Tuesday, January 19, 2010

While I had a great plan for my first D&D blogpost, it is tough to get scooped by the WSJ, NYT, TPM, and Jarret Brachman. Thus, my amazing piece on AQ joining the big-boy counterintelligence leagues through mole-running has since passed its prime, all while I wiled away my weekend in a shitty B&B in NH (never stay there).

Instead, there is something incredibly important that has happened today. Senator Elect Scott Brown (R-MA), has become a symbol -- and a worrying symbol for all of us interested in Counter-Terrorism. Below is my open letter to him.

Dear Mr. Senator Elect:

The “independent majority” thing aside, there are a few things you need to know before you decide to keep spouting off about waterboarding, Gitmo, that pesky ‘rule of law’ and civilian trials issue, and all the rest – you have toed your Roveian, Cheneyian line on “international” security, but, as Beau has so aptly pointed out here, you have a lot of flash, but not too much substance.

Tonight, you told us that our "tax dollars should be spent on weapons to stop them [terrorists], not on lawyers to protect them." You need to think harder on this. Here are some things to think about:

  1. On 22 October, 2009, Mr. Terek Mehanna of Sudbury MA was arrested while plotting to carry out sniper-style attacks on Massachusetts shopping malls. Mr. Mehanna is an American citizen, and while he sought support and training from Al Qaeda Central, he was unsuccessful in doing so. This appears to not have deterred Mr. Mehanna, who intended to arm himself and carry out his terrorist attack on his own initiative.

  1. On 5 November, 2009, Major Nidal Hassan (US Army) killed 13 and wounded 38 during a shooting spree at a military processing center located on Ft. Hood US Army Base, Killeen TX.

  1. On Christmas Day, 2009 – a middle class Nigerian gentleman lit his underoos on fire.

This has gotten serious. In the past few years, the number of plots targeting the West have originated not from the AQ hardcore in Waziristan, nor from AQAP in Yemen, but from isolated, online, angry groups of young men (and women) who seek to replicate the actions of the Global Jihad Movement. Waterboarding AQ Global Jihadis, detaining them, renditioning them, and disapearing them, will NOT deterr Al Qaeda's "new wave", instead, it will strengthen the movement.

The “new wave” of Al Qaeda (if we can call it such) rising in the West is comprised of homegrown, self-radicalized Western citizens who have taken up the call to jihad. This new wave of Al Qaeda is decidedly different from past iterations in three primary ways:

They are citizens of the countries they desire to attack, and have lived in these countries for a majority of their lives.

In the past seven years, multiple terror cells have been identified and neutralized in Spain, the UK, France, Belgium, Germany, Italy and Greece. Europe has also fallen victim to multiple terrorist incidents from the murder of Theo Van Gogh in the Netherlands, to the 7/7 and Madrid bombings in the UK and Spain. Each of these groups were comprised of European nationals who had self-radicalized, and carried out their attacks largely on their own initiative, without prompting or aid from Al Qaeda Central in Afghanistan/Pakistan. They are reacting to their families’ (only sometimes) perceived marginalization within Western European states, along with their perception of a Western waged War on Islam.

They have little or no direct contact with Al Qaeda hierarchy.

Al Qaeda Central did not target these men for recruitment, but instead has, more recently, taken a passive approach to jihad – allowing their ideology and grand narrative to attract men like these to “apply” for training and aid only after they have self-radicalized and selected possible targets. It is likely that even without this training, these men would carry out attacks without any tangible aid from Al Qaeda – possibly with larger consequences, since many were identified and apprehended as a result of their travel to Pakistan, thus eliminating or mitigating their effectiveness. In fact, it stands to reason that Al Qaeda Central will continue to maximize its passivity with these groups, limiting or eliminating any direct geographic contact or tangible funding, so as to avoid future detection of their members by Western security personnel.

They are strengthened, rather than weakened, by US military action in Iraq and the Af/Pak regions.

While US military actions have, to some degree, limited the threats presented by groups like Al Qaeda Central to US civilians and critical infrastructure, these actions have had the opposite effect on radicalized and radicalizing individuals in Europe. The images of Americans killing Muslims (be they radicals or otherwise) inflames these young men, and further convinces them of the accuracy of Al Qaeda’s grand narrative.

The presence of Western troops in Muslim regions further creates the perception of a Global Crusade, and provides these men misguided justifications for their own violent aspirations. These men are further radicalized by their own perceptions of being equal victims of Western aggression due to their own marginalization within European society. Furthermore, these men are able to act independently from Al Qaeda Central, and thus are not impeded by military actions intended to isolate men like bin Laden and al Zawahiri from their overseas cells. In fact, US military operations have strengthened these groups by swelling their ranks with local, home-grown recruits and financial sources.

These new terror cells represent a clear danger to Western civilians. Not only are they not dissuaded or deterred by Western military operations and "quasi-legal" detentions, they are emboldened by them. Furthermore, they present a much more dangerous group of operatives, due to their familiarity with Western culture, language, values and local infrastructures. They are able to travel freely and covertly within the West, and are incredibly difficult to detect until they have entered the final preparations for their attacks. They present a challenge that cannot be defeated with military action.

But, what can be done immediately to defeat the dangers presented by the UndieBomber and the serious cadres of ‘angry young men’? How can the threat they present be mitigated, or stopped altogether? It seems to me that the answer lies in 3 key areas:

The first two are too technical to enter into here (A Retasking of HUMINT, SIGINT, and Digital Monitoring). The third, sir, rests squarely in your bully pulpit’s jurisdiction.

We Need New Frameworks for Cooperation between Intelligence and Law Enforcement for Constitutional and Transparent Neutralization

The application of intelligence gained from new SIGINT and HUMINT sources will require the creation of new frameworks for cooperation between intelligence communities, local law enforcement, and judiciaries to ensure that these individuals and groups are neutralized through constitutional means, denying the dijihad of any examples of perceived Western anti-Islamic aggression or racial hypocrisy. In this, transparency will be key in shaping the perceptions of minority populations within the west.

This effort is critical, since a failure to accomplish this goal will result in the ‘hydrafication’ of Al Qaeda-oriented terrorism. Should one head be cut off poorly, two may grow in its place. These actors must be proven criminals, not ‘disappeared martyrs’. The process in which these self-starters are neutralized must be seen as objective, swift, and constitutional.

Intelligence Operatives may collect and analyze data, but it must be Law Enforcement Officials who carry out arrests, and Judicial Authorities that try and imprison suspects. Any system that deviates from this framework will inculcate – within a sector of the population -- a sense that secretive Western governments are waging war not on terrorists, but Islam itself, and are doing so through shadowy means. This will not only be counterproductive, but likely lead to a growth in dijihad activity, and more self-starter terrorists.

Think hard on this, Mr. Senator Elect -- your defense of waterboarding, rejection of civilian trials, and Tea-Baggerish support of a Cheneyish National Security Paradigm will make us LESS SAFE against the most likely threats to this Nation, not the opposite.

Good Luck Sir. Good Luck to Us All.

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