Thursday, May 08, 2008

Al-Qaeda Over Rated?

I found this article linked over at Schneier who thinks this is all so obvious. Unfortunately I think Sheehan is parsing his words carefully as one would expect from a politician.
"I reject the notion that Al Qaeda is waiting for 'the big one' or holding back an attack," Sheehan writes. "A terrorist cell capable of attacking doesn't sit and wait for some more opportune moment. It's not their style, nor is it in the best interest of their operational security. Delaying an attack gives law enforcement more time to detect a plot or penetrate the organization."

Terrorism is not about standing armies, mass movements, riots in the streets or even palace coups. It's about tiny groups that want to make a big bang. So you keep tracking cells and potential cells, and when you find them you destroy them. After Spanish police cornered leading members of the group that attacked trains in Madrid in 2004, they blew themselves up. The threat in Spain declined dramatically.

Indonesia is another case Sheehan and I talked about. Several high-profile associates of bin Laden were nailed there in the two years after 9/11, then sent off to secret CIA prisons for interrogation. The suspects are now at Guantánamo. But suicide bombings continued until police using forensic evidence—pieces of car bombs and pieces of the suicide bombers—tracked down Dr. Azahari bin Husin, "the Demolition Man," and the little group around him. In a November 2005 shootout the cops killed Dr. Azahari and crushed his cell. After that such attacks in Indonesia stopped.

Frankly, those don't sound like law enforcement actions to me. If it were, does anyone honestly believe that the Indonesians would have ended up at GITMO?

The real problem I find in all of this is that the assumption is that Al-Qaeda is the only player and that they themselves exist in a hierarchical structure. Cells many times are incompetent. It also should force the question as to why they appear to have been more incompetent after the 9/11 attacks. The Global War on Terror has many theaters and in many cases it is through organized intelligence that the theaters begin to cooperate and stop the terrorists.

It's not about standing armies? How is that? Or is it just that the writer has missed the point that the front line soldier in many cases is a law enforcement officer? War isn't always about two national players going at it in tanks and bombers. This ignorance of fourth generational warfare or asymmetrical warfare is fascinating. Cooperative efforts by nations to stop the violence of non-national actors has more the look and feel of a war action than a police activity.

Then there is the complete lack of understanding that theaters of war have attracted many of the most determined of the jihadists. Iraq and Afghanistan have pulled many of the determined terrorists into the fight in regions where the most able of fighters can deal with them. Another reason why those that act in Europe and elsewhere are appearing more incompetent. The best and most determined went where the major action was and left the more mediocre behind.

I also love these two statements in juxtaposition:
Sir David Omand, who used to head Britain's version of the National Security Agency and oversaw its entire intelligence establishment from the Cabinet Office earlier this decade, described terrorism as "one corner" of the global security threat posed by weapons proliferation and political instability. That in turn is only one of three major dangers facing the world over the next few years. The others are the deteriorating environment and a meltdown of the global economy. Putting terrorism in perspective, said Sir David, "leads naturally to a risk management approach, which is very different from what we've heard from Washington these last few years, which is to 'eliminate the threat'."
That's part of what makes Sheehan so refreshing. He knows there's a big risk that he'll be misinterpreted; he'll be called soft on terror by ass-covering bureaucrats, breathless reporters and fear-peddling politicians. And yet he charges ahead. He expects another attack sometime, somewhere. He hopes it won't be made to seem more apocalyptic than it is. "Don't overhype it, because that's what Al Qaeda wants you to do. Terrorism is about psychology." In the meantime, said Sheehan, finishing his fruit juice, "the relentless 24/7 job for people like me is to find and crush those guys."
Funny how Washington wants to "eliminate the threat" but Sheehan only wants to "crush those guys." Doesn't sound like much of a difference to me. It also fails to make the point that psychology works both ways. Terrorists are seeing more and more failures so the result is a weakened base of those wanting to perform terrorism.

Its just more evidence that those making these types of judgments are trying to do the calculations blindfolded and with their heads in the sand.

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