Tag: christmas day

Reactions to al Qaeda Terrorism Have Opened a Flank

Excellent recent posts by my colleague David Rittgers have covered the legal (and practical) issues involved in terrorist detention. Take a look at “The Case against Domestic Military Detention” and his follow-up, “Playing Chicken Again.” He has also lectured on the Hill about terrorism strategy, relating themes I used to open our 2009 and 2010 counterterrorism conferences.

The gist is that terrorism seeks overreaction on the part of the victim state. Lacking power of their own, terrorists try to goad states into overzealous and misdirected responses that serve their aims.

A prominent aim among members of the al-Qaeda franchise is mobilization of others, one of five strategies that U.S. National War College professor of strategy Audrey Kurth Cronin lays out in a chapter of the forthcoming Cato book, Terrorizing Ourselves: Why U.S. Counterterrorism Policy is Failing and How to Fix it. Writes Cronin:

Mobilization has been al Qaeda’s most effective strategy thus far. A global environment of democratized communications has increased public access to information and has sharply reduced the cost…  If a group is truly successful in mobilizing large numbers, this strategy can prolong the fight and may enable the threat to transition to other forms, including insurgency and conventional war.

Chances are extremely remote that al Qaeda will ever make this transition. But a recent AP story illustrates how groups in the weakened al Qaeda network may be stumbling onto a strategic option that our political leaders opened to them with their reactions to the Fort Hood shooting and the 12/25 bombing attempt:

For the first time, the group that carried out the Sept. 11 attacks and has prided itself on its ideological purism seems to be eyeing a more pragmatic and arguably more dangerous shift in tactics. The emerging message appears to be: Big successes are great, but sometimes simply trying can be just as good.

U.S. officials and counterterrorism experts say the airline attack and last November’s shooting at Fort Hood, Texas, prove that simple, well-played smaller attacks against the United States can be just as devastating to the democratic giant as complex and riskier ones.

In a recent Internet posting, U.S.-born al-Qaida spokesman Adam Gadahn made a public pitch for such smaller, single acts of jihad.

“Even apparently unsuccessful attacks on Western mass transportation systems can bring major cities to a halt, cost the enemy billions and send his corporations into bankruptcy,” Gadahn said in a video released and translated by U.S.-based Site Intelligence Group, which monitors Islamic militant message traffic.

Al Qaeda is a franchise—not a single group or even necessarily a cohesive network—so Gadahn almost certainly speaks only for his own outfit.  But the progression of al Qaeda groups from coordinating attacks to encouraging lone wolves shows that their capabilities have been degraded. Lone wolf attacks are comparable to other terrorist threats that are always out there, including white supremacists, black separatists, eco terrorists, tax protesters with planes, random spree shooters, and so on.

But the “al Qaeda” label has a special power. U.S. politicians’ response to Fort Hood and the 12/25 bombing attempt signaled to al Qaeda terrorists that small—even failed—attacks can help them achieve their aims. With rare exceptions, the political class and media have yet to recognize that cool, phlegmatic public reponses to terrorism are an essential part of dismantling the strategy.

Poorly considered reactions to al-Qaeda-branded terror attacks are part and parcel of making those attacks succeed. Our so-called leaders should not give 9/11- or 7/7-style publicity and panic to failed attacks.

Holder on the Hot Seat

Today Politico Arena asks:

Terror suspects: Eric Holder’s defense (nothing new here)–agree or disagree?

My response:

There’s no question that after the killings in Little Rock and Fort Hood, the decision to try the KSM five in a civilian court in downtown Manhattan, and the Christmas Day bombing attempt (the government’s before and after behavior alike), the Obama-Holder “law-enforcement” approach to terrorism is under serious bipartisan scrutiny.  And Holder’s letter yesterday to his critics on the Hill isn’t likely to assuage them, not least because it essentially ignores issues brought out in the January 20 hearings before the Senate Committee on Homeland Security, like the government’s failure to have its promised High-Value Interrogation Group (HIG) in place.
Nor are the administration’s repeated efforts to justify itself by saying it’s doing only what the Bush administration did likely to persuade.  In the aftermath of 9/11, and in the teeth of manifold legal challenges, the Bush administration hardly developed a systematic or consistent approach to terrorism.  Much thought has been given to the subject since 9/11, of course, and it’s shown the subject to be anything but simple.  Nevertheless, if anything is clear, it is that if we are in a war on terror (or in a war against Islamic terrorists), as Obama has finally acknowledged, then the main object in that war ought not to be ”to bring terrorists to justice” through after-the-fact prosecutions – the law-enforcement approach – but to prevent terrorist attacks before they happen, which means that intelligence gathering should be the main object of this war.  And that, precisely, is what the obsession with Mirandizing, lawyering up, and prosecuting seems to treat as of secondary importance.  Intelligence is our first line of defense – and should be our first priority.

Manhattan Says No to Terror Trials

Today, Politico Arena asks:

Terror trials: Is it time for the administration to retreat and rethink? Is it generally mishandling the terrorism issue?

My response:

On no issue is President Obama getting acquainted with reality more clearly than terrorism, or so it seems.  He blazed into office, guns holstered, as the anti-Bush, putting Eric Holder’s Justice Department in charge, not of the War on Terror, a phrase he banished from his administration’s lexicon, but of “bringing those who planned and plotted the [9/11] attacks to justice,” as Holder put it in November when he announced that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four others would be given civilian trials in downtown Manhattan.  But as the manifold costs of such a trial became increasingly apparent, and as even New York Democrats have grown increasingly restive, the White House, it seems, has backed down.  We await the line of congressmen saying “Bring the trial to my district.”

How could it be otherwise?  The administration’s law-enforcement approach to terrorism has been unserious and folly from the start.  In an understated yet devastating piece in yesterday’s Washington Post, former CIA director Michael V. Hayden cataloged that folly, nowhere more evident than in the FBI’s handling of the would-be Christmas Day bomber, who was Mirandized and lawyered up long before he could be seriously interrogated by agents with the background to elicit the intelligence we need – not to prosecute terrorists, but to prevent future terrorist attacks.  The most telling revelation in Hayden’s piece came at the end, however.  In August, the government unveiled its High Value Detainee Interrogation Group (HIG) designed to interrogate people like the Christmas Day bomber, and it announced also that the FBI would begin questioning CIA officers about alleged abuses in the 2004 inspector general’s report.  Was the HIG called in to interrogate the Christmas Day bomber?  No – it has yet to be formed.  But the interrogations of CIA officers are proceeding apace.  So much for the administration’s priorities.  Is it any wonder that Scott Brown’s pollsters report that terrorism, and the administration’s mishandling of the issue, polled better even than Brown’s opposition to ObamaCare?