Realism Urgently Needed - Or Not?
September 16, 2001 3:29 PM   Subscribe

Realism Urgently Needed - Or Not? David Ignatius's column today in The Washington Post addresses the question of effectiveness in the war against terrorism. He tells the sobering story of the CIA's collaboration with the terrorist Ali Hassan Salameh. The downside: "The most obvious (lesson) is that collecting intelligence about terrorists is a truly dirty business. This world cannot be penetrated without help from members or friends of the terrorist network". The upside: "Paradoxically, these tragic days have probably been an ideal time for the CIA to be recruiting new sources of intelligence about terrorism. The barbaric attacks Tuesday aroused disgust around the world --- not least among civilized Muslims. Some of these disgusted Muslims will surely want to help the United States and its allies put the terrorists out of business." The crucial moral question: It's really a classic means/ends debate. Is it right - or just acceptably expedient - to collaborate with known terrorists in order to strike out at those we don't yet(or otherwise will never) know about?
posted by MiguelCardoso (12 comments total)
In 1995, the CIA brass ordered that no more dealings be done with anyone who was a "human rights violator," which of couse means that we were no longer allowed to gather intelligence from most people in the Islamic fundamentalist terrorist realm. I have no idea if this insane victory of touchy-feeliness over reality was put in place on order of the Clinton Administration or if it was purely an internal matter, but the order needs to be removed. Yesterday. As Cheney just said a few hours ago, "We need to have on the payroll some very unsavory characters. ... It is a mean, nasty, dangerous and dirty business and we have to operate in that arena."
posted by aaron at 3:51 PM on September 16, 2001

Our enemies also act in the name of God.

Robertson, Buchanan, et al., were right: there is a cultural war.

It is a war between those who look to material, progressive action (the old Liberal Democratic idea, in the history-of-ideas sense, not the modern-alingment connotations), and those who seek totalizing eschatological politics.

It is a war we have fought in our own government. Remeber James Watt saying we don't need environmental action because the Lord is coming?

The local newspaper published a letter just last week from a fellow arguing (deductively) that we CAN'T destroy the environment. Because God will destroy the world: it says so in the Book. Therefore we can't.

DDT? Nuclear war? No problem, dude, - it's all in God's plan.

The environment isn't germane here, it is just an example to describe the mentality we are up against.

That said, I want to remind you (and myself) that this has been a rant against fundamentalist religous extremists, not the vast majority of believers.
posted by crunchburger at 3:55 PM on September 16, 2001

Er...I was trying to post to the 'Religion Urgently Needed...Or Not?' thread.

Maybe it's not too off-topic here though.
posted by crunchburger at 4:21 PM on September 16, 2001

Er...I was trying to post to the 'Religion Urgently Needed...Or Not?' thread.

Maybe it's not too off-topic here though.
posted by crunchburger at 4:21 PM on September 16, 2001

I'm with aaron here: the 1995 decision was misguided because it didn't provide an effective alternative. An anonymous agent is quoted in today's Observer as saying that there was little capability or desire within the CIA to take up the slack: with the majority of the agency's staff very happy to commute to DC from Virginia, you weren't likely to find people in a position to live among the mujahedin.

Since the end of the Vietnam war, US administrations of both colours had frankly embarrassed themselves with their "black ops" The messiness of covert actions in Latin America, for instance, was self-evidently something that the CIA didn't want to repeat. Is there an alternative to covert ops? Probably not. There are undoubtedly multilateral structures that augment them: now, more than ever, is the time for a treaty to regulate tax havens. But Cheney's right: you have to play dirty. (Though you have to make sure that you keep your black dogs muzzled.) And in spite of myself, I'm sort of glad that he has plenty of experience doing so.
posted by holgate at 4:40 PM on September 16, 2001

The CIA must be jumping in their seats. At last they can do all that dirty work they were so inconveniently prevented from doing by previous legislation or executive order. Now that they have carte blanche, they'll go after anyone they damn well please, all in the name of...hell, in the name of whatever they want to call it.
posted by mapalm at 7:36 PM on September 16, 2001

I hope the CIA/FBI uses this "opportunity" to also infiltrate those who would commit acts of domestic terrorism (the militias, separatists) before they are able to accomplish anything.
posted by owillis at 7:45 PM on September 16, 2001

owillis, please tell us you're being subtly sarcastic. Please.
posted by ook at 8:15 PM on September 16, 2001

Somewhat. I don't have a problem with the FBI doing things like observing people violating ATF laws though.
posted by owillis at 8:48 PM on September 16, 2001

I do see your point. But it's a fine line, and the next few weeks would be a great opportunity for them to tromp way th'heck over to the wrong side. The idea of the FBI infiltrating what they feel are potentially subversive groups, tapping phones, reading email... just makes me itchy. And I'm not even all that subversive.

And don't even get me started on the CIA ;)
posted by ook at 9:14 PM on September 16, 2001

Eh? Aren't we speaking of getting spies into the groups? Isn't the electronic stuff what the article is arguing we have too much of? Infilitrating domestic groups shouldn't be too hard. They speak English and are Americans. We have people who come from their culture. With the Taliban, we'd be recruiting Arab agents/other terrorists to infilitrate them. In return for something, possibly something we might have been unwilling to give before 9.11.

[I quote from the article: "Part of what motivated Salameh to work with the CIA was the belief that America could help the PLO win its political goals. It was America's unique status -- a close ally of Israel but also a peace broker allied with moderates in the Arab world -- that allowed the intelligence relationship to work. Assets as valuable as Salameh can rarely be "bought." The motivation is deeper and more complex."]

Plus I highly doubt the Taliban, whose leader has rarely met non-Muslims, would welcome Americans into the group. I don't think this is as much an issue of the CIA not wanting to risk agents as the policy of the government against PR disasters. [The school of the Americas, the funding of insurgency groups with unclean methods, etc. ]

I wonder what the Israelis thought of the US's relationship with Ali Hassem Salameh. Will ordinary Americans accept alliances with those like one of the architects of Black September?
posted by Charmian at 10:21 PM on September 16, 2001

I was indulging in topic drift -- sorry.

As far as cozying up to terrorist A in order to get at terrorist B goes... seems like then you end up with terrorists C, D, and E to deal with, not to mention a much more well-funded A.

So, sure, might be expedient in the short term. But it doesn't sound like a very good plan to me.
posted by ook at 10:52 PM on September 16, 2001

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