CIA Insider: The Threat We Refuse to Get
Sunday, July 11, 2004; Page B01
Note from Outlook: He may be the best-known "Anonymous" man in Washington these days. Over the past two weeks, he has appeared for interviews -- always in the shadows, his face unseen -- on almost every national television network. He is a 23-year veteran of the CIA and the author of a new book, "Imperial Hubris: Why the West Is Losing the War on Terror." As a CIA employee, he had to submit his manuscript for agency review. The CIA allowed him and his Virginia publisher, Brassey's, to go ahead with the book on the condition that he maintain his anonymity.
By requiring him to withhold his identity but allowing him to publish as Anonymous, the CIA has actually drawn attention to the book (it briefly alighted on Amazon.com's best-selling top 10 last week). That prompted the Washington speculation machine to wonder whether the book somehow serves the CIA's interests.
At this point, his name is about the only basic biographical detail that hasn't become known. He writes in his book that he has spent most of his career at "headquarters," where he has worked as an analyst for the past 17 years, "focusing exclusively on terrorism, Islamic insurgencies, militant Islam and the affairs of South Asia." Other biographical details come from reporters and published reports: From 1996 until he was transferred in 1999, he was in charge of a special office set up to oversee the intelligence effort on Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda. His transfer wasn't voluntary; his blunt manner and strident views apparently did not sit well with some in the intelligence community, and he was taken off the al Qaeda portfolio. He returned to the counterterrorism field on Sept. 12, 2001, but not specifically to the al Qaeda desk. He has told interviewers that he wrote "Imperial Hubris" to send a message, and he minces no words in his criticism of White House and CIA leade rship. An example: He scorns "senior leaders" as "moral cowards" for ignoring warnings he says they received about al Qaeda.
An ardent critic of intelligence officials and political leaders who leak classified information to the media, he says that he used only unclassified material in writing the book.
Outlook selected portions from various sections of "Imperial Hubris," rather than a single excerpt, and condensed them to provide a more thorough picture of the book's arguments. The selections are grouped by subject.
Hated For Our Policies, Not Our Values
One of the greatest dangers for Americans in deciding how to confront the Islamist threat lies in continuing to believe -- at the urging of senior U.S. leaders -- that Muslims hate us and attack us for what we are and what we think, rather than for what we do. The Islamic world is not so offended by our democratic system of politics, guarantees of personal rights and civil liberties, and separation of church and state that it is willing to wage war against overwhelming odds to stop Americans from voting, speaking freely, and praying, or not, as they wish. With due respect for those who have concluded that we are hated for what we are, think and represent, I beg to disagree and contend that your conclusion is errant and potentially fatal nonsense.
While important voices in the United States claim the intent of U.S. policy is misunderstood by Muslims, they are wrong. America is hated and attacked because Muslims believe they know precisely what the United States is doing in the Islamic world. They know partly because of Osama bin Laden's words, partly because of satellite television, but mostly because of the tangible reality of U.S. policies. We are at war with an al Qaeda-led, worldwide Islamic insurgency to defend those policies -- and not, as President Bush mistakenly has said, "to defend freedom and all that is good and just in the world."
Keep in mind how easy it is for Muslims to hate the six U.S. policies bin Laden repeatedly refers to as anti-Muslim:
• U.S. support for Israel that keeps Palestinians in the Israelis' thrall.
• U.S. and other Western troops on the Arabian Peninsula.
• U.S. occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan.
• U.S. support for Russia, India and China against their Muslim militants.
• U.S. pressure on Arab energy producers to keep oil prices low.
• U.S. support for apostate, corrupt and tyrannical Muslim governments.
Only when U.S. leaders stop believing that bin Laden and his allies are attacking us for what we are and what we think can we put aside our ill-advised and hallucinatory crusade for democracy -- our current default response.
At that point, Americans can begin to intelligently discuss how this national security threat is to be defeated or, more precisely, to decide if status quo U.S. foreign policies toward the Islamic world benefit America enough to offset increasing levels of human and economic loss that will be the cost of unchanged policies. Victory, I think, lies in a yet undetermined mix of stronger military actions and dramatic foreign policy change; neither will suffice alone. Defeat for America, I fear, lies in the military and foreign status quo and the belief that our Islamic foes will be talked out of hating us and disappear if only we teach them voting procedures, political pluralism, feminism, and the separation of church and state.
Misunderstanding Bin Laden
My thesis is that the threat bin Laden poses lies in the coherence and consistency of his ideas, their precise articulation, and the acts of war he takes to implement them. That threat is sharpened by the fact that bin Laden's ideas are grounded in and powered by the tenets of Islam, divine guidelines that are completely familiar to most of the world's billion-plus Muslims and lived by them on a daily basis.
In the context of the ideas bin Laden shares with his brethren, the military actions of al Qaeda and its allies are acts of war, not terrorism; they are part of a defensive jihad sanctioned by the revealed word of God, as contained in the Koran, and the sayings and traditions of the Prophet Mohammed, the Sunnah. Bin Laden is out to drastically alter U.S. and Western policies toward the Islamic world. He is a practical warrior, not an apocalyptic terrorist in search of Armageddon.
Afghanistan and Iraq
I believe the war in Afghanistan was necessary, but is being lost because of our hubris. Those who failed to bring peace to Afghanistan after 1992 are now repeating their failure by scripting government affairs and constitution-making in Kabul to portray the birth of Western-style democracy, religious tolerance, and women's rights -- all anathema to Afghan political and tribal culture and none of which has more than a small, unarmed constituency. We are succeeding only in fooling ourselves. Certain that the Afghans want to be like us, and abstaining from effective military actions against growing numbers of anti-U.S. insurgents, we have allowed the Taliban and al Qaeda to regroup and refit. They are now waging an insurgency that gradually will increase in intensity, lethality, and popular support, and ultimately force Washington to massively escalate its military presence or evacuate. Due to our hubris, what we today identify and promote as a nascent Afghan democracy is a self-made illusion on life-support; it is a Western-imposed regime that will be swept away if America and its allies stop propping it up with their bayonets.
On Iraq, I must candidly say that I abhor aggressive wars like the one we waged there; it is out of character for America in terms of our history, sense of morality, and basic decency. This is not to argue that preemption is unneeded against immediate threats. Never in our history was preemptive action more needed than in the past decade against the lethal, imminent threat of bin Laden, al Qaeda, and their allies. But the U.S. invasion of Iraq was not preemption; it was -- like our war in Mexico in 1846 -- an avaricious, premeditated, unprovoked war against a foe who posed no immediate threat but whose defeat did offer economic advantages.
Insurgents or Terrorists?
The documents recovered from Afghan camps, the intelligence gained from prisoners of war, and, especially, the superb combat performance of al Qaeda and al Qaeda-trained units against U.S.-led forces show that the West has been wrong about the camps' main purpose for more than a decade. Al Qaeda's camps were staffed by veteran fighters who trained insurgents who fought, and trained others to fight, not only against the Northern Alliance in Afghanistan, but also against national armies in Indian Kashmir, Chechnya, Uzbekistan, Eritrea, Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Algeria, Tajikistan, Egypt, Bosnia, western China, Indonesia, Malaysia, Macedonia, Kosovo, and the Philippines. This is not to say the camps did not train terrorists; quite the contrary, given the 11 September attacks, they obviously trained the world's most talented terrorists. It is to say, however, that terrorist or urban warfare training was a small subset of the camps' primary training regimen.
Thus, al Qaeda had large numbers of fighters to disperse and protect after the U.S. invasion.
Al Qaeda Expansion
Al Qaeda's most important growth since the 11 September attacks has not been physical but has been, rather, its expansion into the Internet. Ironically, the United States and its allies have increased the appeal and presumed importance of the websites by repeatedly staging "information warfare attacks" on them, thereby forcing them off-line and making their producers hunt for new host servers. The UK-based Arabic daily Al-Hayat, for example, has reported that Al-Neda [one online site] has been the target of twenty U.S. attacks. These attacks have proven the viability of the U.S. military's information-warfare capability. In the end, however, the attacks are interpreted by Islamists as evidence of U.S. fear of what al Qaeda is saying, validation for bin Laden's claim that freedom of speech is not for Muslims, and have probably boosted readership.
War, Not Terrorism
For better and worse, America has fought wars for centuries. Since 11 September 2001, however, we collectively have behaved as if this war is our first. We have spent the past couple years making unmanageable federal government departments into gigantic unmanageable federal departments and embarrassing ourselves with endless, almost-daily cabinet-level statements that simultaneously exalt the great progress being made against al Qaeda and warn that the group is more of a threat than on 11 September.
It has been a dizzying, confusing, and, at times, a profoundly sophomoric performance. The conduct of war is never sedate, orderly, and silent, but it need not produce a cacophony of voices overstating small victories and downplaying a threat not yet grasped. Always tougher than their elites and never more so than now, workaday Americans do not need constant hand-holding and daily briefings from their leaders. They need quiet, confident performance that produces measurable progress and is reported without drama and hyperbole when leaders have something to say. Let us get on with the war and recall the power of silence. After all, bin Laden has us scared to death, and we have heard little from him since 2001.
Unchanged U.S. policies toward the Muslim world leave America only a military option for defending itself. And it is not the option of daintily applying military power as we have since 1991.
Killing in large numbers is not enough to defeat our Muslim foes. With killing must come a Sherman-like razing of infrastructure. Such actions will yield large civilian casualties, displaced populations, and refugee flows. Again, this sort of bloody-mindedness is neither admirable nor desirable, but it will remain America's only option so long as she stands by her failed policies toward the Muslim world.
Bin Laden is waging war while we fight him with counterterrorism policies dominated by law enforcement tactics and procedures. It hasn't worked, and won't. America fought terror from 1975 to 1995 mainly with its intelligence services. We have done the same with al Qaeda, with America's clandestine service inflicting damage magnitudes beyond anything we ever did to a "terrorist group," but al Qaeda can still use weapons of mass destruction in the United States. The battle with al Qaeda is plain old war, not an intelligence service-led counterterror campaign.
As practiced by the United States, counterterrorism is appeasement; it lets the enemy attack and survive, keeps allies sweet by staying the hand of the U.S. military forces they hate, and ignores the true terrorist states in the Sunni Persian Gulf because they own much of the world's oil. The bloated, risk-averse, and lawyer-palsied [counterterrorism] community ensured state sponsors and their proxies survived, and now it blocks the counterinsurgency strategy needed to beat al Qaeda.
The Nature of War
While U.S. leaders will not say America is at war with Islam, some of Islam is waging war on the United States, and more is edging closer to that status. "The war is fundamentally religious," bin Laden said in late 2001. The one thing accomplished by refusing to admit a war exists with an enemy of immense durability, manpower and resources is to delay the designing of a strategy for victory. Only in today's America could the simple statement of fact -- that much of Islam is fighting us -- be labeled discriminatory or racist, a label that kills thought, debate and, ultimately, Americans. But such is the case, and so U.S. leaders prepare for and fight the enemy they want to see, not the one standing on the battlefield.