There is a very important — one might even say life-and-death — distinction that should be made in considering U.S. counterterrorism policy. Certainly, U.S. forces have had many successes in stopping intended terrorist attacks against the United States. Yet there have also been a number of failures. How to distinguish what made the difference?
The successes in the post-September 11 era have come when the techniques of police and military work or intelligence-gathering were used against full-time terrorists. Indeed, an observer could sum up the handling of terrorism in the United States in the almost-decade since September 11 by saying there have been no major attacks, and the policy has been successful.
When it comes to organizations planning attacks, this approach works very well. But when the threat involves individuals or small groups being radicalized and perhaps joining or supporting terrorist groups, the record is much worse.
The weakness is in analysis, profiling, decision-making, and understanding the nature of the enemy ideology. As a result, there have been a number of smaller attacks, including some not counted at all by a government that wants to keep its batting average high, and some near-misses that were averted due more to luck than to skill.
In addition, a huge amount of money has been wasted and effort misdirected, as many are coming to see regarding the current methods of airport security.
In understanding these vital issues one can read no better work than Patrick Poole’s 10 Failures of the U.S. Government on the Domestic Islamist Threat. (Patrick Poole is a frequent PJM contributor.)
He provides ten case studies, each of which is hair-raising, and none of which, arguably, has led to major corrective action. At the root of each one is a failure or refusal to comprehend revolutionary Islamism or the bureaucratic fear of taking on the enemy. Moreover, some cases show how the other side has even gained political influence in America.
Consider Abdulrahman Alamoudi, the Muslim leader who most frequently visited the Clinton White House. Poole rightly describes Alamoudi as:
The most prominent Islamic activist leader in America at the time, he had infiltrated the highest levels of political power. … [He was asked] by the Defense Department to establish the military’s Muslim chaplain corps, and appointed by the State Department to serve as a civilian ambassador, taking six taxpayer-funded trips to the Middle East. … Just days after the 9/11 attacks, he appeared with President Bush and other Muslim leaders at a press conference at the Islamic Center of Washington, D.C. despite his public comments a year earlier at a rally just steps from the White House identifying himself as a supporter of the Hamas and Hezbollah terrorist organizations.
In July 2005 the Treasury Department revealed that Alamoudi had been one of al-Qaeda’s top fundraisers ….
Go back and reread the last two paragraphs. Shouldn’t this experience have created great skepticism about proclaiming Muslim leaders to be moderate without critically examining their record? Instead, the opposite has happened.
Then there was Ali Mohamed, a man who trained American soldiers on Arab culture and infiltrated the U.S. Army’s training program for intelligence officers in the Middle East. Simultaneously, he was teaching Islamist militants in the United States — including the cell that carried out the 1993 World Trade Center bombing — how to shoot and blow things up. Later, he became al-Qaeda’s chief military expert.
How might the Army have known to distrust this man? Well, he had been expelled from the Egyptian army because of his terrorist sympathies, and Egypt warned the United States about him.