more places, building relationships with more people, and collecting more and better information.
That's how we can fill in the gaps we face on the map of the world today, and how we will make the American people safer tomorrow.