[This article was originally published as an op-ed in the Los Angeles Daily News, September 30, 2001.  It is republished here with the permission of the author.]

Four years ago, a small but dedicated cadre of military intelligence officers working in Southern California on domestic counterdrug support to law enforcement took the initiative by shifting the thinking on how we saw this "threat."

Through analyzing the nature of this drug threat, it was clear that our traditional methods of intelligence research and analysis were inadequate to effectively target and defeat these transnational clandestine organizations. These fundamentally criminal organizations represented a new class of stateless enemies, much like the terrorist enemies we face now.

Drug cartels and terrorist networks have strong similarities in how they work financially, logistically and managerially. In the war against drugs, we engaged in a spectrum of warfare against a clandestine and transnational foe just like the one that launched the wave of terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Both require a joint military and law enforcement approach.

Our nation's military involvement with "combating" transnational criminal organizations began with the "War on Drugs" in the 1980s, but this role became fully entrenched in the early 1990s.America and Congress mistakenly thought the military was developing an ability to effectively combat this new threat, and as with Vietnam before Tet, the Office of National Drug Control Policy and the military dutifully reported victory after victory, assuring all that we were winning the war.

By the late 1990s, it was apparent that the military's role in the drug war was actually an incredibly expensive but lukewarm effort at best. Instead of learning valuable lessons and developing important capabilities from our experiences, we allowed "drug money" to corrupt the military and government agencies from within.

We allowed senior leadership to pervert this money into simply justifying expenditures for helicopter squadrons, engineer companies, and other infrastructure to maintain its current size and configuration, and hopefully grow even bigger.

In 1997, a plan was developed with the cooperation of multi-jurisdictional law enforcement in Southern California to build a unique intelligence research and analysis capability that could effectively tackle the operational complexities and covert financial infrastructures of the transnational criminal organizations that traffic in illegal drugs. This was done with the explicit intent of someday applying this approach to combating terrorism. It was a unique blend of some of the best practices of military and national security intelligence, investigative intelligence, competitive or business intelligence, international finance and trade, mergers and acquisition due diligence, and fraud examination. It would have built a cadre of highly trained intelligence analysts, military and civilian law enforcement, with a toolbox of tailored analytical methods and sources focused on this threat.

Before we could fully implement it, it was shot down from within. It didn't buy more tanks, planes or "rotor hours," nor justify more troop units.

It became a lost opportunity with tragic consequences. Many within the intelligence field fully understood the nature of this new threat, and understood that the horrors of Sept. 11 were a very real possibility.

However, like outdated medieval knights struggling to maintain dominance in a new world of conflict filled with mercenaries using muskets and cannons, many in our top military leadership have been fighting a holding action against adapting the force to truly meet the post-industrial era threat.

It is easy to attack the intelligence budget, but more difficult to quantify the value of well-spent intelligence dollars. Those who push investment in intelligence over investment in new armored vehicles and planes are not held in high esteem.

Buying military defense systems is almost always seen as good, investing in intelligence analysts is difficult to understand. Those who have dared to voice that we are not effectively fighting the threat of today are burned at the stake as heretics.

We did not use the unique opportunities afforded by the War on Drugs to prepare for the war on terrorism. We will hear of Sept. 11's attack being called an "intelligence failure." I differ strongly with the terminology. While it may have been a failure not to have the intelligence we needed in time to stop the attack, it was really a failure not to develop the intelligence research and analysis capability that could have produced this intelligence in time.

That was not so much the fault of the intelligence community, but more accurately falls on the shoulders of those commanders and senior officials who chose not to adapt to this different kind threat.

Instead, they pander to entrenched military and law enforcement "legacies," and do not allow us to prepare to combat a new and dangerous foe.

Our military culture has a career imperative that says nothing will happen on my watch, and if it does it wasn't my fault. Taking personal responsibility sounds good at West Point, but adroitly shifting the blame makes modern-day generals.

We will hear some say that the September 11 attack couldn't have been stopped. Assuredly, this view will come from senior military officers and other top government officials who didn't fight the fight to prepare for this war, and who made sure nothing happened on their watch.

Nothing did, and America paid the price on that fateful Tuesday.

Hal Kempfer is a strategic risk management consultant with extensive experience in the military and law enforcement intelligence communities.  He is the president and founder of Knowledge & Intelligence Program Professionals (KIPP) in Long Beach, CA.


Terrorism Battle Like Drug War All Over Again

By Hal Kempfer