Analysis on hindsight from the perspective of hindsight

I am a firm believer that the dedicated asymmetric war fighter generally adapts his or her fighting style to its enemy’s defenses.  Unfortunately, finding a whole in the security of a country as large and open as the United States is not hard and our intelligence and governmental structures should not be completely at fault should the enemy achieve a surprise attack. In this regard, I agree with Judge Pilsner.  Especially, when he states something to the effect that we have plugged the pre 9-11 security wholes and dealt with some of the intelligence stove piping issues, yet, what stops another enemy from attacking from a different unforeseen direction or even the same enemy attacking in another unseen way.   I believe that our country has changed in manners that make other terror attacks less likely but certainly not impossible.

 What the 9-11 Commission Report Does Well

 Reading Judge Posner’s critique stole some of my thunder in this section but, as we stated in class and as Judge Posner seconded the 9-11 Commission Report is primarily written extremely well for a government document.  An American with a patriotic desire to understand what happened should come away from the report with a darn good idea.   But, as a policy document we may want to view the report as a better descriptive account then having concrete, well researched and easily executable policy prescriptions or directives.  With the new benefit of hindsight not only of the attacks but our policy responses to the attacks we now understand that the separation of the DCI position from CIA and the creation of the Director of National Intelligence position did not follow with exceptionally good appointments to that office.  Especially, when the office now competes with the household name such as David Petraeus at CIA.

 As an Arabic linguist in the National Guard and a former Arabic student at UT I find the statistic of four degrees granted in all of the United States in the Arabic language extremely astonishing.  Having grown up in post 9-11 military intelligence I have had the opportunity to see how the military at least bolstered and strengthened their language programs and language assets.  From the massive hiring of clearable heritage speakers to serve in controlled access facilities to developing more difficult and stringent proficiency tests for all ready trained linguists, I feel that the military, at least properly deployed recourses to bolster Arabic language capabilities.  However, I am not sure rather or not they can boast the same success in other OEF related languages. 

 Given the purported provincial mindedness of the American people and the probable lack of Arabic//Middle East professionals at least comparable to the current level, I can see the difficulty of having to assign relative importance to bits of information and sources especially when working with limited well trained manpower.  Of course, my supposition is based largely on conjecture, as I do not know the assets that the agencies possessed at the time, it does seem logical.   While many may disagree with my following statement, I believe it largely to be true.  I believe that culture is inextricably tied to language and langue to be inextricably tied to culture.  Thus, for an analyst to be effective in dealing with Middle East terror, Arabic is a necessary prerequisite.  While this is a rather silly anecdote on a small scale, I feel it to be important nonetheless.  When I was deployed to Iraq, as a young soldier, I saw black fabric with gold letters strewn across many different buildings.  In my non Arabic reading mind this was propaganda with intelligence value.  However, they were actually eulogies for recent deaths within the neighborhood.  I’m sure if folks saw me I went a long way in the winning hearts and minds department.  On a larger scale though, it is the analysts responsibility to properly brief policy makers with the depth of cultural knowledge that he or she has gained throughout his or her career.  Without this, the non Arabic speaking policy maker may not actually have a proper understanding of the implications of simple raw intelligence.  Some of these factors may have played a role in the FBI not pursuing the FISA warrant to search the electronic data found in the property of Moussaui.  It certainly played a role in the aggrandizement of misinformation coming from Baghdad, which ultimately led to catastrophic policy decisions.

 A CT Policy Prescription for the future:

While I do not believe that the restructuring of the IC leads to a situation where future attacks are impossible, I do believe that the more steps we take as a country to constantly improve our intelligence and security capabilities based on our operational knowledge of our enemies and our ability to think outside the box and ascribe some recourses to thinking outside the box will ultimately make us safer.  Posner warns against preparing for the last attack as much as military theorists warn against preparing for the last war.  I will proffer this, employing our returning veterans with years of experience in Iraq and Afghanistan within the counterterrorism/homeland security communities will leave us safer at home. 

At one time our experiences within the home countries of al-Qaida style terrorists were extremely limited.  Now we have soldiers that largely understand how to operate and interact with Arab urban environments and in the case of Afghnistan, traditional training grounds of terrorist groups.  I also think through years of intelligence collection within the respective AO’s on the part of military civilians and G.I.’s we are left with a much clearer picture of these areas.  Since, the 9/11 attacks and for that matter Pearl Harbor proved that the most successful method of attack on the United States is the surprise attack it only makes sense to further employ the patriots that are currently in the field.  The enemy may be different but, the knowledge of the institutional processes and the connection between intelligence and tactical operations largely will remain the same. 

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Who’s the Terrorist?



This week’s readings touch at the heart of several themes surrounding the way we look at terrorism, its roots, our early national responses to terrorism, and how we, as a country define terrorism.  The Neftali reading provided us the nascent history of intelligence and what we classify as the beginning of the United States’ effort to conduct signals intelligence analysis in conjunction with the British x2 project.   Both the Hoffman and the Neftali readings trace through the history of terrorism throughout the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.  Where both parties, historically, have used “terrorism” in order to effect the political balance of the region.  The Israelis employed terrorist attacks against the British occupation under the mandate and arguably continue to “terrorize” the Palestinian population of Gaza through the use of the same type of siege tactic employed in Europe throughout the dark ages.  While the Palestinian Liberation Organization and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine conducted large-scale airliner hijackings, assassinations, rocket attacks, and bombings, all targeted at Israeli populations.  In short, depending on what side of the issue you fall on, you are the occupier and the occupied, the terrorist and the terrorized, the victim and the perpetrator or you part of the rising and extremely nuanced middle ground caught in the cycle of deadly violence.  This is why the “conflict” provides the perfect prism through which to challenge and analyze our definitions and conceptions of terrorism.   

 The Definition of Terrorism

 Hoffman sites the use of term “terreur” in conjunction with Robespierre’s regime de la terreur. I find this at once ironic and extremely interesting.  As our media and society struggle with juggling terms in attempting to differentiate between state-sponsored violence and violence perpetrated by non-state actors, the first popular use of the term terror was used in conjunction with the French revolution’s violent purge of the landed class and other perceived enemies of the revolution.  Hoffman claims that the terror applied by the French Revolution is a divergence from the modern meaning of “terrorism” however, he continues to explain that is shares two traits with modern “terrorism:” it was organized and systematic, and its goal was “a new and better and society.”  However, I personally challenge the concept that governments, who employ their legal monopoly of power for the purpose of terrorizing their own or foreign civilian populations are engaged in the act of institutionalized terrorism.

 As Hoffman discusses the changing definition of terrorism throughout history, he ultimately concludes that labeling a group, as a “terrorist” group is at once a pejorative and a subjective judgment.  This is inextricably linked to our aversion to label activities directly conducted by a sovereign state as “terrorism” of course, with exception to several of President Bush’s infamous speeches.  Generally, labeling a group as a “terrorist” organization infers that you disagree with the organization’s mission and the means that the organization may use to accomplish this mission.  It is well known that American Foreign Policy during the cold war leaned toward supporting the non-state actor’s use of violence in order to overthrow communist leaning government; hence, the hackneyed armchair historian’s reminder that the United States armed the “terrorists” in Afghanistan.   However, at this point most violent national separatist organizations or single-issue violent non-state actors simply fall under the umbrella of a terrorist organization per the U.S. Government and the practice of actively supporting them seems rare even in some of the more dire situations.

 The Successful use of Terrorism in Palestine

 Both Hoffman and Neftali site successful uses of terrorism within Palestine on the part of the Jews and the Palestinians.  Hoffman includes the history of the Irgun’s revolt against the occupation of Great Britain during the period of the Palestine mandate.  Essential the Irgun, headed by Menachem Begin, conducted a militant campaign against the British administrative and military presence. He was primarily fueled by the British White Paper that established a minimal quota system aimed at thwarting rampant Jewish immigration to the area.  Hoffman quotes Begin’s description of the Irgun strategy as being aimed at British prestige in Palestine.  Ultimately, after killing 91 people in the bombing of the King David hotel, Britain’s HQ during the mandate period, the cost of retaining and enforcing the mandate became to expensive for the British empire.  As Hoffman states, the Irgune did not have to win a war of attrition in Palestine they simply needed to bend the resolve of the occupier.  This ultimately became a popular strategy in irregular warfare worldwide.  Should the irregular war fighter have more resolve and be willing to incur a greater cost than the occupier/conventional government force they have a much better chance in achieving their political end through irregular asymmetric violence. 

 Hoffman underlines the 68 El Al hijacking as a watershed event in the history of terrorism.  For the first time, planes were hijacked for the purpose of making an international political statement.  It involved the international media and forced Israel to speak with representatives from the PFLP.  Of course the hostage situation in Munich occurred in a scene that included the world’s media and sent the Palestinian cause through the mainstream media.  The startling aspects of the attacks, of course, were the striking success they had at achieving their political goals.  Hoffman states that thousands joined the militant arms of the PLO, Yasir Arafat addressed the UN General Assembly and they were grated observer states at the UN.  Thus, a controversial takeaway from Munich is that terrorism can work as a political and military weapon.  Should we hold that warfare is simply politics by other means, and terrorism works to achieve concrete political objectives, it maybe in the best interest of the war fighter to consider limited terrorist tactics when forced to fight irregularly.  Of course, as Hoffman later notes terrorism tends to turn the court of public opinion against you.  In this case the organization conducting terrorist activities may actually lose the intended political objective of the attack. 

 Upon reading both Hoffman’s and Neftali’s accounts of the history of the struggle for Palestine, I am left conflicted – as many are.  Many policy questions exist within the struggle that strikes the heart of how we view and define terrorism.  On one hand, I am left wondering as to what recourse did Palestinian resistance have but to resort to violence.  Also, from my perspective as an American soldier, I would hope that should I feel my home to be occupied by a foreign aggressor that I would take action against the occupier.  In Arabic, two words often employed referring to the Israeli state that comes to mind is al-ihtilal  occupation) and nakba ( catastrophe – referring to Israeli independence).  Thus, at least linguistically I know that Arabs hold this general viewpoint toward the Israeli state.  Throughout the history of the conflict, Palestinians were left at the behest of Arab governments to do their primary bidding and major operations against the Israeli state.  The Palestinian cause also became a chosen cause for Arab dictators to use in order to demonstrate their Arabness.  Due to the lack of a sovereign state any violent action perpetrated by Palestinians against Israeli soldiers is primarily viewed as an act of terrorism rather than an act of war.  However, on the other side of the coin the legal monopoly over violence that the Israeli government enjoys largely shields the country from most prosecution when it comes to allegations of war crimes or using a disproportionate amount of violence to redress grievances.  While I agree that indiscriminate rocket attacks from Gaza, bombing public transportation, and high traffic public areas are acts of deplorable terrorism and do more harm to the Palestinian cause than good, they do not have the right to the legal use of violence and therefore do not have another avenue, outside of diplomacy, to redress what many view to be legitimate legal grievances. 

 CT VS. Conventional Warfare

 The relevant ambivalence that the U.S. government had toward aircraft hijackings is amazing to the post 9-11 reader.  Neftali outlines a previous M.O. of simply allowing hijackers to take planes and have them flown to Cuba where, the hijacker would receive a degree of immunity from the Castro government.  I found these stories to be rather humorous and at least mildly entertaining.  On a more serious note, as we look at the roots of our nascent counterterrorism (CT) efforts, I feel that we are coming full circle on the issue.  Since we have held conventional and nuclear superiority over our enemies for years, it makes sense that those that wish to attack the U.S. would do so through unconventional means.  Enemies would naturally attempt to strike at the softest points of our defenses and avoid fights requiring attrition.  The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have forced leaders and soldiers to become as proficient as possible in combating irregular forces and ambush type of attacks at the possible expense of future conventional superiority.  With our current budgetary issues and the President’s recent announcement with Secretary Penneta it seems that our recourse will be used to increase our CT efforts at the further expense of our conventional superiority.  Future policy implications of these decisions obviously remain to be seen. 











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