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Zakaria on putting antiterrorism above politics
March 28, 2004 12:41 PM   Subscribe

The danger is less that a state will sponsor a terror group and more that a terror group will sponsor a state—as happened in Afghanistan Zakaria: Stepping away from the partisan screaming going on these days, the 9/11 commission hearings and—far more revealing—the panel's staff reports paint a fascinating picture of the rise of a new phenomenon in global politics: terrorism that is not state-sponsored but society-sponsored. Few in the American government fully grasped that a group of people without a state's support could pose a mortal threat. The mistake looks obvious in hindsight, but was, sadly, understandable at the time of 9/11. What is less understandable is that this same error persists even today.
posted by Ignatius J. Reilly (46 comments total)

 
I know I'll get newsfilter hisses, and it is a brief piece, basically an op-ed, but I think Zakaria really nails this issue while avoiding partisan point-scoring.

I asked an American official closely involved with counterterrorism about state sponsorship. He replied, "Well, all that's left is Iran and to a lesser extent Syria, and it's mostly directed against Israel. States have been getting out of the terror business since the late 1980s. We have kept many governments on the list of state sponsors for political reasons. The reality is that the terror we face is mostly unconnected to states." Today's terrorists are harbored in countries like Spain and Germany—entirely unintentionally. They draw on support not from states but private individuals—Saudi millionaires, Egyptian radicals, Yemenite preachers.
posted by Ignatius J. Reilly at 12:44 PM on March 28, 2004




He may be avoiding partisan point-scoring, but is clueless, or stuck in the past like the Bushies. Was Timothy McVeigh state-sponsored, or sponsoring a state? Was the IRA or any of their offshoots? There are countless examples throughout recorded history of "freelance" terrorists (for lack of a better word).

The real sin of it is that because it's too hard to catch people, we go after states--and the wrong state at that, in the case of Iraq.
posted by amberglow at 1:12 PM on March 28, 2004


True enough, amberglow. But in terms of prevention, he's not clueless at all. The basic thrust of his strategy seems to be to make allies of states before your enemies do. Which seems fairly sound to me.
posted by jonmc at 1:16 PM on March 28, 2004


Few in the American government fully grasped that a group of people without a state's support could pose a mortal threat. The mistake looks obvious in hindsight, but was, sadly, understandable at the time of 9/11.

Apart from that, will we hear more from Sibel Edmonds, who was evidently one of the few ?

A former FBI wiretap translator with top-secret security clearance, who has been called "very credible" by Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, has told Salon she recently testified to the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States that the FBI had detailed information prior to Sept. 11, 2001, that a terrorist attack involving airplanes was being plotted.

Referring to the Homeland Security Department's color-coded warnings instituted in the wake of 9/11, the former translator, Sibel Edmonds, told Salon, "We should have had orange or red-type of alert in June or July of 2001. There was that much information available." Edmonds is offended by the Bush White House claim that it lacked foreknowledge of the kind of attacks made by al-Qaida on 9/11. "Especially after reading National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice [Washington Post Op-Ed on March 22] where she said, we had no specific information whatsoever of domestic threat or that they might use airplanes. That's an outrageous lie. And documents can prove it's a lie."

Edmonds' charge comes when the Bush White House is trying to fend off former counterterrorism chief Richard A. Clarke's testimony that it did not take serious measures to combat the threat of Islamic terrorism, and al-Qaida specifically, in the months leading up to 9/11.

Edmonds, who is Turkish-American, is a 10-year U.S. citizen who has passed a polygraph examination conducted by FBI investigators. She speaks fluent Farsi, Arabic and Turkish and worked part-time for the FBI, making $32 an hour for six months, beginning Sept. 20, 2001. She was assigned to the FBI's investigation into Sept. 11 attacks and other counterterrorism and counterintelligence cases, where she translated reams of documents seized by agents who, for the previous year, had been rounding up suspected terrorists.

She says those tapes, often connected to terrorism, money laundering or other criminal activity, provide evidence that should have made apparent that an al- Qaida plot was in the works. Edmonds cannot talk in detail about the tapes publicly because she's been under a Justice Department gag order since 2002.

"President Bush said they had no specific information about Sept. 11, and that's accurate," says Edmonds. "But there was specific information about use of airplanes, that an attack was on the way two or three months beforehand and that several people were already in the country by May of 2001. They should've alerted the people to the threat we're facing."

Edmonds testified before 9/11 commission staffers in February for more than three hours, providing detailed information about FBI investigations, documents and dates. This week Edmonds attended the commission hearings and plans to return in April when FBI Director Robert Mueller is scheduled to testify. "I'm hoping the commission asks him real questions -- like, in April 2001, did an FBI field office receive legitimate information indicating the use of airplanes for an attack on major cities? And is it true that through an FBI informant, who'd been used [by the Bureau] for 10 years, did you get information about specific terrorist plans and specific cells in this country? He couldn't say no," she insists.

posted by y2karl at 1:28 PM on March 28, 2004


But many if not most terrorists don't need states to be allies with--they're capable of developing a global network, with money coming from one person in one country, and a plot from another in another country, or made up on the spot by them themselves. He's still focusing on states, I think. And Al Qaeda itself moved around alot before finding safe harbor in Afghanistan, no?

Right now, the terrorists we should be most concerned about are here already, and not elsewhere (like pre-9/11)--whether they're getting orders from elsewhere can't really be stopped or affected without knowing who's here talking to--or getting support from--whoever there, and for what reason or need.

That's why the Edmonds story is relevant too--it's all about our intelligence, and acting on that intelligence before it's too late--something that isn't really about states at all.
posted by amberglow at 1:44 PM on March 28, 2004


The real sin of it is that because it's too hard to catch people, we go after states--and the wrong state at that, in the case of Iraq.

the fact that Nidal was in Iraq and the irony that saddam killed him...he is dead yes?
Well I could not resist.

"This is the new face of terror: dozens of local groups across the world connected by a global ideology


Next week I will explain how best to tackle this threat

But first we need to see it for what it is."
posted by clavdivs at 2:13 PM on March 28, 2004


In due course, some senior officials in the Clinton administration awakened to the threat: CIA Director George Tenet, national-security adviser Sandy Berger and Clinton himself. But they never proposed a full-fledged assault on it. Their one dramatic attack—bombing the Afghan terror camps and Sudanese factory in 1998—proved unsuccessful and led to domestic criticism, and they did not think they could do something more ambitious.

This passage concerns me greatly. If, in fact, no WMDs are found because of growing pressure from the upcoming election and approval polls, but WMDs indeed exist (suppose we discover them 2-4 years from now after an internationally sponsored search in Iraq), will Democrats take the blame for pursuing a purely political agenda (winning the election)? After all, the Republicans have taken absolutely NO responsibility for Clinton's inability to stop Osama, even though they constantly claimed that Clinton was "wagging the dog".

I understand that this is a hypothetical example, and I'm not pointing fingers here, but one has to wonder about the parallels between Clinton's inability to follow through and current pressure against the Bush Administration.
posted by BlueTrain at 2:24 PM on March 28, 2004


If, in fact, no WMDs are found because of growing pressure from the upcoming election and approval polls, but WMDs indeed exist (suppose we discover them 2-4 years from now after an internationally sponsored search in Iraq), will Democrats take the blame for pursuing a purely political agenda (winning the election)?

Or the insurgents could release a bio-warfare agent that makes women grow beards and men breasts which they've been saving up for the anniversary of the day the Marines toppled the stature of Saddam, will the Republicans finally take responsibility for the invasion then?

Say, how would you look in a D cup?

As long as we're asking long shot hypothetical questions...
posted by y2karl at 4:14 PM on March 28, 2004


Say, how would you look in a D cup?

Pretty damn good Karl, since I have a tight waist and even tighter ass. Although my back would probably kill me, since I'm a fairly short guy (5'6"). But it seems you avoided the real issue: one has to wonder about the parallels between Clinton's inability to follow through and current pressure against the Bush Administration.
posted by BlueTrain at 4:33 PM on March 28, 2004


Or the insurgents could release a bio-warfare agent that makes women grow beards and men breasts which they've been saving up for the anniversary of the day the Marines toppled the stature of Saddam, will the Republicans finally take responsibility for the invasion then?

Kurdi Spy Cows

Wheres my skate key?

The Nuts and Bolts Society

swiss navy handbook

Alcoholics Anonymous and Anarchism: A Relevant Comparison?

Is twiggy working against us?

Norton I

I am not an atomic playboy!

Earl Muntz was THE 'madman'
posted by clavdivs at 5:04 PM on March 28, 2004


(out maneuvering Y2Karl in fun since 2001)
posted by clavdivs at 5:05 PM on March 28, 2004


State sponsorship isn't *really* fuzzied up when the state is careful to firewall, is it?
That is, for example the Viet Cong were sponsored by North Vietnam directly, but indirectly for a time by China, and then the Soviet Union *and* their satellites.

State sponsored, yes, but like al-Qaeda, careful to set up dummy sponsors like bogus charities, or even real charities that also contribute to "the cause."

It's not surprising that terrorists could set up a confusing support organization when someone like the Baptist Foundation of Arizona could make one that would make your head spin.

How do they learn how to do this stuff?
posted by kablam at 5:57 PM on March 28, 2004


Was Timothy McVeigh state-sponsored, or sponsoring a state? Was the IRA or any of their offshoots?

In the latter case, very possibly, if you count 'Massachusetts' as a state.
posted by riviera at 6:30 PM on March 28, 2004


riviera, you could add The Bronx too, at least the neighborhood i grew up in. That's kinda the point--tons of money from here funded IRA stuff for decades. Everyone knew it, and it shouldn't be surprise to anyone--in or out of govt. Being surprised by terrorism without a state behind it is nothing new, and not a surprise. Claiming ignorance of it is no excuse for our failures.
posted by amberglow at 6:39 PM on March 28, 2004


Considering a lot of state leaders aren't popular with a significant percentage of citizens it really doesn't seem to matter. Look at Afghanistan now. Outside Kabul its the usual warlord pissing contests.
posted by skallas at 6:41 PM on March 28, 2004


dozens of local groups across the world connected by a global ideology

Corporations ? Whoa that's hardly news !

on preview: good link divvs clavdivs , indeed I guess that a number of terrorist aren't but gullible indoctrinated people with much less of the brain of a 12 year old. Religions are good at producing them (expecially Christians (crusades/inquisition) and Muslims (yihads of any size and shape )
posted by elpapacito at 6:58 PM on March 28, 2004




But it seems you avoided the real issue: one has to wonder about the parallels between Clinton's inability to follow through and current pressure against the Bush Administration.

There is no comparison--Executive Branch, House, Senate and Supreme Court are tightly controlled by a disciplined Republican machine backed up by cadres in the press. Any call for investigation by the Democrats on any scandal has been thwarted. Clinton was under constant attack from a Republican controlled Congress and subject to the special counsel law. The adminstration has been given a pass by the press until only recently and has yet to see a special prosecutor.

This administration has also repeatedly used extreme payback, from within its own ranks and by its allies in House and Senate--the outing of Valerie Plame, the Treasury Department's investigation of Paul O'Neill for the documents listed in Ron Suskind's book and the waving of a perjury charge at Richard Clarke by Bill Frist come to mind--to make the message over and over to those within its ranks that anyone who ever dares tell the truth about this crew will be utterly destroyed, personally and professionally, by any means necessary short of extra-judicial execution. Thus far.

Clinton did not have a Congress controlled by people willing to help him destroy his enemies. He had a Congress controlled by people trying to destroy him.

As for any possible limitation put upon this crew by the current controversy--haven't they done enough already ? Iraq was no threat to us--we invaded, deposed a despot and sans the benefit of that, what have we and the Iraqis got for it? It's All Bad News

Your hypothesis was that Iraq might be found in two or three years to have WMDS and be connected to Al Qaeda and this itsy bitsy commission will have hamstrung the Bush administration's ability to follow through on fighting terror.

If you want WMDS and a a governmental connection to Al Qaeda, forget IRaq, forget Syria, forget Lebanon, forget Iran--try Pakistan right now, pal. And where is the adminstration's ability to act limited there. There were never any plans by this administration to invade that nuclear state. They could try to give the bomb to every Tom, Dick and Harry plus North Korea in the Mideast, get caught, put out the phoniest It was all Dr. Khan's doing alibi and we look away and whistle. Because a nuclear Pakistan under Musharraf is preferable to an Al Qaeda Pakistan with nuclear weapons.

Now, aside from the necessary war with Al Qaeda and the Taliban ongoing in Afghanistan with a fraction of the forces needed, we're also fighting a terrorist movement we created with our invasion and occupation in a country that didn't attack us on 9/11 or threaten us thereafter. And we will be fighting that terror there for years with our soldiers and our treasure. If this administration's ability to drag us into any more wars we don't need to fight with countries that didn't attack us or threaten us, that is a good thing.
posted by y2karl at 11:42 PM on March 28, 2004


In the latter case, very possibly, if you count 'Massachusetts' as a state.

So are you saying that the state of Massachusetts was giving the IRA money under the table? Or are you saying that a large number of people living in the state of Massachusetts were giving the IRA money under the table?

This is an important distinction, because in the first case that would be "state-sponsored" terrorism, and in the second case it would not be.

In the first case, if Britain invaded Massachusetts and overthrew the government, it would stop the funding of the IRA. In the second case, it wouldn't. Certainly it might make it harder for individuals to make donations in the short run, but by kicking over the government you wouldn't actually stop the funding of the IRA by these individuals.
posted by moonbiter at 12:16 AM on March 29, 2004


What about if Britain called MA and told them that unless they stopped the funding, regardless of source, they would be invaded? This is basically the standing offer extended to any state today. Syria and Libya, both former antagonists, are now falling over themselves to do whatever Washington wants.
States are easy to pressure, so that is where the pressure gets applied. These particular states are also in a better position to move against terrorists. US intelligence is worse than Syrian intelligence, at least when it comes to tracking Syrians. So pressure gets put on Syria to act where the US cannot.
Go back 200 years and you will find the same thing happened wrt piracy. States had great difficulty cornering pirates, but pirates needed ports to sell their goods, get their ships fixed, etc. So navies found that pressuring states was easier than tracking down pirates.
posted by ednopantz at 5:30 AM on March 29, 2004


States are easy to pressure, so that is where the pressure gets applied.
But that's the problem--it's not at all effective, really. Funding for terror, and terror itself, is not at all drying up because we put pressure on Syria or Libya. I could wire/transfer/send money anywhere in the world in an instant--we all can, and putting pressure on a state won't stop that at all. If you're going to pressure a state at all, pressure the state that provides the most funding--Saudi Arabia. Even that won't stop it tho. Were the Madrid bombers even funded by overseas money? I don't think they needed it to do what they did.
posted by amberglow at 6:00 AM on March 29, 2004


There were never any plans by this administration to invade that nuclear state. They could try to give the bomb to every Tom, Dick and Harry plus North Korea in the Mideast, get caught, put out the phoniest It was all Dr. Khan's doing alibi and we look away and whistle. Because a nuclear Pakistan under Musharraf is preferable to an Al Qaeda Pakistan with nuclear weapons.

your gullable and naive.

so, we invade pakistan and Saudi Arabia?

(see these two froth and flail, it is fun)
posted by clavdivs at 7:16 AM on March 29, 2004


so, we invade pakistan and Saudi Arabia?

clavdivs: Making you wrong by self-serving interpetations and cheap insults since 1999.
posted by y2karl at 8:06 AM on March 29, 2004


FUN, i say. answer the question idiot.

invade pakistan and Saudi Arabia?
posted by clavdivs at 8:32 AM on March 29, 2004


Are Amberglow, read the second bit. States like Syria are really good at stopping transnational wire transfers and by such high tech methods as kicking a the sender's door in and dragging them off to a basement for great unpleasantness. The state centric approach is in part about getting these states to use their nasty methods to America's advantage.

The Madrid bombers, to use your example, were seem to have been Moroccans who were well known to Moroccan intelligence. Spain had suspended cooperation with Morocco over that silly island dispute, and thus missed the crucial information. These guys should have been caught long before the bombs went off, but the two states bungled it. So far from undermining the "get others to do your work for you" argument it reinforces it. The Spanish just put too low a priority on the process.

There are two kinds of states in the region: states that are at war with Jihadist movements and states that think they can live with them. Morocco, Egypt, Jordan, etc. are at war with the Jihadists while trying to placate the less violent Islamists. (look what Mubarak did to the JI, but how he tolerates the creeping "hijabization" of society) The others (Syria, for example) try to use jihadist groups as a tool of foreign policy. (The Saudis think they are somewhere in the middle, although that seems to be changing [as fast as anything in The Kingdom changes], thanks to the compound bombings.)

The former don't need to be threatened. The threats are directed at the latter. The Saudis could use a figurative slap upside the head.
posted by ednopantz at 8:41 AM on March 29, 2004


What the hell is your problem, claudius? Is it not overwhelmingly clear that it's rhetorical question? I've got ot say that you argumentative tactic of late--spewing some gibberish sandwiched between insults--is really pretty impressive. I'd like to give it a try:

y2karl, you are a fuckmonkey. Why don't you try to answer the reeeeeelqvestyun? again i say---FOOL!---that interest rates drop in my mind.

Moron.

How'd I do?
posted by Ignatius J. Reilly at 8:45 AM on March 29, 2004


good, now answer the question.
posted by clavdivs at 9:03 AM on March 29, 2004


I think the Moroccans could have done Madrid even if both Spain and Morocco were cooperating (although I totally and completely agree that we need more cooperation bet. countries). Until we learn how to work with other countries as part of the same team, threatening, invading, or even sanctioning won't help. Looking at countries as if they're responsible, or as if they have actual control over possible terrorists in their midst is a fool's game. Only sharing intelligence can do anything, as you said, and that's not something that happens thru threats.
posted by amberglow at 9:07 AM on March 29, 2004


oh, speaking of sharing info...
posted by amberglow at 9:15 AM on March 29, 2004


Only sharing intelligence can do anything, as you said, and that's not something that happens thru threats.
Actually, it does. The Libyans and Syrians aren't suddenly desperate to be chummy with Washington because they love Texas bbq. Fear is a powerful motivator.
posted by ednopantz at 9:20 AM on March 29, 2004


your gullable and naive.

Your gullible and naive what?

But seriously, anyone with $50 can make an explosive powerful enough to take out a small building. You don't need the "support" of an entire country, or even like-minded affluent crazies. I don't know what it's going to take to get this very simple concept through some rather thick skulls, but I have a feeling FPP's aren't going to cut it (no offense to you, Ig.)

Unless the Patriot Act Mark 3 requires the installation of monitoring equipment at every location on Earth (I know, we can call them telescreens!), terrorists will never be stopped.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 9:47 AM on March 29, 2004


But seriously, anyone with $50 can make an explosive powerful enough to take out a small building. You don't need the "support" of an entire country, or even like-minded affluent crazies.

Definitely, but if those same people were to wrest control of a state--say, oh, Pakistan--then they would have ICBMs with nuclear warheads, which is not something that anyone with $50 could do. For the reason you stated above--one needn't have state sponsorship in order to be a terrorist--it is easy to conclude, I think, that there is a much greater threat from terrorist-sponsored states than from state-sponsored terrorists, right?

and clavdivs-
What is the question? Should we invade Pakistan and Saudi Arabia right now? No. Do you think we should?
posted by Ignatius J. Reilly at 10:12 AM on March 29, 2004




Should we invade Pakistan and Saudi Arabia right now?

according to many, we already have by having troops quartered in said countries.
posted by clavdivs at 10:21 AM on March 29, 2004


good, now answer the question.
posted by Ignatius J. Reilly at 10:36 AM on March 29, 2004


umm...your an idiot?
posted by clavdivs at 10:46 AM on March 29, 2004


does anyone remember clavdivs?
posted by mcsweetie at 3:56 PM on March 29, 2004


I say it's best to ignore people who think they are cryptic and mysterious and brilliant, but are actually just trying to mask middling intelligence and tired ideas.

Zakaria is a good writer though and I like reading his stuff. In general I tend to agree with ednopantz, that fear is a powerful motivator-- the question is, though, when does that fear run out? It has a shorter lifespan than administrations would like. A two-part approach involving fear and membership to some sort of economic/political club and/or other institutions is probably best.

The executive branch and the NSA, CIA, etc. is usually better at this than the congress, hence the Syria accountability act, the proposal to send ANWAR oil to foreign countries, etc. On the point of getting other countries to do what is in our interest, I trust the professionals in the Foreign and Secret Service, those dudes are pros no matter who is in the congress or oval office.
posted by chaz at 4:24 PM on March 29, 2004


Fear only works when it can be backed up with action, I think--Now that we're mired in Iraq for who knows how long, what actions could we take? We've shown the world that we'll do diplomacy with countries that have nukes, and that we'll ignore bad shit that countries do if they have oil. We have no coherent stand from which to strike fear anymore.
posted by amberglow at 4:40 PM on March 29, 2004


just trying to mask middling intelligence and tired ideas.

that fear is a powerful motivator

the question is, though, when does that fear run out?

middling huh?

The executive branch and the NSA
The NSA is part of the DOD hence part of the executive branch.

I trust the professionals in the Foreign and Secret Service
ok.

point taken mcsweetie. What happened? i've been a raging prick.
i will try to improve.

We have no coherent stand from which to strike fear anymore.

this is a good statement and a good point.
are "we" there yet?
posted by clavdivs at 7:35 PM on March 29, 2004


I dunno...I'm not convinced we need to--or should use--fear. I like the "speak softly" part better than the "big stick" part.
posted by amberglow at 7:46 PM on March 29, 2004


make that need to--or should--use fear
posted by amberglow at 7:48 PM on March 29, 2004


I dunno...I'm not convinced we need to--or should use--fear.

I think we should use fear to the extent that we want foreign governments to fear supporting terrorism. But it's not always so simple as "supporting terrorism " as it is a basic intertmingling of the fundamentalist religious activist base and members of the government, or in the case of Saudi Arabia, the royal family. (The U.S.'s continuing relationship with the House of Saud is, to my mind, working against us in the war on terror.) Government officials take lunch with fanatical Islamic jurists, and their interests naturally coincide, much in the same way that, in the U.S., government officials go duck hunting with fanatical Christian Supreme Court justices...

A two-part approach involving fear and membership to some sort of economic/political club and/or other institutions is probably best.

Absolutely. "Deal them in," as they say, give them a stake and a say (even if a lil wee one) in the global order.
posted by Ty Webb at 8:09 PM on March 29, 2004


(The U.S.'s continuing relationship with the House of Saud is, to my mind, working against us in the war on terror.)
Totally.

As for dealing them in, how would that help stop/reduce terrorism? We tend to talk about dealing people in (as in Iraq contracts) but don't really give other countries a real stake. Would countries that have citizens that support terrorist activities actually believe us, or do anything about those citizens?
posted by amberglow at 8:22 PM on March 29, 2004


The U.S.'s continuing relationship with the House of Saud is, to my mind, working against us in the war on terror.

Well, it can go either way. If you remove support for the Saudi government, you risk a rise to power of some really fanatical elements that could turn Saudi Arabia into another Algeria. If you back the royals, you earn the disdain of said fanatics, and become a target of their anger.

I prefer stability over idealism any day of the week. Saudi Arabia (and Egypt) are run with a pretty heavy fist, but it is an unfortunate necessity in those regions (one reason Saddam was way more successful at ruling the various disparate groups inside Iraq than we will ever be). The idea (should) be to gradually release the grip over a period of decades -- get the people used to the fundementals of democracy and the responsibilities it entails, then slowly loosen the reigns and let the "people" eventually take over.

This won't happen within a single presidential term, however, but the powers that be seem intent on quick fixes and the firestorm that follows. What's really sad is that the one country I would most like to see the U.S. support wholeheartedly -- Iran -- is the one that is either ignorantly grouped in with places like North Korea, or just ignored altogether. In Iran you see the real formative elements of a stable democracy, but we have so far been unwilling to invest ourselves in the democratic movements that have been unfolding over the past few years.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 9:00 PM on March 29, 2004


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