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The End of the Beginning of the War on Terror

Terrorists did not disappear with Bush's departure. Here's how Obama could hasten their defeat.

by
Sergio Rodriguera Jr.

Bio

January 31, 2009 - 12:00 am

The War on Terror did not start on 9/11. We can argue semantics, but until the ongoing struggle against extremists materially changes we will continue to use the aforementioned name. And with a new administration, al-Qaeda does not seem to sit idle while President Obama instills new initiatives to combat them. The second in command of al-Qaeda, Ayman al-Zawahiri, continues to mock and belittle the United States in front of his supporters. It is safe to conclude that al-Qaeda will not give the new president a honeymoon and will continue to find ways of attacking us. In the years since the attacks on our homeland in New York City, Pennsylvania, and the Pentagon, we must remain vigilant against terrorist networks around the world. We must fight this network with our own network.

President Bush and his administration implemented many initiatives and programs to ensure the safety of all Americans. Today, there are countless arguments and debates on surveillance and torture. However, one counterterrorism measure that does not garner front-page coverage has been our enhanced efforts to counter threat finance and develop financial intelligence. The Obama administration would be wise to continue to use these tools to disrupt and deter our enemies.

Since the Clinton administration, there have been efforts to follow the money and disrupt terrorist networks’ ability to fund their activities. In October 1999, the State Department encouraged the United Nations to enact Security Council Resolution 1267 against the Taliban and Osama bin Laden. This resolution gives countries the legal authority to freeze assets of known terrorists or those who support terrorists. However, it was President Bush who increased efforts dramatically. As a result our government now attacks the financial networks of criminals and terrorists with all elements of national power.

In seizing financial assets, as in drug seizures, the total cumulative dollar amount captured annually does little to reflect the progress of law enforcement. It is difficult to devise and employ metrics to gauge how the government is performing on this effort. Does more money being seized mean we are successful against more targets? Or, rather, is there so much being circulated in the global financial network that we are only scratching the surface?

Experience has taught us that we have little ability to stop an individual from gaining the knowledge to use or obtain minimal funding to strap on a suicide vest and create harm to a small populace. However, we can make it difficult for a network seeking to acquire a bomb or, more alarming, a nuclear weapon by disrupting the means by which they intend to transport such a weapon. Furthermore, we can make it harder for that money launderer who wishes to facilitate a potential attack against our forces overseas or on our homeland. We can make them think twice about using a bank they previously had been comfortable with or force them to settle a transaction in cash, which might just be lost during transportation. A postponement of this kind could allow our government network to use all elements of intelligence to deter such an attack. That type of disruption is difficult to quantify or measure.

There are a number of steps we can take to enhance our capacity to disrupt terrorist networks in this way. First and foremost, the U.S. government must provide more resources to monitoring terrorist activity in places like East Africa, Southeast Asia, and South America. This battle is not confined to the Middle East. The new administration should look to our southern border and address the violence taking place there. The Mexican drug cartels wish to use fear as a means to intimidate law enforcement on both sides.

Another recommendation to the new administration would be to improve our network by using more inter-agency working groups where all elements of national power can be used. The military and intelligence agencies continue to do excellent work analyzing information from sources around the world. The Departments of Homeland Security and the Treasury are encouraging other nations to follow their lead on financial intelligence. The last administration started to knock down the walls between agencies. It would be prudent for President Obama and his team to continue doing so.

In addition, we must lean on many of the countries which lack the political will to enforce international regulatory sanctions and resolutions. With a new president in office, he should push undemocratic regimes to increase their transparency and openness like he has pledged to do in our country. (For example, he should push Iran to allow international inspectors into their country to verify their nuclear ambitions.) Until then, our government is limited to using actions such as targeted financial sanctions against individuals or companies who seek to employ this method of violence.

We are in a struggle that did not cease when President Bush left office. Our efforts in Afghanistan and Iraq are battles in the overall struggle against worldwide terror networks. And if we are to be successful we must attack the lifeblood of any enterprise — its funding.  As Winston Churchill stated after victory at El Alameinin in North Africa in November 1942, “It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.”

Sergio Rodriguera Jr. is currently serving in Afghanistan as a special forces liaison officer to ISAF headquarters and is a former counterterrorism advisor at the Department of Defense and the Department of Treasury.
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