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Double-entry bookkeeping: Now used by Al Qaeda
July 17, 2011 6:30 PM   Subscribe

"... Al Qaeda was forcing local affiliates (or at least its Iraqi one) to sustain themselves financially. If local groups must make their own money, governments and counterterror operatives can use Al Qaeda’s need to raise money - often using illicit means and pressure against local citizens - against the organization. That kind of counterterrorism would look less like war, and more like careful police work against what amounts to a criminal syndicate or mafia." [Inside Al Qaeda’s hard drives]
posted by vidur (47 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite

 
So what they're now concluding is that maybe this should have been treated from the get-go as a criminal matter instead of a goddamn war against a bunch of stateless loons in caves somewhere?

You think?
posted by Naberius at 6:32 PM on July 17, 2011 [35 favorites]


Here's the full report.

Here's another brief report on Al Qaeda After Bin Laden: Implications for American Strategy presented as testimony by Brian Jenkins.
posted by warbaby at 7:21 PM on July 17, 2011


money makes the war goes round
The war go around
The war go around
Money makes the war go around
It makes the war go 'round
posted by growabrain at 7:28 PM on July 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


The group raised millions of dollars annually through activities such as simple theft and resale of valuable items such as cars, generators, and electrical cable, and hijacking truckloads of goods, such as clothing. And their internal financial record-keeping was diligent, with all the requirements of expense accounts in regular businesses. A central unit of Al Qaeda in Iraq’s hierarchy required operatives to keep records of even the smallest outlay and to turn over their “take” to upper-level leaders, who made the spending decisions.
posted by ryanrs at 7:30 PM on July 17, 2011


So what they're now concluding is that maybe this should have been treated from the get-go as a criminal matter instead

Who is the 'they'? I don't think the 'they' you are implying is now concluding this at all. I think the 'they' you are implicating got exactly what 'they' wanted and knew this all along.
posted by spicynuts at 7:42 PM on July 17, 2011 [3 favorites]


Of course, Al Queda was always a hell of a lot more like the Cosa Nostra than the Soviet Union. But you can't get X Trillion Dollar$ to fight the Cosa Nostra. Not that Bin Laden and his buddies weren't always damn proud of the way their threat was massively exaggerated.
posted by oneswellfoop at 7:56 PM on July 17, 2011


So what they're now concluding is that maybe this should have been treated from the get-go as a criminal matter instead of a goddamn war against a bunch of stateless loons in caves somewhere?

Yes, it was so simple and obvious...in hindsight. If only those fools had had the smarts to call you back in 2001 and have you explain it all to them.
posted by anigbrowl at 8:09 PM on July 17, 2011


Yes, it was so simple and obvious...in hindsight. If only those fools had had the smarts to call you back in 2001 and have you explain it all to them.

The world would be a far better place today if they had.
posted by Naberius at 8:19 PM on July 17, 2011 [4 favorites]


Isn't that a bit "well, duh"? Everything gets gamed.

Had a great chat with an Irish fella that said the whole IRA vs. Protestants thang in Ireland had been gamed by major league crims, and it was all a bit obvious and a bit pathetic.

A bit pathetic in terms of the useful idiots out there still living in the past. Walking along roads dressed in Orange banging drums pay attention to meeeeeeeeeee.
posted by uncanny hengeman at 8:24 PM on July 17, 2011


Yes, it was so simple and obvious...in hindsight.

It's not hindsight, anigbrowl. Within a week of 9/11, there were posts here pointing out that terrorism is a tactic, and you can't declare war on a method. It's a crime, one best addressed with policing, and that was clear and obvious to people who weren't embedded in the military-industrial complex.

Hindsight my ass.
posted by Malor at 8:33 PM on July 17, 2011 [23 favorites]


I believe I remember MetaFilter hosting persuasive arguments that police, not military, action would be more effective in the pursuit of bin Laden. It's a shame it has taken a decade and financial ruin to prove those arguments were correct.
posted by five fresh fish at 10:09 PM on July 17, 2011 [3 favorites]


that police, not military, action would be more effective in the pursuit of bin Laden

Well, to be fair, it was a military action that found and killed him. Not to say that a police action couldn't have done the same. As far as fighting the organization that is Al Qaeda..yeah.
posted by spicynuts at 11:08 PM on July 17, 2011


Everyone knows that, but how would you have gone about doing a criminal investigation? Sent a few NYPD detectives? Of course terrorism is a tactic. That's such an obvious observation as to be trite and almost useless. 'Blitzkrieg' is a tactic. 'Scorched earth' is a tactic. You can't track down and arrest a tactic any more than you can bomb it out of existence. And no organized crime gang in history has ever launched large-scale strikes on the financial and political capitals of a nation simultaneously, or paralyzed an entire continent's economy in the space of a single hour.

Everybody knows Al Qaeda compises a bunch of stateless criminals. Few have ever claimed otherwise. But they are not just any bunch of stateless criminals, they're the most successful terrorists ever. The almost 3-decade long 'troubles' in Northern Ireland, which were also met with a military occupation, saw about 3000 people killed. 9/11 saw that many casualties in an hour. Pretending it's the same as a few thugs in the next precinct over is just asinine.

Do go on, tell us how you'd have tracked these villains down and taken them into custody. I'm all ears.
posted by anigbrowl at 11:10 PM on July 17, 2011 [2 favorites]




money makes the war goes round
The war go around
The war go around
Money makes the war go around
It makes the war go 'round


You have it backwards: war makes the money go around
posted by lalochezia at 11:40 PM on July 17, 2011


Could we maybe steer this thread away from who has the moral high ground in fighting Al-Qaeda and instead veer towards the possibility of terrorist bake sales?
posted by Panjandrum at 12:26 AM on July 18, 2011


And no organized crime gang in history has ever launched large-scale strikes on the financial and political capitals of a nation simultaneously, or paralyzed an entire continent's economy in the space of a single hour.

They didn't paralyze our economy, we did. All they did is blow up some buildings, everything that happened afterwords was our own countries doing. They owe their success to our greedy military industrial complex and our easily manipulated society.
posted by psycho-alchemy at 12:29 AM on July 18, 2011 [8 favorites]


Oh, so you're saying we should have just blown it off, kept all the planes flying, business as usual. Riiiiight.
posted by anigbrowl at 12:56 AM on July 18, 2011


anigbrowl Oh, so you're saying we should have just blown it off, kept all the planes flying, business as usual. Riiiiight.

Could it have worked out any worse?
posted by aeschenkarnos at 1:01 AM on July 18, 2011 [8 favorites]


Two times to me knowledge we've declared war on abstract things. The first time was the War On Drugs, and that worked out so well we did it again!
posted by JHarris at 2:08 AM on July 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


Don't forget the war on poverty. 0 for 3? I suppose one could make the argument for 1/3 on the basis that the war on poverty ended on an own goal.
posted by feloniousmonk at 2:15 AM on July 18, 2011 [2 favorites]


Oh, so you're saying we should have just blown it off, kept all the planes flying, business as usual. Riiiiight.

Hijacking as a tactic died on September 11th. It didn't even remain viable for that whole day. The people on United 93 realised that the traditional response to hijackings (remain calm and sit out the negotiations) would lead to their plane being crashed into the Capitol or the White House and certain death, the only option was to fight back. That will almost certainly happen in any future hijacking, and for that very reason I can't imagine any rational terrorist group deciding to utilise that tactic again.

I reckon the planes could have been kept flying, with moderate increases in airport security, and there wouldn't have been more attacks. The hijackers relied on the element of surprise, and I think with that particular form of attack, it's gone for good.

The response should clearly have been along the lines of Nuremberg, the International Criminal Court, and the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia. If we believe it is possible to treat those who have committed genocide to a fair trial, then why not seek out and prosecute Al Qaeda members? And not under military rules, I might add.

In October 2001, the Taliban actually offered to hand over bin Laden to a neutral country for trial if the US offered evidence of his guilt. The offer was rejected by Bush who said "When I said no negotiations, I meant no negotiations, we know he's guilty. Turn him over. There's no need to discuss innocence or guilt."
posted by knapah at 2:23 AM on July 18, 2011 [7 favorites]


The report warbaby linked to is interesting:
Using attack reports and AQI’s spending data, we ind that attacks statistically increased at a rate of one per every $2,700 sent by the provincial administration to a sector group within the province, suggesting that AQI paid not only for materiel but also for important expenses related to organizational sustainment, such as compensation and rents."
Wow, $2700 per attack? Roadside IDEs must be a lot more expensive than I thought.

Also, I haven't read the whole thing, but I am surprised by the level of organization implied by this report.
posted by Coventry at 4:18 AM on July 18, 2011


Oh, so you're saying we should have just blown it off, kept all the planes flying, business as usual. Riiiiight.

At the risk of sounding like a broken record... The world would be a far better place today if we had.
posted by Naberius at 4:25 AM on July 18, 2011 [2 favorites]



Also, I haven't read the whole thing, but I am surprised by the level of organization implied by this report.


Why? Bin Laden, and indeed the entire Bin Laden family, ran/run a hugely successful construction operation in Saudi Arabia. Construction and running of businesses require a high level of organization. OBL brought that experience to bear. He may have been a monster but he was not a stupid one.
posted by spicynuts at 4:27 AM on July 18, 2011


Oh, the summary explains the $2700 value a in a little more detail.
One-time payments are not sufficient to conduct either simple or complex attacks. Individual attacks were expensive, as AQI, like a firm, carried overhead costs, many of which were recurring. Although it may not have cost much to obtain the materiel used to carry out attacks, AQI incurred other recurring costs. When administrative costs, such as paying group members and the families of the imprisoned and deceased, securing and maintaining safe houses, and transporting materiel and members, were spread across the number of events, the cost of attacks was in the thousands of U.S. dollars. Our best estimate is that, on average, an additional attack cost the group $2,700. his amount is equivalent to 40 percent of the average household income.
posted by Coventry at 4:28 AM on July 18, 2011


spicynuts: Well, I never really believed that OBL had much to do with the Iraqi resistance, beyond sharing the name Al Qaeda. Looks like I might have been wrong about that.
posted by Coventry at 4:33 AM on July 18, 2011


Yes, it was so simple and obvious...in hindsight. If only those fools had had the smarts to call you back in 2001 and have you explain it all to them.

Or maybe just listened to many people who said this, like say John Kerry in 2003 and 2004 when he said this on the campaign trail and got made fun of for it. You've got something on your smugface there, oh it's a few thousand dead people let me get that.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 6:32 AM on July 18, 2011


Wait, but I thought - as I read many many many many many fucking times on metafilter (the last time being something like last week) - that there was no Al Qaeda in Iraq?
posted by falameufilho at 6:33 AM on July 18, 2011


Wait, but I thought - as I read many many many many many fucking times on metafilter (the last time being something like last week) - that there was no Al Qaeda in Iraq?

There wasn't one until after the US invaded Iraq. Iraq had no involvement in 9/11, and even after Zarqawi re-branded as AQI, they seemed to basically be an independent insurgent group that had minimal ties to the larger Al Qaeda. As mentioned in the article, the original group was trying to overthrow the Jordanian government until the US invasion led them to switch focus.
posted by snofoam at 6:43 AM on July 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


Oh, so you're saying we should have just blown it off, kept all the planes flying, business as usual. Riiiiight.

That, plus police/investigative style action against the people actually responsible for the attacks, is exactly what we should've done.

Terrorism only works if it produces terror. Our flailing, terrified overreaction to 9/11 was a perfect success. For the terrorists.
posted by ook at 7:11 AM on July 18, 2011 [2 favorites]


The almost 3-decade long 'troubles' in Northern Ireland, which were also met with a military occupation, saw about 3000 people killed. 9/11 saw that many casualties in an hour.

I don't see why that means you should make the completely wrong policy responses. You seem to be arguing that when your losses to terrorism come in a short time you will act in a more stupid manner because you are overcome by emotion. I guess that's true, and I sympathize. But do you think that is a good plan? Wouldn't you hope for better leadership? We (British) tried a military approach too, and I'm comfortable saying both that I understand why (outrage, revulsion, politics) and that I regret it (it was immoral, it didn't work.)

Also, that's still 3,000 dead people. I know it's only 100 dead people a year, but would you please not write them off as somehow not counting because they weren't killed by terrorism in one big go? Making peace with the IRA wasn't an easy or acceptable action for many Britons and still isn't. (To be fair, making peace with the UK wasn't an easy or acceptable action for many IRA supporters, either. I'm astonished it's got so far.)
posted by alasdair at 9:16 AM on July 18, 2011 [2 favorites]


Wait, but I thought - as I read many many many many many fucking times on metafilter (the last time being something like last week) - that there was no Al Qaeda in Iraq?
posted by falameufilho at 6:33 AM on July 18 [+] [!]


Oh man, is there a War on Reading Comprehension now?
posted by FatherDagon at 10:05 AM on July 18, 2011


knapah: The response should clearly have been along the lines of Nuremberg, the International Criminal Court, and the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia. If we believe it is possible to treat those who have committed genocide to a fair trial, then why not seek out and prosecute Al Qaeda members? And not under military rules, I might add.

You ignore the fact that Nuremberg took place after WW2 and the ICT also took place following a war.

In October 2001, the Taliban actually offered to hand over bin Laden to a neutral country for trial if the US offered evidence of his guilt. The offer was rejected by Bush who said "When I said no negotiations, I meant no negotiations, we know he's guilty. Turn him over. There's no need to discuss innocence or guilt."

Sure. Just like the skeptics of global warming say they're willing to change their mind if they're given better evidence. which, surprise, turns out never to be good enough. Superficially reasonable-seeming offers like that are typically negotiation tactics designed to regain the initiative in an argument and wrong-foot one's opponent. This is one of the very few things I agreed with Bush about. He was wrong to say 'we know he's guilty,' at least insofar as he could not have proved this without revealing information about US intelligence capabilities, and which would also have raised questions about his administration's failure to act on said intelligence. On the other hand, the idea that the Taliban had anything resembling a proper legal system capable of evaluating evidence objectively is a joke. These are the people that banned football, held weekly public stonings, blew up Buddha statues because they objected to figurative art, and had just assassinated the head of the Northern Alliance a few weeks before September 11 took place. If you think that offer was made in good faith then you're a fool.

Ook: (Oh, so you're saying we should have just blown it off, kept all the planes flying, business as usual. Riiiiight.)
That, plus police/investigative style action against the people actually responsible for the attacks, is exactly what we should've done.


What action? Be specific here. After you've called up people in Interpol and conducted interviews and done your data-mining, and you feel sure it's Al-Qaeda, what then?

Terrorism only works if it produces terror. Our flailing, terrified overreaction to 9/11 was a perfect success. For the terrorists.

You know, I heard the same arguments from various conservatives with regards to Bush's Zen-like calm as he read 'The Pet Goat' and his exhortation to Americans to get on with their lives and go shopping. there are, indeed, numerous areas and ways in which the US overreacted. Ten years later, for example, subway stations in San Francisco still don't have accessible public toilets, and every public building has a choke-point of expensive metal detectors and bored, underpaid security guards. The flaws of the TSA are too obvious to be worthy of mention, although I don't remember such criticisms back when they were demanding union representation - then they were fine, upstanding sons and daughters of America.

But that's all incidental to the question of how the US should have responded against the instigators of said terror. So far none of you have offered any specifics of how you would have carried out law enforcement actions against the perpetrators. It would be nice if we could have just called up the police in the country where he was staying and had the relevant persons arrested and questioned, the way we usually do in civilized countries, but this wasn't really an option in Afghanistan under the Taliban. Go back and read news reports from prior to September 11 2001. The Taliban were already being internationally condemned as murderous religious fanatics before any hijackings took place.

You seem to think that the enforcement side of things could have been sorted out during a couple of conference calls and that everything would have been back to normal in time for the Thanksgiving travel rush. Get real, no nation on earth would have shrugged that one off. I was in Spain at the time and happened to catch the events on live TV because I was working at home that day. When night fell, there was an eerie flicking over the whole city of Barcelona because all channels had switched over to the CNN feed, every single television was showing the exact same thing, and nobody was driving or walking on the streets - everyone was at home with family or friends gathered in front of the television. Outside, there was almost complete silence, while all the windows went light or dark together. And that wasn't even in the same county as where the attacks had taken place, not even on the same continent. Anyone with two brain cells to rub together was watching because war is inevitable in such circumstances. Al Gore, Bill Clinton, or even Jimmy Carter would have done the same thing in regard to Afghanistan.
posted by anigbrowl at 10:59 AM on July 18, 2011


I don't see why that means you should make the completely wrong policy responses. You seem to be arguing that when your losses to terrorism come in a short time you will act in a more stupid manner because you are overcome by emotion. I guess that's true, and I sympathize. But do you think that is a good plan? Wouldn't you hope for better leadership? We (British) tried a military approach too, and I'm comfortable saying both that I understand why (outrage, revulsion, politics) and that I regret it (it was immoral, it didn't work.)

I'm Irish (from the Republic) and disagree with you. The British got a lot of things wrong in Northern Ireland, but the IRA carry a lot of blame as well because they were in the habit of blowing up and murdering civilians on a regular basis. I almost got caught by a car bomb myself while I was living in London; but for the fact of heavy rain and the no-smoking-in-train-stations rule, I'd have been next to it when it went off instead of puffing on my cigarette in a dry spot across the street. I didn't like being treated as a potential suspect because of my accent or having my bag searched on a regular basis, but I didn't think much of the ~monthly explosions either. Who was originally at fault in Northern Ireland is highly debatable, but the acceptability of bombing campaigns targeted against civilians is not. There is a big, big difference between targeting civilians and targeting military installations or units that happen to have civilians in proximity. The peace process succeeded because it was clear not only that the IRA and their splinter groups weren't going away, but also that the British were not going to depart Northern Ireland and restore the Irish nation to being a full 32 counties as many in the IRA (and the Republic) desired.

As far as Afghanistan is concerned, I do not think that was stupid or the wrong policy response at all. The Iraq war was all of those things, and took the focus off Afghanistan at precisely the wrong time - not least because of the Bush administration's inability to grasp the concept of nation-building and misguided belief that the first shoots of democracy and civic society were equivalent to a bumper harvest and that Afghanistan was thus a finished project. But going in there to crush AQ and scatter the Taliban? that was a good idea, as evidenced by the number of countries that signed on to assist and continue to do so despite all the missteps that have taken place since. If we had stayed focused on that one task we'd probably have wrapped it up 5 years ago.
posted by anigbrowl at 11:29 AM on July 18, 2011 [3 favorites]


Randall bin Hertzel: "it's not a pyramid scheme. Alot of people thinks it is a pyramid scheme.
But it's not.
It's almost guaranteed you can double your money, - maybe even triple it in the first year alone.
The thing is, I'm not gonna be suicide bombing forever.
I've got plans."

Do go on, tell us how you'd have tracked these villains down and taken them into custody. I'm all ears.

I probably would have interrogated (properly) some captured terrorists and gained knowlege on The Base's courier and communications system and coupled that with field observation by humint and satellites and created a computer model detailing areas where command and control contacts were being made - despite whatever allied intelligence was coming in - and looked for a unique reinforced structure off the grid, with a larger footprint than neighboring areas, security sight lines, tattletale signs of a safe house like burning trash and having no windows facing the road to avoid sniper fire. Once I determine a high value target was there, and given I know the location(s) of other upper echelon members, I'd have made a high confidence gamble that OBL was there and I would have authorized an operation by special forces to capture or kill him if capture was not possible the same way GSG 9 seized bomb making terrorists a few years ago - with the exception that since it's in a foreign country there's a time and diplomatic factor so there's less possibility of a capture and zero possiblity of successfully engaging Pakistani forces.
Capture by said forces would be less preferable to death so I'd keep some elite forces in reserve, someone used to more straight up engagement rather than stealth.
Rangers, say.
But in any case I would use special operations groups not main military forces
and then only in the operations phase, as it is a waste of time and resources to force cadre highly trained in field and tactical intelligence and ops into investigation planning however they might dovetail.
Since most countries, and the most successful model is to, consider counterterrorism as a police operation with the military serving only at the tactical level I'd want to do it that was as well.
And most importantly since I don't want to invade Pakistan or send a message with a military unit that looks like maybe I'm invading, so I'd reassign the operations group to a domestic intelligence agency (the CIA, say).

But in any case, special operations would only be the tip of a very long domestically driven spear.

Oh, wait, except for the dog, that's exactly how it went down.

And no organized crime gang in history has ever launched large-scale strikes on the financial and political capitals of a nation simultaneously, or paralyzed an entire continent's economy in the space of a single hour.

Don't mistake spectacle for effectiveness.
Pablo Escobar alone was the 7th richest man in the world at his height.
You don't make $25 billion in liquid assets without some destruction occurring.

34,000 -odd people died over the past four years alone in the Mexican cartel wars.

The Cali Cartel maybe, y'know, killed some people too.

Organized criminal outfits have the same corrosive effect on states as violent ideological extremists. Terrorism just being a tactic used by either. Transnational organized crime outfits contribute to decentralization through corruption and illicit activities. So you can have the same crap going on in Pakistan as you can in Columbia (e.g. Ernesto Samper who got $6 million from the Cali and promised them some sympathy), it's a subversion of the law no matter the root source.

Perhaps when people say "it's a tactic" we miss that "ITS A TACTIC" because we noun-verb the hell out of the thing. Some crime lord, let's say the Medellins, assassinate government officials, politicians, bomb, kidnap, kill members of weathy families - this is terrorism. Are they terrorists? Well, of course not. Gee, they're not doing it for Allah.

Of course it's terrorism. Of course they're terrorists. They're using fucking terrorism. The ends don't matter at all. Terrorism is a MEANS. It is a tactic to weaken the political structure of a country to reduce the pressure of law enforcement on the organization (be it criminal or ideological extremist).
We do, in fact, use special forces tactically in policing operations against criminal organizations. What the fuck was US SOF doing in Columbia in the 80s?
It wasn't just the FARC. What was the 7th SOF group doing in Bogota in 2003? (yeah, ok, Cano Limon oil, still -) USSOUTHCOM has been all over the place doing what is essentially tactical support for a domestic policing operation - the argument as to whether
all this is shitty or wonderful aside - it's the descriptive.
We're kicking over their wagons because they're making narcotics we've outlawed domestically. It's law-enforcement.
And most particularly law enforcement precisely because the threat is to the political structure and pressure from the system of law enforcement.

War is a different sort of animal and the system of prosecuting a war effort against - whatever - requires different state apparatus.
And fighting organizations that use terror, using the apparatus of law enforcement rather than foreign policy reinforces the law enforcement system which itself is a defense against terror.
Using foreign policy tools, the military, subverts and weakens the domestic system even when conditions are ideal.

That has been made manifestly and glaringly obvious from the years under the Bush Administration. Even granting them the best of intentions.
posted by Smedleyman at 11:30 AM on July 18, 2011 [2 favorites]


Smedleyman: I probably would have interrogated (properly) some captured terrorists and gained knowlege on The Base's courier and communications system and coupled that with field observation by humint and satellites and created a computer model detailing areas where command and control contacts were being made [...]

This all sounds reasonable, but if we're pretending it's October 2001 and we haven't invaded yet, how have we taken these terrorists prisoner, how are we infiltrating Afghanistan, and where are we staging these special operations raids from?

War is a different sort of animal and the system of prosecuting a war effort against - whatever - requires different state apparatus.
And fighting organizations that use terror, using the apparatus of law enforcement rather than foreign policy reinforces the law enforcement system which itself is a defense against terror. Using foreign policy tools, the military, subverts and weakens the domestic system even when conditions are ideal.


I wholly agree, but all the countries you mention have basic civic institutions in place, beleaguered, corrupt, or authoritarian though they may be. Afghanistan had none of those things, and its government - I use the term loosely - was primarily engaged in dismantling anything modern or of external origin that wasn't a weapon. The national airline, such as it was, was reportedly being run by bin Laden. Ahmad Shah Masoud was locked in a military stalemate with the Taliban and with his death the Taliban gained full control of the country. At that point Al Qaeda was the most modern organization in the country, taking full advantage of its almost illiterate Taliban hosts, and in turn arguably being used as a cat's paw by Pakistan's ISI, whose motives remain inscrutable.
posted by anigbrowl at 12:25 PM on July 18, 2011


From the piece: "Two points emerged most importantly from our research on Al Qaeda in Iraq. First, there was no team of international ghost donors padding the group’s coffers. And second, Al Qaeda in Iraq had no strong ties to Al Qaeda central. While there may have been communication that was very well hidden - the eventual declassification of the Osama bin Laden documents may reveal more answers - it was noteworthy that there was virtually no communication to Al Qaeda central in any of the now declassified documents that we saw"

Interesting given the piece in Vanity Fair (and the full study from the OP)

Killing OBL perhaps does have the upside of severing one more tie to the Saudis. Speculation on my part though.

how have we taken these terrorists prisoner, how are we infiltrating Afghanistan, and where are we staging these special operations raids from?

We'd been pursuing AQ through counterterrorism operations for a long time. Remember the Cole? Abu Jandal was already in custody and was questioned after 9/11 and gave some significant intel.

Or the original bombing of the towers in '93? The entire operation was law enforcement and resulted in successful prosecution and yielded a bunch of intelligence.

Or the millennium bomb attempt at LAX (et.al)? Where we captured Ahmed Ressam who gave us the intel that "BIN LADEN DETERMINED TO STRIKE IN US" which was apparently shitcanned by the Bush administration.

In '96 the FBI started to double the number of officials serving in attache offices of embassies abroad. This started cop-to-cop relationships where information was exchanged with host countries. After the program was underway Freeh (then director) said this was the single most significant factor in the Bureau's ability to detect, deter, and investigate international crimes in which the U.S. or our citizens are victims.

By '98 we were already in Afghanistan on Infinite Reach when we hit terrorist bases there after the attacks on U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. Some AQ members were indicted in the U.S. in criminal court, which is what led to the whole "Hand over OBL" thing in the first place.

And we were in Kandahar in February 1999 hunting OBL down. Found him in May, but the Kargil war thing was brewing, not so good a time to jump into someone else's sandbox (Pakistan and India had detonated 'test' nukes just the year before, so lot's of people's testicles were up in their stomachs there).

Lots of other examples. It's really sort of nifty in a way to see how well Fox has erased history, even for people who don't watch it. The war on terror apparently began only after 9/11.

But no, we were all over this like a cheap suit for a long while and successfully, without using mass mobilization of the military.

The war in Afghanistan is a different thing. Albeit related.

An argument can be made that it wouldn't have been necessary had we not allowed the conditions that gave rise to the Taliban to exist.
(We took a walk in Somalia too and anarchy resulted there as well and now we've got pirate organizations, warlords, etc.)

But it appears you're not arguing then a law enforcement response to criminal/terrorist organizations, you're arguing foreign policy response to failed states which harbor terrorists because of civic impotence.

Of course failed states can be used by other organizations/states to pursue their own ends. The problem there is engagement isn't possible on any terms but military because there's no state or because the power in the region isn't a legitimate government, where even a despotic regime would at least be "of" the region in some way.

I wouldn't conflate counterterrorism operations in general with the invasion of Afghanistan though.

The invasion of Afghanistan was necessary* in order to achieve a number of foreign policy goals only one of which was counterterrorism. Preventing the region from being a cats paw being one. Most certainly preventing further destabilization near two nuclear powers who really don't like each other.
And absolutely preventing a build up of material and cadre that could take a WMD by force.

Which would be why you take out AQ and the Taliban, who are otherwise not exactly the best of buddies.

(*What it had turned into - different story)

What you seem to be positing is once an organization has a major foothold in a lawless region it requires military force to fight them.
But again, your foreign policy objectives are to build up a state so you have someone 'in power' in order to talk to.
Troops make the world safe for policemen. But you're not going to occupy territory in order to successfully prosecute a counterterrorism policy.
That makes assumptions about military force that goes well beyond any military's core competencies and puts it in the wrong position operationally.

Basically the military is set up to fail. I could be cynical and say this is to avoid a political failure on the part of an administration.

But in any case, you still have a vast world outside any lawless region.
If any member of an organization that uses terrorism wants to operate outside that region he's going to have to leave.
Once he does what is going to best prevent his success is law enforcement activity which will conduct forensic analysis of his safe houses and attack sites, track his munitions and the chemical signatures on his explosives, wiretap his communications, infiltrate his cells undercover, chat with civilians and explore other open source intelligence (which encompasses maybe 90% of intelligence work despite the 'sexy' NSA stuff. James Bond reads a lot of newspapers), follows up leads by disaffected and other folks, etc. etc. etc.

(Funny you mention sending some NYPD detectives. NYPD-JTTF actively operates overseas and has been involved in quite a few international terrorism investigations including the Cole, the Embassy bombings in Kenya and the WTC attack in '93.
There were NYPD detectives investigating the Jakarta bombings in 2009, detective Terrence McGhee was paralyzed in 2008 while on a counterterrorism mission, so yeah, they're not the rubber gun squad.)

But setting aside the need to engage Afghanistan politically and economically and foster civic growth in order to combat the conditions which give rise to and sympathy for (e.g. "vicarious poverty") terrorism in the first place - we still fail if you adopt a kill or capture approach targeting individuals or only certain regions (they don't have a traditional center of gravity as Bruce Hoffman, also at RAND has long said).

Mainline armed forces are swell in countering mass mobilizations of troops. Not so good at stopping mobilization in terrorist or guerrilla operations because the ability to continue the fight is predicated on the ability to attract cadre and renew resources from elements not normally within the fighting spectrum of troops.

I could write a book on that paragraph alone. But others have. (e.g. Field Marshal Templer said in 1952 in Malaya "The shooting side of the business is only 25% of the trouble, the other 75% lies in getting the people behind us")

Zawahiri, a year after 9/11, said "We thank God for appeasing us with the dilemmas in Iraq and Afghanistan.The Americans are facing a delicate situation in both countries. If they withdraw they will lose everything and if they stay they will continue to bleed to death."

It's axiomatic that you have to have not only force at your disposal but parallel political, social, economic and policy activities. Even if you kill every terrorist, or better, capture them that effort is to narrow and does not address the complexity of the operational environment.

Even moving all that aside - Bushco went ahead and decided to use military force because they were unable to get what Afghan authorities there were to give up OBL (whether the offer was genuine or not on the Taliban side).
That worked out how well?
In contrast to Obama's approach of gathering intelligence and using a precision strike?

Now I'll grant I consider that operation a marginal success because OBL was not captured.
But this is precisely the crux of the matter.

Obama hitting OBL in Pakistan was counterterrorism.
Bush hitting Afghanistan (ostensibly) to get OBL was preemptive war.
And that is another risk of conflating counterterrorism with foreign policy pursuit.

As a f'rinstance - lets say OBL was in an apartment building rather than in a compound. Say 100 people live there.
Do you hit the building with drones? Maybe, maybe not.
What if the building is in downtown Chicago? Or Tokyo? Or London?
Bit more problematic, no?

Why?
Well, obviously you'd have bad feelings from your allies. Or your own population would give you a big WTF? And you'd be impeached, all that.

We see the obvious political/civil result of dead civilians off a battlefield when it's in our backyard. For some reason we fail to see that in prosecuting the GWOT.

For every dead civilian in that instance you're going to have harsh feelings and your going to make enemies. Some of who might join a terrorist organization since they, unlike their counterparts in Chicago, Tokyo or London, don't have access to recourse through channels.

So the solution then is not to more greatly obfuscate those channels as Bushco did, but rather to not habituate ourselves to solely military responses and tactics.
This is not to say we avoid using troops to support a counterterrorism operation, but rather have the understanding that this is the case. That troops are there to support the operation rather than the belief that troops can be a counterterrorism operation.

Again, with the understanding that Afghanistan is more about foreign policy and regional stabilization than the pretext Bushco was on about (valid as it may have been initially, sort of got completely eclipsed/usurped by operations in Iraq).

One of the biggest advantages those who use terrorism have is the ability to soak in to a population limiting the overt military response.
Why force troops into rules of engagement that blunt that response (in terms of noncombatants and use of force) rather than have police units specialized to perform under those rules?

GSG 9 is able to live within these parameters and is one of the most effective counterterrorism units in the world.

What the big takeaway here (from the OP) is the result of the disruption of funding streams, which is pretty much exactly what you want.
And a result of non-military force.

It boils down to too - if all you have is a hammer, all problems look like nails.
This is not to contend what you're saying in terms of failed states. Perhaps there are nails there and I can think of some cases where military force is/was warranted.

But all too often it winds up as a quick fix and the only solution and then the military becomes a scapegoat when it doesn't work or there are poor outcomes.
We really do need a broad approach here. Force is almost passe in this regard.

Hell, the SEALs were established exactly because high profile broad base operations were becoming a thing of the past in the post-nuclear world and there was a need for small unit high impact unconventional forces.

IMHO the only reason we mobilize anymore is to make money for defense contractors.
posted by Smedleyman at 3:18 PM on July 18, 2011 [5 favorites]


But it appears you're not arguing then a law enforcement response to criminal/terrorist organizations, you're arguing foreign policy response to failed states which harbor terrorists because of civic impotence.

Of course failed states can be used by other organizations/states to pursue their own ends. The problem there is engagement isn't possible on any terms but military because there's no state or because the power in the region isn't a legitimate government, where even a despotic regime would at least be "of" the region in some way.


Yes, this pretty accurately captures my position as regards Afghanistan. That Masoud went to the EU parliament (an institution that is sadly little more than a talking shop) in Spring 2001 to solicit humanitarian aid and warn of the imminent military risks is itself an indictment of how disconnected the US leadership had become from the awkward political questions of the region. Whether because of the Clinton impeachment or the India-Pakistan nuclear brinksmanhsip of the late 90s, the trans-Caspian pipeline project was in the toilet by the time Bush took office and such intelligence infrastructure as we did have in the area was apparently allowed to degrade further for the first 8 months of the year. This seems to me like a failure for both of those administrations, for differing reasons and to differing degrees.

I don't know what options were really available by winter of 2001 other than a full-scale invasion. I take and agree with your point about the ongoing CT investigations, but really doubt whether a 'sit back and let our special forces take care of it' was a feasible response - not least due to Bush's perceived lack of leadership skills during and immediately after the events. The Afghan invasion as implemented was moderately efficient, to the point that Rumsfeld was giving himself and his Democratically-appointed predecessor a metaphorical slap on the back in Foreign Affairs 18 months later for having set the RMA in motion...before going on to implement the opposite strategy in Iraq and walk right into the widely-predicted quagmire within weeks of the military victory.

What I'm really disagreeing with is the 'do nothing' approach advocated by so many here, in which the US is expected to nothing post-9/11 other than hang its head in contrition for its foreign policy sins. Any use of special forces or other alternatives as you describe above would be equally reprehensible from this perspective, which strikes me as a naive blend of pacificism and isolationism that takes no account whatsoever of strategic considerations.
posted by anigbrowl at 4:21 PM on July 18, 2011


Can I light a match? I'm finding it a little crowded in this thread, what with the posse of strawmen you've built.
posted by five fresh fish at 4:32 PM on July 18, 2011


>Terrorism only works if it produces terror. Our flailing, terrified overreaction to 9/11 was a perfect success. For the terrorists.

>>You know, I heard the same arguments from various conservatives with regards to Bush's Zen-like calm as he read 'The Pet Goat'


Suburb!

Some of the responses are like listening to Jackie telling us all how to rid the world of all known diseases. No specifics, but they "jolly well" would have told the US generals what to do.
posted by uncanny hengeman at 5:39 PM on July 18, 2011


What I'm really disagreeing with is the 'do nothing' approach advocated by so many here,

Nobody has said that. We had a chance to really change the world for the better; we had more brownie points post-9/11 than we've had since World War II, and we could have improved policing and gotten actual, real cooperation in terrorism investigations with governments worldwide. We could have substantially expanded police powers to search, without really impinging on civil rights, by simply preventing any evidence gained using the special powers of a terrorism search from being used for any other type of criminal or civil indictment.

We could have, in other words, pushed for more real safety in the world than we've ever had.

Instead, we spent at least a trillion dollars, we lost about 20,000 soldiers either to death or crippling injuries, and we directly and indirectly killed hundreds of thousands of brown people. Because we lost a couple of big buildings and 2,000 civilians.

The world today is a much more dangerous place than it was ten years ago, and it didn't need to be. And that's purely because we used the wrong tool for the job at hand.
posted by Malor at 2:52 PM on July 19, 2011


None of which speaks to how you would have brought law enforcement efforts to bear in Afghanistan, a country which lacked any recognizable civic institutions. Furthermore, you insist on conflating the Iraq war - which I have repeatedly stated my opposition to - with the war in Afghanistan. And dismissing the losses sustained on 9-11 as 'a couple of big buildings and 2,000 civilians' is disingenuous bullshit.
posted by anigbrowl at 5:31 PM on July 19, 2011


No, it isn't, because it WAS a couple of big buildings and 3,000 people. (sorry, I typoed the original post.) Any claim that the loss was somehow more than that is being disingenuous. That's about five weeks' worth of US traffic fatalities. Jumping up and down and making it seem bigger than it actually was is being ruled by fear, and frankly, I think it's cowardly and shameful.

We've spent a trillion dollars for sure, and we've probably taken on another trillion in long-term liabilities, and we've been at both conflicts for twice as long as World War II. For three thousand casualties from two hundred guys in turbans.

It's just a fucking ridiculous response. There WERE ONLY TWO HUNDRED GUYS IN AL QAEDA when we started. They're a lot more powerful now because of all our bullshit. Hundreds of thousands of people have died, and thousands (tens of thousands?) have joined or started supporting that organization because we're routinely killing innocent people they love. On a daily basis. Even now, ten years after 9/11.

There is just no fucking way you can justify what we've done. We used the wrong tool for the job. We needed to build the police organization to do what needed doing. We could have built one in Afghanistan for a tenth the cost, and had a tenth the problem today. We didn't like the Taliban, but we openly support governments that are every bit as bad or worse.

It was only two hundred guys, anigbrowl. Just 200 people. Think about that for a minute.
posted by Malor at 12:54 AM on July 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


That's about five weeks' worth of US traffic fatalities.

From Risk: The Science and Politics of Fear -

An American professor calculated that even if terrorists were hijacking and crashing one passenger jet a week in the United states, a person who took one flight a month for a year would only have a 1-in-135,000 chance of being killed in a hijacking — a trivial risk compared to the annual 1-in-6,000 odds of being killed in a car crash.

[...]

It turned out that the shift from planes to cars in America laster one year. Then traffic patterns went back to normal. Gigerenzer also found that, exactly as expected, fatalities on American roads soared after September 2001 and settled back to normal levels in September 2002. With these data, Gigerenzer was able to calculate the number of Americans killed in car crashes as a direct result of the switch from planes to cars.

It was 1,595. That is more then one-half the total death toll of history's worst terrorist atrocity.

[...]

And yet almost nobody noticed but the families of the dead. And not even the families really understood what had happened. They thought — they still think — that they lost husbands, wives, fathers, mothers, and children to the routine traffic accidents we accept as the regrettable cost of living in the modern world.

They didn't. It was fear that stole their loved ones.

posted by knapah at 1:50 AM on July 20, 2011


Return to Normalcy: When Al Qaeda is defeated, can we have our liberties back?
posted by homunculus at 1:28 PM on July 20, 2011


indirectly killed hundreds of thousands of brown people

Are you referring to when these animals started blowing each other up in church coz the wrong sub-religion was in charge? Or more the hospital / drugs thing when Iraq was blockaded?
posted by uncanny hengeman at 7:33 PM on July 20, 2011


No, it isn't, because it WAS a couple of big buildings and 3,000 people. (sorry, I typoed the original post.) Any claim that the loss was somehow more than that is being disingenuous.

So you're saying it's essentially the same as if they had knocked over a few barns in Iowa, and that taking out a building complex in the heart of the nation's financial center and also crashing a plane into the nation's military center is wholly irrelevant, yes? Well, congratulations on maintaining your aura of radical insouciance.

It's just a fucking ridiculous response. There WERE ONLY TWO HUNDRED GUYS IN AL QAEDA when we started.

Sez you, without so much as a citation. Explain to me, then, how it was that ten thousand or more of those fighting for the Taliban against the Northern Alliance were from outside Afghanistan. That's a bit like saying that the US has a tiny military force because there are only ~2,500 SEALs and all those other people are just wannabes and hangers-on.

There is just no fucking way you can justify what we've done. We used the wrong tool for the job. We needed to build the police organization to do what needed doing. We could have built one in Afghanistan for a tenth the cost, and had a tenth the problem today. We didn't like the Taliban, but we openly support governments that are every bit as bad or worse. It was only two hundred guys, anigbrowl. Just 200 people. Think about that for a minute.

I've thought about it for a lot longer than a minute, over many years. I was thinking about it before anyone started flying planes into buildings. It is pointless to continue this discussion; you seem to think Afghanistan was a normal country with some tricky politics, like Iran or one of the central Asian republics like Kazakhstan or Uzbekistan. You are utterly divorced from reality. I would be happy to shower you with links to UN reports and other non-US third parties who could give you objective information about this, but a) it's not like you couldn't find that information yourself using the same search engines that I do and b) you've demonstrated that you're either unwilling or unable to process any information that contradicts your crackpot worldview.

You think Al Qaeda was just a couple of hundred random guys in turbans, and the WTC was just a couple of big buildings? Fine, I'll discuss it on your level. The trillion dollars we wasted? Meh, just a bunch of paper money that doesn't mean anything anyway. Ten years of warfare? I come from a country that was occupied for 800 years before it regained its independence. Big whoop.

That's what you sound like. I can't carry on a conversation with you any longer.
posted by anigbrowl at 12:42 PM on July 21, 2011


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