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It will be a long time before the United States is capable of such intelligence, both men agree.
"You don't go to a mosque and start recruiting those people in there," says Lopez. "You have to recruit Middle Eastern people and then send them into the mosque. It is a process. It's not, “Let's go in and recruit a couple of those guys because we need them next week.' It's more like, “Let's go in and recruit them today, because in ten years they will be producing.'
"Some of them should be recruited outside the country and brought in and allowed to work here," he adds. "That is the only way you are going to infiltrate those groups. You can have the best actor, the best undercover guy, but once [the terrorists] start talking their language, or they start talking about the pueblito where they come from, he will be lost. You have to recruit from families that are moving here or recruit from people [in the Middle East] and say, “Hey, work for us, and we will get a visa for you and your family.' The whole thing has to be re-created again.
"Osama bin Laden wasn't born on September 10," notes Lopez. "He was there. He was announcing what he was going to do. Why didn't we infiltrate his organization? Why did we have to wait for something like this to happen to start looking for friends?"
Asked to respond, a U.S. intelligence official blamed the end of the Cold War and decreasing budgets for the movement away from human intelligence. He insists that has changed. "The intelligence community for the past several years has been recruiting to rebuild its human collectors," the official maintains. He describes infiltrating terrorist cells as very difficult because they are small and often based on family or long-term relationships. "You almost have to be one of them to actually penetrate it."
One method by which to penetrate terrorist cells is to buy informants, instructs José Diaz. A former Metro-Dade homicide detective, Diaz has a kind, slightly cherubic face that no doubt misled many a criminal. He worked with Raul Diaz (no relation) in CENTAC-26 and today also is a partner in ICDA Consulting Services.
"People will give information for a lot of reasons," he says. "Money is one of them. One group will give information to another group because of a turf war they are having. That happens a lot with all criminal organizations. Members with one group that are disgruntled will tell you what is happening.
"Who is the person who has no loyalty? It is always the criminal element," he goes on. "They have no loyalty to each other. There are people in the terrorist cells who are very loyal to the cause. They are fanatics, will do anything, and won't betray the cause. But they cannot operate by themselves. How about the guy who is selling the passports and making the false IDs?"
Raul Diaz agrees: "The criminal element is the one they are going to resort to when they need to buy weapons. To whom did [the September 11 hijackers] go in Virginia to buy the drivers' licenses? They went to some Mexican immigrant who was selling drivers' licenses to people who were here illegally. It is a criminal act. You have to go in there and start recruiting [them]."
José Raul Alfonso worked for two decades as a Cuban government soldier, analyst, and counterintelligence agent. As a teenager he fought with the island's troops to repel the invasion force at the Bay of Pigs. In 1980 the Cuban government imprisoned him on trumped-up charges. Alfonso says he recognized that the Soviet Union was doomed, and his insistence that Cuba should distance itself did not play well with authorities. His objections to the treatment of those who wished to leave the country during Mariel sealed his fate. Alfonso served eight years in one of Castro's jails. Upon his release he came to Miami, where, he says, the CIA tried to recruit him. He declined. Diminutive in size, he has the energy of a man twice his height. He is currently writing a comprehensive book on the subject of terrorism.
Alfonso believes federal agents are poorly situated for counterintelligence. "Remember: The difference between an FBI agent undercover and one not undercover is whether his tie is loosened," he jokes. "They have to go down to the base."
Echoing high-profile critics such as former FBI Director William Webster, Alfonso blasts U.S. Attorney General Ashcroft for the wholesale detention of suspected terrorists.
"It is evident Ashcroft is not receiving good counsel," he claims. "The last thing you do in counterintelligence is capture a prisoner like we have done. [You have to] follow them, which will give you their contacts, the methods in which they work, and the way they communicate. That is unless you are Israel, where they allow torture [to get information]. The U.S. does not function like that."
Raul Diaz is also critical. "If they don't know by now who the fuck they have, we are in big trouble," he observes.