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July 31, 2009

Israeli Military Solution to Terrorist Missile Wars: It Works

In Culture War Replaces Missile War, Michael Totten makes a very keen observation: When it comes to Hizballah and Hamas terrorists raining down rockets on the civilians of Israeli towns and cities, the military solution works.

In early 2006, shortly before the outbreak of the Second Lebanon War, an Israeli intelligence officer predicted the future. "Missile war will replace terrorist war," he told me when I spoke with him at the Ministry of Defense.

He was right. Just a few months later, Hizballah launched thousands of Katyusha rockets into Northern Israel and forced hundreds of thousands of civilians to flee south toward Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. South Lebanon was punished much more thoroughly than Northern Israel, but the Palestinians in Gaza nevertheless took Hizballah's Baghdad Bob-style boasts of "divine victory" seriously. Hamas ramped up its own rocket war until fed-up Israelis gave Gaza the South Lebanon treatment this past December and January.

Hamas is a bit slower to learn than was Hizballah, but seven long months after the conclusion of Operation Cast Lead, the rockets out of Gaza have finally stopped. Israelis will no longer put up with indiscriminate attacks on their houses and schools. Many Palestinians in Gaza have likewise had their fill of Hamas's self-destructive campaign of "resistance."

The New York Times reports that Hamas has decided to wage a "culture war" instead of a rocket war because, as one leader put it, "the fighters needed a break and the people needed a break."

To that salient observation, I would add that the military solution to the missile wars works regardless of media-driven world opinion in opposition to Israeli military self-defense. Pain and fear combine as a powerful deterrent, as the quoted Hamas leader told the New York Times above.

Sometimes aggression can be blunted to some degree by non-physical forces in reaction, such as sanctions, isolation and various diplomatic consequences. But such reactions are effective against nation-states. They have little effect on a terrorist organization, even one that has embedded itself under the cloak of political rule and a certain degree of electoral legitimacy - as both Hizballah and Hamas have done.

No, terrorist organizations understand best the language of war, force and violence. It is the language they speak - witnessed by the terrorist actions of both Hizballah and Hamas - and it is the language the most ably hear. And Israel has proven that, at least in the missile war the terrorists around them have transitioned to, the military solution works. Witness the rarity of attacks.

This is not to say that every threat lends itself nearly exclusively to a military solution (see: Afghanistan), but in this instance it is unmistakably effective.

You may have missed the latest from Michael Totten earlier this week, and if so I strongly encourage you to catch up now. Michael is a gifted writer and storyteller, making his paragraphs and pages on otherwise technical terrorism and conflict issues readily accessible to all. Read on as he describes the culture war being waged while Hamas and Hizballah terrorists get their feet back under them. Michael is excellent, as always.

July 26, 2009

A Change in Vacation Plans?

Last week, the US issued another travel advisory for those Americans who choose to cross the border in El Paso to Ciudad Juarez. The latest drug-related violence claimed the life of Benjamin "Benji" Le-Baron, a member of a breakaway Mormon group living near Chihuahua who was an outspoken critic of the violence.

Since 2004, 50 American have been killed in Juarez, with the majority of those deaths coming in the last 18 months. Authorities say that while Americans are not being specifically targeted, US citizenship offers no protection or shield from the violence.

The military "cannot be everywhere all the time and the drug dealers eventually learn their patterns," said Tony Payan, a professor at the University of Texas at El Paso who studies the problem. Payan said it is a "stroke of luck" that more American citizens have not been killed.

Yet, if you look at this map, it is pretty clear that the spread of drug-related violence knows no boundaries, and is not restricted to Juarez.

Drug Cartel_45604033_mexico_cartels_lab466map.gif

Plenty of people still travel there on vacations and jaunts believing that resort towns like Acapulco, Cancun or Puerto Vallarta are less prone. Of course, in June 18 people died in drug violence in Acapulco. Earlier in the year, in February
drug violence crept into the beach resort of Cancun, albeit in the downtown section away from the hotels. Others go to Baja. The question remains why anyone would consciously subject themselves to the possibility of becoming a victim of the drug violence in Mexico. However, to be fair, still others will cite the low percentages and likelihood of being involved in drug violence in the safety of the resort enclaves.

July 22, 2009

Another Enemy From Within

"Terrorists are made, not born." Is that the excuse? Please come up with a better explanation for a kid from Patchogue Long Island New York going to an al Qaeda training camp in Pakistan and "suddenly" finding himself captured after being part of a group of terrorists who shot rockets on an American base Afghanistan?

What are we to do with "poor" Bashir al-Ameriki, the Long Island born terrorist?

Sources:
L.I. Man Pleaded Guilty in Attack on U.S. Base in Afghanistan
The man, Bryant Neal Vinas, was captured in Peshawar, Pakistan, last November and days later began providing United States authorities with information about Al Qaeda, including particulars of a plot to blow up a Long Island Rail Road train inside Pennsylvania Station, which prompted a flurry of security activity over the Thanksgiving holiday, according to officials in the United States and Europe.
N.Y. Man Pleaded Guilty to Rocket Attack on U.S. Base (Update2)
In September 2008, Vinas, who is also known as "Ibrahim" and "Bashir al-Ameriki" fired rockets at the U.S. military base in Afghanistan, prosecutors said. He also admitted providing material information about New York City's public transit systems to terrorist groups including al-Qaeda from March 2008 to November 2008, according to the criminal felony information unsealed today.

Conspiracy to murder American citizens. What are we to do with "poor" Bashir al-Ameriki, the Long Island born terrorist? Apparently his knowledge of the al Qaeda network and training camps get him a life sentence. A lawyer for Bryant Neal Vinas (aka also known as Ibrahim, Bashir al-Ameriki and Ben Yameen al-Kanadee), however urges "We would just ask the public to withhold judgment until all the facts come out in this case."

A young Patchogue man who reportedly converted to Islam at a Long Island mosque emerged Wednesday as a key player in al-Qaida plots against area mass transit systems...This "real deal" converted to Islam and then turned on the United States. Does it really matter that he is cooperating with "authorities" after being captured and tried?

July 20, 2009

A Great Place to Start

To assess the state of an issue you have to understand the issue, and with intelligence issues at the forefront of the national agenda these days, both current and former practitioners once again find themselves wishing that someone would take the time to educate both those who should know better (e.g. the overseers) and the shake-and-bake "experts" amongst the commentariat. While there is no shortage of books on the intelligence business, there are not a lot of good primers on the business writ large (hence the need for most college-level instructors requiring the purchase of 2-3 different books).

That changed recently with the release of Confrontation or Collaboration: Congress and the Intelligence Community by Harvard's Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs. Authors Rosenbach and Peritz have crafted a concise piece of work that addresses the major issues in a fashion that isn't at all cursory. Of particular value is the sources section (at the end of the PDF or after each discrete entry on the Web site) which provides those who are into details and background a healthy list of resources to drill into.

Originally crafted for members of congress, this is a publication that anyone with an interest in US intelligence should review. It's the primer I'd try to make if time allowed, but it doesn't and I'd probably not do half as good a job.

July 18, 2009

Revealing Secrets by Pulling Our Plug in Public

Essentially, since Gerald Ford learned that the CIA had attempted to assassinate Fidel Castro and issued Executive Order 11905, the standing policy of the United States has been that targeted assassinations and specifically the special targeting of foreign heads of state were forbidden. President Reagan formalized this policy when he issued Executive Order 12333 that remains in force today with a number of amendments and clarifications. Excerpted from EO12333:

2.11 Prohibition on Assassination. No person employed by or acting on behalf of the United States Government shall engage in or conspire to engage in assassination.
2.12 Indirect Participation. No element of the Intelligence Community shall participate in or request any person to undertake activities forbidden by this Order.

So the question remains whether al Qaeda and Taliban leaders (and by extension any of the leadership of al Qaeda clone organizations) are literally "heads of state" and whether they are somehow protected under 12333 and its further extensions. Even if they are not protected, today's political sentiment is leaning toward hindsight rejection or even criminalization of the policies and the people who established them in response to the "sudden onset" of the Global War on Terror on September 11, 2001.

Just this week the Director of the Central Intelligence agency, Leon Panetta, terminated a special training program intended to prepare agents to search out and kill al Qaeda leaders.

The plan to kill top al-Qaeda leaders, which had been on the agency's back burner for much of the past eight years, was suddenly thrust into the spotlight because of proposals to initiate what one intelligence official called a "somewhat more operational phase."

It is the disclosure of a banned policy, not the policy itself, that are a concern here. Although the merits will be debated, a "Presidential Finding" issued by George Bush following the attacks gave the Agency the authority to use deadly force against al Qaeda leaders, with no geographic restrictions and no obligation to notify Congress of any planned actions. Without knowing the details, it is interesting to observe that the claims of not telling Congress about clearly covert activities beg the question of whether any of those in Congress who claim a need to know, hold security clearance high enough to actually receive the information.

So while it is permissible to send Predator drones in after suspected terrorist hideouts or to kill terrorists like Abu Musab al-Zarqawi in an air strike, the creating of trained, armed teams is not. One of the problems cited was that while the Agency tried to assemble a team of anti-terrorist assassins. But officials could not solve logistical problems, including how to get close to targets while keeping U.S. involvement secret.

Yet in times past, back in the 1960's and 1970's there were covert operations known as the Phoenix Program (or alternatively, Project Phoenix) specifically intended to find and "neutralize" elements of the Vietnamese "infrastructure" (Viet Cong) that was destabilizing the country and interfering with U.S. efforts.

While some could argue contrary, it would be hard to consider al Qaeda or its leaders "heads of state." There is historic precedent for "special operations" similar to those publicly banned by the DCI. And further, to seek to punish policies and policy makers for steps taken to defend the country after the attacks, even if by "conflict of conscience" the new Administration cannot agree, seems to deflect the real issue of continuing the fight against those who attacked the United States nearly eight years ago. That history cannot and should not be revised.

July 13, 2009

The Lingering (Intel) Goodbye

As noted in this space previously, we are doing this nation no favors by kicking our intelligence officers and the programs they work on around like soccer balls on a field full of five-year-olds. Lately there has been a lot of running around trying to chase the action, but not a whole lot of goal scoring.

Like toddlers playing soccer, politicians tend to like to call any ball that goes near the goal "close enough" for a point. The problem with that sort of play is that it prevents progress. Why bother developing your knowledge of the game when close enough is good enough? Why bother tallying up true success when everybody wins?

I harbor no illusions that intelligence will ever be completely de-politicized, but we would be well on our way to a more secure nation if the legislative branch would make an honest effort to deal with these issues with a fraction of as much seriousness as those who execute such missions do.

July 3, 2009

On the Eve of Independence Day 2009

Our Nation's history had begun a bit more than 225 years earlier, but for us all, time stopped at 8:46am Eastern time on September 11, 2001 when American Flight 11 hit the North Tower. I measure time now in the days and weeks and months since that moment, and cannot keep the tears from my eyes when I think of that moment or hear our National Anthem or other patriotic hymns. Those moments, from the shut down of the bridges and tunnels in NY City at 9:21am, to the collapse of the South Tower at 9:50am followed by the North Tower only 39 minutes later are a mark of time. My emotions still race when I remember those moments in time.

Right after the attacks, leading to the Joint Session of Congress, to the bi-partisan gathering on the steps of the Capitol Building, to the National Prayer Service on September 14th we thought, felt and acted as one unified body of citizens.

What happened? The passage of time has brought partisanship back. While I am troubled by policy, action and statements, we all need to remember who we are. Tonight, we should remember that we are "Americans, all." We are not Black or White, Jewish or Christian or Muslim or Bhuddist or Hindu or atheist. We are "Americans, all." From the beginning of our Nation's history, brave men and women have died and made life's sacrifices to preserve the very freedoms that enable us to outwardly disagree with our Government and our fellow citizens. Watch the videos of the post-election aftermath in Iran for the stark contrast.

If we forget that...if we lose sight of that, then we are doomed. Yes, we are doomed, because the terrorist attacks will have split us apart. The lack of an attack on American soil is no sign of safety. Contrary, it is more likely a sign of diligence and the fact that we are on guard (en garde?) for the potential or the inevitability of another attack. It won't take much.

In the meantime, for myself, my family and my friends and colleagues (if I may be so presumptuous), God Bless America, our troops, our Government and most of all, our people and our great country.

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