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April 25, 2007


Musharraf Caves to Red Mosque Demands

Islamists' 'Death By A Thousand Cuts' Strategy Gains Another Slice

By Steve Schippert | April 25, 2007

Pakistan Muslim League president Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain visited Lal Masjid (Red Mosque) and conveyed to its two leaders that the Pakistani government has accepted all of Lal Masjid's demands, including the implementation of Sharia Law in Pakistan. It is another example of the Musharraf government's inability to contain the pro-Taliban and pro-al-Qaeda Islamist movement inside Pakistan. While ceding real estate to the Taliban-al-Qaeda alliance through the various 'peace accords' that handed terrorists South Waziristan, North Waziristan and Bajour agencies is troubling in its own right, this latest set of concessions is more troubling still.

First, it occurs not in the wild tribal areas that the Pakistani government exerts little control over. Rather, this latest concession takes place right in downtown Islamabad, Pakistan's capital city.

Second, it cedes not territory but ideological ideals to violent Islamists aligned with the Taliban and al-Qaeda. Ideological ground is exponentially more difficult to regain once ceded than real estate.

In the Asia Times, More muscle to Pakistan's madrassas by Kanchan Lakshman is reprinted with permission from the South Asia Terrorism Portal. In it, Lakshman provides and important glimpse at the depth of Pakistan's radical madrassa problem.

Pakistan's "officially estimated 13,000 seminaries (unofficial estimates range between 15,000 and 25,000, and in some cases go as high as 40,000) in Pakistan, with an approximate enrollment of 1.5 million students," has continually rejected any reforms attempted by the Pakistani government. The United States has pressured Musharraf to address the Pakistani madrassas, which have long been producing ideologically steeped graduates who often find their way into Taliban and al-Qaeda ranks.

Before being captured on the battlefield in Afghanistan, American John Walker Lindh had attended a Pakistani madrassa. The same resume reference exists for Adam Gadahn (aka Azzam al-Amriki), the commonly used American mouthpiece for al-Qaeda's propaganda operation.

The madrassa problem is not new, but it may be coming to a head in Pakistan. In recent analysis, we have referred to the situation as The Madrassa Match and the Pakistani Tinderbox, and the Red Mosque (Lal Masjid) is at the epicenter, if only by virtue of its proximity: The Pakistani capital city of Islamabad.

As Kanchan Lakshman notes, the the International Crisis Group (ICG) calculates that fully two thirds of Pakistan's thousands of madrassas are under the direct control of the Taliban's two primary backers.

A majority of the extremist seminaries that preach and support militant violence follow the Deobandi sect and are associated with the Wafaq-ul-Madaris, the main confederacy of seminaries. According to the International Crisis Group (ICG), "The two factions of the Deobandi political parties, JUI-Fazlur Rehman [Jamaat-e-Ulema-Islam faction headed by Maulana Fazlur Rehman] and JUI-Samiul Haq, run over 65% of all madrassas in Pakistan." Rehman and Haq are widely considered to be the primary backers of the Taliban. [Emphasis added.]

With regard to the Musharraf governments new concessions to the pro-Taliban Islamists of Lal Masjid Tuesday, there was at least some potential nuance or ambiguity in PML president Shujaat's words when he said, “No Muslim rejects the enforcement of the Islamic system in the country.” There perhaps may be at least some room there to suggest a potential difference between the government's interpretation and application of Sharia Law and that expected by the Islamists. Still, however, even this would only forestall the conflict that the Islamists appear to be itching for. It would not avert it.

More telling regardless, DAWN reported that Shujaat toured Lal Masjid's female madrassa, Jamia Hafsa, where 3,000 female 'students' have barricaded themselves, and "denied the presence of activists of banned outfits and illegal arms in the mosque." (Click the 'Watch the report' link at the UK's Channel 4 News for an excellent look at the Jamia Hafsa female madrassa.) The MNL president also "said that female students were studying in a good atmosphere." These are the same 3,000 girls and women (and mosque leaders) who proclaimed they were prepared for martyrdom through suicide bombings against the Musharraf government and "un-Islamic" vendors in Pakistan.

And the thousands of madrassas in Pakistan continue daily to pump out 'graduates' steeped in radical militant Islamist teachings and jihad. The Musharraf government does not attempt to paint a rosier picture of the madrassa situation, unlike its false proclamations of the Taliban driving foreign al-Qaeda fighters from Pakistani tribal areas.

The government's madrassa approach has been one of silence borne of a perceived inability to address it directly. This perceived helplessness in the face of pervasive indigenous radicalism drove the decision to cave to the Lal Masjid Islamists' demands, including the application of Sharia Law throughout Pakistan.

Meanwhile, Hamid Gul and Usama bin Laden bide their time patiently. Musharraf's caving to the pro-Taliban and pro-al-Qaeda Lal Masjid Islamists is but another cut in their 'Death By a Thousand Cuts' strategy. And patiently they will wait until the time is right for the final cut, which will almost certainly be a swift and violent insurgency initiated by a Madrassa Match in the Pakistani Tinderbox.

April 20, 2007


Threat From the ‘Net: Part II

New Decade, Same Disinterest

By Michael Tanji | April 20, 2007

The testimony is in, and as was suggested in Part I of this post, Congress and the American people were exposed to yet another round of “same speech; different speaker.”

Specific details of the events in question were absent, no doubt scheduled for a closed session, but those who follow cyber security events can make reasonably accurate assumptions about what took place. This testimony from the Department of Commerce speaks volumes:

In summary, Commerce and BIS became aware of the break-in to BIS computers on July 13, 2006, which was determined not to be the date of the initial infection. The firewall logs were restored from the date the incident was discovered and the preceding eight months. The DOC CIRT, BIS technical staff, and the NOC reviewed and attempted to identify the initial date of the computer system compromise, to no avail. While firewall logs were reviewed for the preceding eight months prior to detecting the BIS incident, Commerce cannot clearly define the amount of time the perpetrators were inside its BIS computers before their presence was discovered. BIS has no evidence to show that data was lost as a result of this incident.

That’s security officer-speak for “someone sat in our chairs, ate our porridge, and slept in our beds: no biggie.” The big difference between real life and the fairy tale there is that there was no little blond perpetrator found on the premises.

The balance of the testimony from all witnesses said in effect; “We are still coming up short but we promise to work harder.” Congress doesn’t stand for such language from Army Generals talking about Iraq, yet cyber space is no less important to national security. In fact failing to secure the sensitive information that traverses government networks could undo past victories and could render our ability to win future wars impossible.

The fact that federal agency networks are still no better protected than any other network connected to the Internet - despite the massive investments made in security hardware, software, and personnel - is disturbing. Crisis response teams may do an excellent job post mortem, but as recent events have demonstrated: prevention is what precludes victim-hood.

We are still no closer to securing our national information infrastructure than we were when the threat of a “digital Pearl Harbor” was first uttered before Congress in the early 1990s. The Pearl Harbor metaphor has proved to be somewhat inaccurate. What has transpired over the years has been more akin to a Great Digital Chicago Fire or a Cyber Dust Bowl.

The Internet was built to provide a resilient communications capability, not support the multitude of services that it now does. Early ‘Net users were limited and trusted and the level of security required to operate safely online today wasn’t considered decades years ago. Consequently cyber security is a duct-tape solution to a problem that demands more robust engineering. One modest weakness can and has brought Internet-connected systems down. Recovery can be quick, but the impact could be devastating if your stock and trade is timely information.

Nearly all of the problems associated with Internet security are due to the pressures of commerce and convenience. Doing things securely means doing things the long, hard way. In a broadband-everywhere world where people have multiple Internet-enabled devices on their persons for most of the day, extra seconds can mean the difference between mission accomplished and going-out-of-business. Poor security practices exploited by a malicious actor, or even an inattentive innocent, can have a cascading effect that reaches far beyond a localized event.

Heretofore these issues have been addressed from a generic, business-oriented point of view, but the ideas and issues hold true for every online government presence. Government and military network communications operate in different domains only nominally; soldiers might have .mil addresses but their traffic runs through .com-owned pipes. USTRANSCOM – the unified command responsible for getting troops and materiel where they need to be – lives on the Internet. Any outage or degradation that impacts them, impacts our ability to fight and win wars.

Is the importance of cyber security at the national level starting to sink in?

We have built whole institutions dedicated to dealing with cyber security threats. The defense of military networks was the responsibility of the Joint Task Force – Computer Network Defense (now –Global Network Operations) – which the author was lucky enough to help support for a time. The JTF-GNO is part of a federation of military and civilian agencies that play a role in keeping cyberspace safe for Uncle Sam, but to what effect? We would not be having these hearings if our approach to digital defense was working.

Getting serious about cyberspace security means taking substantial steps to defend sensitive information and save lives.

For starters, the government – as one of the largest buyers of computer hardware and software - should start exercising the power of the purse by demanding that all IT-related products and services it procures meet a robust set of security standards. There is no escaping the fact that most of this material is made overseas and ripe for exploitation by foreign intelligence services, but a regular and rigorous inspection regime can help minimize the risk that our next major technology purchase is not an intelligence boon for our adversaries.

The government also needs to get serious about inter-connectivity. Unless there is an extremely strong mission-oriented justification, government employees should have little or no ability to reach most Internet sites. Many agencies currently allow employees to access the Internet if they do so during work breaks and if it does not impact the mission; for most this is still too liberal access. Tax dollars should not be going to fund the fantasy football habits of federal employees or enabling intelligence officers to conduct chat sessions with their former frat brothers.

Speaking of personnel, conforming to cyber security policy needs to be a rated item on every performance evaluation. Policy violations should be treated at least as severely as any breach of physical security. Too many agencies go through the motions of dealing with digital malfeasants, or when they do show them the door it is done without fanfare. Embarrassment should not be a factor in the decision-making calculus: everyone is getting hacked. Public announcement and punishment would have a more substantial deterrent effect than any strongly worded memorandum.

Securing our online presence also requires an iron fist, not a velvet glove. Many agencies and offices have responsibility for defending aspects of our cyber space presence, but their authority to enforce policy can be relatively weak. Most network owners hold and use trump cards when told to secure themselves. No agency has a real or figurative red-button they can press to shut off offenders. Even if they did, the finger on the button would most likely belong to someone who viewed defensive action as a negative, not an opportunity to thwart an adversary.

Serious attempts to secure our own information infrastructure are unlikely to take place absent a technically catastrophic event that leads to either extended system outages or a significant loss of life. Even the terrorist attacks of 9/11 resulted in only a limited network outage (a major Verizon network center was located next to WTC 7) and more people have died in a single ice storm or during a single heat wave than have died from all the cyber attacks that have ever occurred. Cyber attacks can be difficult to recover from but relatively speaking they are an inconvenience, and we’re not engaged in a war on inconvenience.

As long as we make no serious headway in securing our information infrastructure, we should not be surprised every time another adversary eats our virtual lunch. Both nation-states and non-state actors benefit from the cheap, fast, and relatively easy-to-execute sub-set of information warfare. Outsourcing government functions is only going to make the problem worse, as more sensitive data is pushed online to more organizations (contractors, sub-contractors, consultants, etc.) that do not fall under the defensive umbrella of our cyber security forces, and who themselves are pushing the technology envelope and exposing themselves to more risk so as to gain an advantage over their competition.

In 1990 a visionary thinker named Winn Schwartau testified before Congress about the perils of information warfare and cyber attack. In 1998 the L0pht hackers testified before Congress about their ability to bring the Internet down in half an hour. Will this decade’s round of “same story, different speaker” result in meaningful change? To paraphrase another cyber security icon: confidence does not remain high.

April 18, 2007


Threat from the ‘Net: Part I

Congress Tries Once Again to Sort Out Fear, Uncertainty, Doubt

By Michael Tanji | April 18, 2007

Today the House Committee on Homeland Security's Subcommittee on Emerging Threats, Cybersecurity, and Science and Technology will hold a hearing on the impact hackers are having on federal computer systems and critical infrastructure. Myriad high-level witnesses from the government and private sector will be testifying, though I wonder if this will not be yet another case of “same-speech, different speaker.”

The adoption of information technology in all aspects and levels of government and industry is irreversible. This is particularly true in the commercial and private sector where there is precious little that one cannot accomplish – stocking the fridge, buying a car or going to college – through the use of information technology.

The military is also a large and enthusiastic adopter of both technology and related metaphors (Network Centric Warfare, Information Operations). The Army in particular is keen on turning every soldier into a technical sensor; the Navy manages warship with Microsoft Windows; the Air Force has its own cyber command.

The rush to adopt the best of the information technology age has left most government institutions with gaping security holes that are regularly and extensively exploited. This is not a new phenomenon but one that is reinforced by a number of fairly recent revelations:

Are we being played? Does the cyber threat conveniently mesh with the nations in the “Axis of Evil” or is there more to this than meets the eye? Where does the real cyber threat originate?

The fact of the matter is that at any given time each of the aforementioned reports may be correct and none of the aforementioned reports may be correct.

Every study on these issues relies heavily on what is called “last hop” data, that is, the last IP address that was observed attacking a given target system. The problem is that those that perpetrate cyber attacks have a wide range of ways to hide their true location and mask their identities. The phrase “last hope” is a hint: Nearly all of these attacks actually originate at an IP address that is at the end of a long chain of compromised IPs. Actually tracking the source of an attack requires the victim – or law enforcement – to hack-back through the same systems that were compromised in the first place. In other words: To solve a crime one has to commit a crime. So reports that country-X is the greatest cyber threat based on last-hop data is not a realistic or accurate way of portraying the true source of threats in cyber space.

Since we cannot count solely on technical data to assign responsibility for these malicious activities, we need to turn to other sources of information to assess the threat. Like assessments for physical threats, cyber threat assessments should give more serious consideration to the motivation and goals of those posing the threat. The following example is notional but reflective of real-world events:

WASHINGTON - One week after US defense contractor General Tank signed a deal to build the next-generation tank, General Tank network administrators noticed a slight up-tick in probes against their corporate network from Portugal. Several months later when artist renditions of the proposed tank hit the defense technology press a series of cyber attacks probing for system vulnerabilities were noted, again coming from IP addresses in Portugal. About a month after that event General Tank technicians came in to work and found that their system had been breached. No data was destroyed or missing, but a review of system log files indicated that nearly every file related to the design and production of the new tank had been copied and sent to an IP address in Portugal.

Fairly straight forward, no? Time to get with the FBI and whomever else might need to be involved and complain to the Portuguese Ambassador, right?

Not exactly.

What possible use could Portugal have for a tank as sophisticated as the one being built? Portugal isn’t exactly an ideal place to fight a major ground war. Additionally, it is a member of NATO – surrounded by another NATO nation - and if attacked by some misguided foreign power could count on a collaborative response that would dwarf any ground force they could muster. Bottom line: Portugal has no use for advanced tank data.

Portugal should be asked to work harder at securing its information infrastructure, but they’re not the true perpetrators of this attack. So who is? There are really only two options: Nations that could build and use an advanced tank and adversaries that are likely to face such a tank.

The conventional wisdom holds that those who are most likely behind these events – not the unwitting proxies – are those that can make the most out of the information that is obtained, that is: near-peer nation-states. The primary flaw in the conventional wisdom is that militarily speaking we have no near-peers and attempting to build a rival weapons system, well, ask the former Soviets how well that strategy worked.

The more likely conclusion is that the number of perpetrators of these attacks is nearly as diverse as those who stand in opposition to the US and its allies on political, economic or ideological fronts. Knowledge of how our most advanced military and technical systems work provides the necessary insight in how to defeat such sophisticated systems in an asymmetric fashion. Such tactics rely on imagination and gap-analysis, not massive funding and an expansive military-industrial base.

Focusing on nation-states and discounting non-state actors in this arena is a short-sighted flaw that is highlighted every time a new “improvised” method of killing US and allied forces is employed. Assembling a cyber war capability is well within the realm of most non-state actors, and indeed the primary non-state actor we face has already indicated their willingness to adapt to the information age.

Unfortunately, information security is rarely given sufficient attention at the highest levels of government. If it is discussed at all it tends to be after a series of substantial breaches or mishaps - as this hearing happens to reflect - and the solution is legislation that makes certain activities illegal; something conveniently ignored by perpetrators who are rarely identified much less apprehended.

Part II of this essay will follow shortly after the testimony of committee witnesses is made public and analyzed.

April 11, 2007


Dangerous Liaisons

Dismissing al-Qaeda – Hizballah Cooperation Fosters Dangerous Misconceptions

By Steve Schippert | April 11, 2007

Understanding the nature of the enemy is fundamental to successfully engaging that enemy, be it on the battlefields of metal and flesh, the battlefields of ideas, or the battlefields of information and communication. To this end, it is absolutely critical that the West – and the American public in particular – understand that, unlike the way the American political landscape so often appears, our terrorist enemies are often more willing to lay aside their fundamental and substantive differences for the purposes of engaging a mutual enemy. There is no greater example of this than the cooperation between Sunni al-Qaeda leadership and that of Shi’a Hizballah and their Iranian masters.

Yet, gracing the pages of the New York Times’ International Herald Tribune is a commentary, Hezbollah and Al Qaeda, by a researcher and a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution’s Saban Center for Middle East Policy which attempts to dispel the notion of al-Qaeda – Hizballah (and thus, Iranian) cooperation. That the attempt by Bilal Y. Saab and Bruce O. Riedel does so in an incredibly weak manner is beside the point.

The greater issue is that the average busy American reader and consumer of information in Kansas City or Cleveland will note the respectable credentials of the above authors and conclude that they are surely well-informed and therefore likely quite correct in their assessment. The authors' credentials are indeed respectable, as is the Brookings Institution. The unfortunate consequence of the commentary in question, however, is an incrementally more misinformed public on the epic conflict before us and an even deeper misunderstanding of the nature of our enemies.

In order for Saab and Riedel to “challenge” the “assumption that Hezbollah and Al Qaeda have a solid operational or strategic relationship and cooperate on matters pertaining to global jihad,” they offer four weakly supported points to support the conclusion that there cannot be any substantive cooperation between the Sunni al-Qaeda and Shi’a Hizballah terrorist organizations. Those four points are: irreconcilable theological differences, conflicting political strategies, strategic differences, and a physical state of war between the two entities.

Debunking The Irreconcilable Theological Differences Obstacle

In noting “irreconcilable theological differences,” cited are the murderous anti-Shi’a actions of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi while he headed up al-Qaeda in Iraq, and the vehement denunciation offered by Hizballah. While there are very real theological differences between the two organizations, to presume that the bloodthirsty actions of a wild-card actor like Zarqawi completely erases or makes impossible al-Qaeda-Hizballah cooperation (past and present) is to ignore reality. The reality of al-Qaeda’s leadership fearing the divisive nature of Zarqawi’s attacks on Iraqi Shi’as is evident in the admonition communicated to him on just this accord. From a July 9, 2005 letter from al-Qaeda’s Ayman al-Zawahiri to Zarqawi, this is made abundantly clear.

And do the brothers forget that we have more than one hundred prisoners--many of whom are from the leadership who are wanted in their countries--in the custody of the Iranians? And even if we attack the Shia out of necessity, then why do you announce this matter and make it public, which compels the Iranians to take counter measures? And do the brothers forget that both we and the Iranians need to refrain from harming each other at this time in which the Americans are targeting us?

In this single statement, Zawahiri acknowledged that over 100 al-Qaeda operatives are ‘in custody’ in Iran. Further, he clearly did not at the time fear for their safety, but would fear such if Zarqawi’s attacks on Shi’a Iraqis began to anger the Iranians. This is fundamental and absolutely critical to note, as the al-Qaeda members in Iran have free reign to plan and coordinate attacks. It also leads directly into the final line in the above quote, where Zawahiri reminds Zarqawi that Iran and al-Qaeda need to “refrain from harming one another” while they share a common American enemy.

So while the schism between the Sunni Islamists of al-Qaeda and the Shi’a Islamists of Khoneinist Iran and Hizballah may indeed embody ‘irreconcilable theological differences,’ it is clear that those differences can be and have been sidelined by al-Qaeda’s top leadership for addressing another day while they share a common enemy with their Shi’a rivals. More to the point, citing ‘irreconcilable theological differences’ as a basis for concluding that al-Qaeda and Hizballah leaderships would not “cooperate on matters pertaining to global jihad” has been dispelled by the words of al-Qaeda’s own leadership.

Debunking The Conflicting Political Strategies Obstacle

The second point offered by the International Herald Tribune commentary is well wide of the mark regarding “conflicting political strategies” between Hizballah and al-Qaeda. Proffered is the notion that while al-Qaeda seeks to destroy non-Islamist Arab governments, Hizballah on the other hand “seeks to work within the Lebanese system.” Unfortunately, since December 2006 at best, the only thing Hizballah has been working within are the Lebanese borders.

Dismissed and omitted is any reference to Hizballah’s goal of destroying the Lebanese system from within and replacing it with an Islamist theocracy in the Khomeinist model of the Islamic Republic of Iran. Seeking to undermine the existing democratic system by withdrawing ministers from the government and laying a tent-city siege to Beirut’s governmental complex can hardly be viewed as any effort to “work within the Lebanese system.” Clearly, it is an effort to bring that system to its knees. Hizballah leader Hassan Nasrallah has overtly and publicly acknowledged this.

Further, also held out for observation is the view that based upon prisoner exchanges with Israel following terrorist attacks and abductions, “contrary to al-Qaeda, Hizballah can be engaged.” If that is the standard for engaging a terrorist organization – attack, demand and reciprocate - then the Spanish example merits inclusion and consideration.

Following the 3/11 al-Qaeda attacks on the commuter trains in Madrid, Spain, days before the Spanish national elections in 2004, al-Qaeda made the very overt demand that Spain withdraw its troops in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. With the subsequent surprise election of the anti-American socialist José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero as Prime Minister, Spain immediately reciprocated the al-Qaeda demands and promptly withdrew its forces from Iraq. Attack, demand and reciprocate. Al-Qaeda can be – and was -engaged.

Debunking The ‘Officially At War With Strategic Orbit’ Obstacle

In the three sentences cited above from the 2005 letter to Zarqawi in Iraq – straight from the lips of Ayman al-Zawahiri and not this writer – Saab and Riedel’s third and fourth points of al-Qaeda “officially at war with [Hizballah’s] strategic orbit” and a greater “physical state of war between the two entities” are reduced to erroneous and uninformed speculation.

While the writers address Hizballah and not their Iranian masters, to separate the two within this context is akin to attempting to separate the wheat from the bread. Iran created Hizballah in the early 1980’s and the Lebanese terrorist group is often referred to as Iran’s ‘Foreign Legion.’ This is not the product of invention or imagination. And, as explained without equivocation by Ayman al-Zawahiri in the captured communiqué, not only is there not a state of war between al-Qaeda leadership and the Iranian terror machine (including Hizballah), their significant differences are intentionally laid aside to be dealt with later.

If al-Qaeda were ‘officially at war’ with Iran (as Hizballah’s strategic orbit), the language used by Zawahiri seeking continued relative harmony with Iran would be much different. There is absolutely no hint whatsoever at an active state of war between the two. There is, however, an acknowledgment of this inevitability. To erroneously presume the two are currently at war with each other when in fact they are together at war with America would lead to the misallocation of finite resources and grave misinterpretation of gathered intelligence. In an intelligence war, the costs of such would be profound.

Debunking The ‘Physical State of War’ Obstacle

The fourth point of a “physical state of war between the two entities” appears to be an attempt to buttress what the blurred points 2 and 3 (“conflicting political strategies” and “strategic differences”) cannot bring to a logically closed loop on their own merits. To achieve this, the questionable group Jund al-Sham and their limited attacks in Lebanon are evidenced.

The al-Qaeda rocket attack from Lebanon into Israel referenced was not a ploy to give Hizballah blame, as is stated by Saab and Riedel. It was an attempt by al-Qaeda in Iraq to demonstrate operational reach into the Levant. Abu Musab al-Zarqawi claimed credit for the attack saying it was just the "beginning of a welcome operation to strike deep in enemy territory, at the instructions of Osama bin Laden." If they were in a “physical state of war with Hizballah,” why was al-Qaeda attacking Israel and Hizballah not attacking al-Qaeda within its own territory?

There were also reports around that time of Lebanese security forces rounding up al-Qaeda operatives in Lebanon. Yet, there were not reports of Hizballah – more militarily capable than the Lebanese Army – capturing al-Qaeda terrorists on their soil. Instead, at the end of the day, al-Qaeda in Iraq terrorists attacked Israel and Hizballah captured IDF soldiers in an operation that led to the summer war between the IDF and Iran’s Foreign Legion.

And the reported 2006 plot “by a local Salafist group” to assassinate Hassan Nasrallah was, like so many other attacks and plots in Lebanon and Syria, foiled by Lebanese authorities. There is an interesting trend of failed attacks and those foiled at the last minute.

The operational independence of the disparate Jund al-Sham group mentioned – and other Sunni Salafist groups - is in serious question. Respected Lebanese terrorism analyst Dr. Walid Phares offers a very plausible conclusion in regards to the operation of such groups as the Jund al-Sham in Syria and Lebanon. Drawing on his own vast experience, he recently offered, "The seasoned experts on Syria knows all too well that the Assad Mukhabarat are in control of, or have "access" to the overwhelming Terrorist organizations in Syria and Lebanon. They've had thirty years of deep involvement to accomplish this take over. In addition to Shiia Hezbollah, Syria has a control, a remote-control of, or an access to Sunni Salafists groups, including networks that connects with al Qaeda."

Conclusion: Ignoring Past Cooperation Is Willful Blindness Revisited

In order to accept at face value the notion that Sunni al-Qaeda and Shi’a Hizballah (and, again, thus their Iranian masters) could never cooperate or coordinate in the global jihad, one would also have to dismiss fully Iran’s known support for both sides of the sectarian violence that raged and rages in Iraq. Also requiring whole-cloth dismissal is the fact that Sudan’s Hassan al-Turabi organized the Islamic Arab Popular Conference in April 1991 in the aftermath of the American rout in the Gulf War. The aim was reaching a consensus that, in order to defeat the American infidels, these groups must put aside their internal religious and ideological differences and unite under a banner of Islam. Participants included such actors as bin Laden, Iran, Hizballah, Iraq, Egyptian Islamic Jihad leader Ayman al-Zawahiri, Hamas and others.

There is a litany of details that would require dismissal, also including Hizballah’s training of al-Qaeda’s first suicide truck bombers in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley, al-Qaeda's fingerprints on the Saudi Arabian Hizballah bombing of the Khobar Towers and other Iranian support links to al-Qaeda. Or, that the original 1998 Justice Department indictment against bin Laden stated that al-Qaeda "forged alliances with the National Islamic Front in the Sudan and with the government of Iran and its associated terrorist group Hezballah for the purpose of working together against their perceived common enemies in the West."

Had Mssrs. Saab and Riedel left their commentary at the very correct conclusion that “lumping al-Qaeda and Hezbollah in the same basket will only do disservice to the global counterterrorism campaign,” this would draw little if any criticism. It is very important to understand and distinguish both. However, to attempt to persuade the public that it is wholly illogical for the two theologically polarized terrorist groups to ever bring themselves to co-exist and cooperate is misinformed and dangerously misinforming commentary.

The fact of the matter is that while the two terrorist groups hate each other, they simply hate us more. We would be wise to acknowledge this and all that it entails. Ignoring past instances of cooperation, coordination and cross training for the convenient purposes of putting the two groups into neat little boxes of Shi’a terrorists and Sunni terrorists is to be willfully blind. We’ve traveled that path once before. We’d be wise not to repeat our own deadly errors once more.

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