How al-Qaeda May End

Report Homeland Security

How al-Qaeda May End

May 19, 2004 29 min read Download Report
Christopher Harmon
Bren Chair of Great Power Competition, Brute Krulak Center on Innovation & Creativity, Marine Corps University

How do terrorist groups end? This question is well worth considering in this third year of war with al-Qaeda and the larger "militant Moslem international."[1]

Most terrorist groups do eventually come to an end. Glossaries and indices on terrorism from the 1970s and 1980s yield examples of dozens of once-promising groups that currently have no power and make no news. These include the Breton Liberation Front in France, Belgium's Communist Combatant Cells, the Liberation Front of Quebec, and the Peo­ple's Revolutionary Army in El Salvador. The past few years have witnessed the utter disappearance of once-formidable and infamous organizations such as Tupac Amaru in Peru and the Revolutionary Organi­zation November 17th in Greece.

Additionally, larger international doctrines that spawned transnational terrorists-Bolshevism and Anarchism-have been defeated in the past century. For a half-dozen reasons, governments have often triumphed over terrorists-those who systematically and deliberately use violence against the innocent to spread fear and to advance a political cause.

History's lessons are varied, though not contradic­tory. As the U.S. struggles with the current enemy, it is useful to consider how terrorist organizations have been destroyed in the past. Years of public determination, good leadership, police work, excel­lent intelligence, adequate resources, and occasional military operations are common to most of the suc­cess stories.

Lessons of the Past

How have terrorist groups been defeated? Here are five of the common ways that they have ended:[2]

Military Force
Although the option of force was often derided as "simplistic" prior to Septem­ber 11, powerful military offensives have some­times defeated terrorist groups. Perhaps nothing else would have defeated the Assassins-a Shia Islamic offshoot of the late 11th through 13th cen­turies-in what is now modern-day Iran. They had a powerful ideology, secret cultish practices, absolute devotion (by which acolytes would com­mit suicide on order), and inaccessible fortified bases. Their usual targets were Sunni Muslim lead­ers. When the famed Saladin and other rulers fought back, they managed to contain the Assas­sins. Schism wounded the cult. Thereafter came the Mongols, who systematically devastated or dis­mantled the Assassins' castles. By the year 1270 the cult was ruined, its membership largely dead or dispersed.

In a United Nations' world, harsh military offen­sives against terrorists are unusual, but even so there are cases and successes. After the Khmer Rouge revolutionaries and terrorists became the rulers of Cambodia, only a war waged by Vietnam destroyed their merciless regime in 1978.

In a second example, when pressed by the indigenous Moslem Brotherhood in Syria in 1982, Hafez al-Assad took them under what became known as "Hama rules," literally bombing and shelling the Syrian city of Hama for almost two weeks. Incredibly, Assad suffered little long-term disrepute for murdering more than ten thousand Syrians, nor did he pay dearly for occupying Leba­non, including the Bekaa Valley, which remains an infamous terrorist haven. Upon his death in 2000, Assad was lionized abroad.[3]

Military force-narrowly and sanely directed- has been a part of many successful modern gov­ernmental campaigns. Tupac Amaru (MRTA), a Peruvian Marxist-Leninist organization, was already undermined by internal inadequacies and countervailing police skills. However, the govern­ment's April 1997 commando raid, which recap­tured the occupied Japanese Embassy in Lima, finally ruined Tupac Amaru. All but one of the 72 hostages survived but 14 terrorists were killed- including mission leader Nestor Cerpa Cartolini. Because Tupac Amaru's historic founder was lan­guishing in jail, MRTA immediately collapsed. As scholar Michael Radu intoned, "This group was moribund before; now it is buried."[4]

Today, military efforts have been essential to ini­tial successes against al-Qaeda, especially in Afghanistan-where the regime and international terrorism were more closely intertwined than in any other case in modern memory. Only by destroying the state could the international prob­lem be solved and the Afghan nation be given a fair chance at liberty. Afghanistan enjoyed a two-year respite from most terrorism, which only began to return in 2004.

Good Grand Strategy
A second way terrorists end-and a marked pattern in the post-World War II era-is national effort under a sage grand strategy. Under sober government leadership, all major aspects of national power-from the politi­cal and military through the economic and infor­mational-are deployed with focused energy and resources. Democracies are often at their best in these struggles, demonstrating adherence to prin­ciples, yet taking temporary exceptional measures and drawing on little-used internal and external powers. Confronted by a crisis, a country is none­theless saved by remaining united and acting with force and prudence.

Secretary of Defense, and later president, Ramon Magsaysay led the Filipino people in beating the Huks, a guerrilla and terrorist movement in the post-World War II era. At the time, such Commu­nist movements were often winning in Third World theaters. With help from the U.S. that was notable for its limits and discretion, the Republic of the Philippines and Ramon Magsaysay attacked the problem from all sides. They purged corrupt army officers, revitalized confidence in elections and democracy, and initiated modest relief works to address landlessness. When making war, the Fili­pino army focused on superior intelligence and small-unit tactics. The government side wore out and defeated the Huks. The rise and fall of this challenge spanned no more than eight years.

Several decades later came the rise-and fall- of Germany's Red Army Faction (RAF). Waging an urban campaign (rather than the Huks' rural insurgency), the RAF members were no less doc­trinaire Communist revolutionaries. They had strong leaders-gifted students and publicists such as Gudrun Ensslin and Ulrike Meinhof. They kidnapped, shot, and robbed a path across West Germany. Few among the 60 million West Ger­mans actually stood up and followed this tiny, self-proclaimed "vanguard," but as T. E. Lawrence had warned, a guerrilla group might survive with sup­port from only 2 percent of the population. At first, the RAF did find protection, safe houses, and borrowed cars. However, support did not grow, and gradually the gun-holders were cornered one by one and jailed. The first RAF generation failed by 1977: A second team arose, but lasted no longer than 1982.

Germany wore out the RAF with effort and self-discipline. When there was no bloody over-reac­tion, this foiled the terrorists' hope to "expose the latent fascism" of the post-war republic. The Ger­mans did require new laws and new efforts at policing and intelligence-including a revolution­ary approach to police unit data computerization, which raised civil liberties concerns but did catch terrorists.[5] A brilliant commando raid by special­ized border police (called GSG-9) liberated a Lufthansa airliner hijacked to Mogadishu, Somalia, by a German and Palestinian team. That well-judged risk, and total success, was so psychologi­cally crushing that two Baader-Meinhof leaders committed suicide in their cells.

This second model-disciplined democracy in action under good grand strategy-is the one most akin to the current U.S. approach against the mili­tant Moslem international.

Capturing or Killing the Leaders
Some ter­rorist groups have failed when their leader of sin­gular importance is arrested and jailed under irrevocable terms. This fate befell the egoistic Abi­mael Guzman, creator of the Sendero Luminoso (Shining Path). After years of careful planning and cadre-building, Guzman turned the Shining Path to overt violence in 1980-at the moment when reform and elections were restoring democracy in Peru. Sendero intimidated and butchered Peruvi­ans in the countryside-and to a lesser degree in the slums and cities-with dynamite, machetes, and single-shot weapons. Tens of thousands died and many more suffered tragedy, injury, or despair. Yet it largely and quickly ended with Guzman's arrest in September 1992. Despite the efforts of a "Comrade Feliciano" to carry on, the torch of lead­ership could not be re-lit. The women and men around the famed founder may not have lost their faith, but they did lose their power.

Another bane of the 1980s was the Kurdish Workers Party (PKK), a special enemy of Turkey and Germany that was founded in 1974 by Abdul­lah Ocalan to promote an independent Kurdistan. The PKK sought independence via Communist doctrine, thousands of gunmen, and a closely managed reign of terror over the Kurds-as well as the Turks and others in Europe. Its signature was a string of simultaneous bombs in several cities. It practiced extortion, drug trafficking, and killing, while its leader gave press interviews from safety in Syria. Today, the PKK has passed from the scene. A new organization called KADEK has formed from Kurdish activism and is thus far rela­tively pacific. Evidently, the PKK's center of gravity was less a burning nationalism than it was Ocalan himself. When he was captured in Africa and bun­dled back to jail in Turkey, the organization col­lapsed. Thus far, no equal has taken his place.

Today, one strategy against al-Qaeda is to arrest or kill the first and second tier leaders-a reason­able approach.[6] Coalition security forces must capture or kill both Osama bin Laden and Aiman al-Zawahiri, as well as more of their lieutenants.

A Turn Toward Democratic Ways
A few ter­rorist groups have turned away from violence or toward democratic ways, or both. Their sincerity in this may be suspect, but some terrorists do out­wardly and convincingly reform, reentering nor­mal society and pacific political life. The imprisoned Nelson Mandela was the most esteemed leader of the African National Congress (ANC), which held anti-apartheid ideals but fre­quently conducted hideous terror attacks, often against black South Africans. When Mandela was released, he quickly replaced Oliver Tambo and led the ANC to power through elections-and became the widely admired president of a new republic.

Two current militants-turned-politicians in Ger­many also suggest this pattern. German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer was recently "outed" by photographs of him kicking a policeman in a street brawl on April 7, 1973, in Frankfurt am Main. Fighting alongside him was Hans-Joachim Klein, a famous terrorist associate of Carlos the Jackal.[7] Yet, few question Fischer's work in recent years on behalf of the German republic. Daniel Cohn-Ben­dit-once notorious as "Danny the Red" for his militant central role in France in 1968-is serving Germany in the European Parliament as a Green Party and Free European Alliance co-president.

Certain American terrorists of the same era have surfaced from the underground to become influen­tial, often as educators. Mark Rudd, student leader turned Weatherman, is now a teacher in the Southwestern United States. Bill Ayers, a later Weatherman leader, became a Chicago university schoolman and authored a book about child edu­cation. His new memoir, Fugitive Days, renounces little.[8] He is married to former Weatherwoman Bernardine Dohrn, also a professor (of law) and a children's rights advocate.[9]

In today's struggle with lethal strains of militant Islam, reform or pacification of certain terrorist principals and ideologists may be impossible. Many leaders and groups will refuse the paths of moderation and reason in politics. Some who are apocalyptic-minded will never lose their blood lust. Reform or pacification would be potentially attractive only to select individuals and terrorist groups that are more political and "practical" than al-Qaeda.

Some Terrorists Succeed
Finally, history shows that some terrorists attain power without undergoing reform. Combined with political orga­nization, and often with guerrilla warfare, their terrorism does triumph and they capture state power. Such men prove to be rough masters. One blanches at what the Khmer Rouge did while in power. More often, terrorists-turned-rulers restore outward calm-something despotisms do well- and then govern more by clever spying, quiet coercion, and selective brutality than by overt vio­lence. That is how the Sandinistas ruled Nicaragua after their victory in 1979. In this way, the Alge­rian FLN (National Liberation Front)-pioneers in plastique bombings in cities-ruled Algeria after victoriously parading into the capital in 1962. Still in power by the early 1990s, the FLN was repress­ing a revolution by their own Muslim countrymen.


The Way Ahead

The grim truth that some terrorist groups do succeed is a reminder of the high stakes in the cur­rent war. Nevertheless, it is obvious that we must fight, and that we can win.

Even a Doctrine Can Be Defeated
Progress against al-Qaeda-by containment and attrition- has advanced, and its allies are not invulnerable. Nor is its doctrine. It is useful to recall how Bol­shevism and Anarchism, two similarly virulent and violent international movements, were defeated in the last century and have all but perished.

Soviet communism failed because it was con­tained by explicit U.S. and NATO political and military strategies; because in time its limited ide­alism failed and left only stark tyranny; because of the contrast between the spirited leaders of free peoples and the aged or will-sapped bosses of Warsaw Pact states; and because the democracies were willing to fight limited wars in Central Amer­ica, Africa, and Asia. The lesson for the war on ter­rorism would seem to be that democracy and moderate governments can win with intrepidness, idealism, energy, and force.

Less studied is the Anarchism that spawned international terrorists near the end of the 19th century. This doctrine also perished for good rea­sons. Its assassinations inspired some adherents but alienated millions of decent people, including tradesmen and unionists. Governments refused to buckle despite individual deaths. Anarchism's mil­itants and murderers were harried by police forces and government officials in their movements worldwide.

Leaders such as Italian Errico Malatesta, Russian immigrants to America Emma Goldman and Alex­ander Berkman, and Ukrainian Nestor Makhno were all jailed or deported, or both.[10] The Soviet Union jailed or killed Anarchists. Other states began refusing entry to these agitators by simple acts such as denying visas. The United States used an array of political and legal defenses, includ­ing-in rare cases-execution when evidence revealed that Anarchism had combined with vio­lent actions in the U.S. Ultimately, these combined pressures by many victimized countries discour­aged the assassins and bomb-throwers. Their lead­ers aged, and their movements died.

Here and Now
The United States and its allies can grind down al-Qaeda and its lethal partners in similar ways. There must be a moral conviction in the justice of the fight. Political leadership needs to give expression to the moral cause, shape the national effort, and carry it for the long term. Because this is a war of ideas, international public diplomacy is primary-not tertiary. The enemy is internationalist in ideology and practice: A Yemeni cadre is as good as one from Germany or Madagas­car. Thus, Washington's response has been, and will remain, internationalist, requiring close work with many allies on treaties, policing, coordination of sanctions, and occasional military operations.

All these responses depend upon good intelli­gence-which has become a cliché, but only because it is so true and still needs reinforcement. At home, popular will must be maintained. It is troubling to see that the vigilance of average Amer­icans, so strong in the wake of September 11th, is being whittled away by purblind politicians and social critics who imagine that because the U.S. has not experienced a catastrophe lately, there is less need for defense.[11] Such arguments are diffi­cult to explain when Osama bin Laden, Ayman al-Zawahiri, and Mullah Omar are still at large.

Finally, the ongoing and enlarged security efforts-especially in law enforcement and intelli­gence both at home and abroad-need funding. America's challenge for the next few years is one of focus, will, and determination. Terrorism is a cal­culated attack on national will: The defeat of ter­rorism requires greater will, as well as skill.


The Executive

Staying Clear of Unnecessary Schemes
The White House is carrying enormous burdens in the struggle against al-Qaeda. Generally, it has borne them well, but enhancements are still required. This has little to do with new offices or the rear­rangement of the bureaucratic wiring diagrams. There is no need to accept suggestions such as restructuring the National Security Council or cre­ating a British MI5-style national investigative force. The real need is for better recruits, more aggressive intelligence work, better leaders in the senior tiers of government, and continuing focus on the terrorism problem when other problems compete for attention. National attention to the need for intelligence-not new structures-is what is needed.

Defining the Strategy
Despite criticism-espe­cially a recent essay done for the U.S. Army by Jef­frey Record[12]-the White House has in fact adequately defined its "war on terrorism." Over a year ago, the National Security Strategy stated the intention "to disrupt and destroy terrorist organi­zations of global reach."[13] The mandate continued by suggesting that this would include efforts against powerful terrorist groups' command and control, leadership, material support, and finances-all of which are indeed currently being attacked. Giving strategic guidance from the White House is an art: It must be both broad enough and narrow enough. The Administration's words and actions suffice and imply a step-by-step progres­sion against those groups most dangerous to the U.S. and to the world.

Citizens perceive that three military campaigns have been part of the national strategy: the short, crushing war by combined forces that took down the Taliban and scattered its al-Qaeda partners; the close U.S. advice and support given to the Philip­pine Army units that were battering Abu Sayyaf; and the conventional coalition war against Iraq- long-time harborer of terrorists, especially the late secular Palestinians Abu Nidal and Abu Abbas. By targeting terrorist groups "of global reach," the Administration prudently suggested that there would be no imminent campaign against groups like the Irish Republican Army Provos, because it is largely quiescent and engaged in politics. The words leave open other prospects, such as a cam­paign against al-Qaeda allies in Asia[14] or-less likely-Iran, a wealthy and powerful backer of international terrorists.

Meanwhile, during the military efforts, the U.S. and its allies have conducted an equally important and steady campaign of worldwide law enforce­ment. This includes "following the money" and capturing terrorists-leaders as well as followers. For example, January 2004 brought significant new arrests. Kurds in Iraq found Hassan Ghul, a senior associate of Osama bin Laden and a known moneyman, who held a long document-by ter­rorists, about terrorists-within Iraq. U.S. troops grabbed Husam Yemeni and others from Ansar al-Islam-an al-Qaeda ally responsible for many ter­ror attacks. Meanwhile, important trials proceed abroad in allied countries such as Turkey, which arraigned some two dozen accomplices of the sui­cide bombers who wrecked two synagogues and several British buildings in Istanbul. Now that the Iraq war has moved into a counter-insurgency stage, intelligence and justice systems around the globe will have as much impact on terrorism from day to day as do the military forces. The longest of all the counter-terror campaigns is the legal one.

Apart from defining the fight, the White House should also lead it well. Here, two weaknesses should be remedied.

Putting More into the Moral Argument
First, the Administration has failed to forcefully restate the moral and legal arguments against international terrorism. Major Administration figures too rarely speak in the powerful language of morals: They neglect the tremendous fact that terrorism is sav­agely inhumane and beyond any justification. The moral and legal arguments would help domestic morale while also appealing to foreign audiences- including those who are anti-American. In the Reagan Administration, Secretary of State George Shultz and Legal Advisor Abraham Sofaer spoke often and wrote well about such grounds for anti-terrorism: The secretary's essay in the 1986 book, Terrorism: How the West Can Win, is one example.[15] More recently, Johns Hopkins visiting scholar Ruth Wedgewood has been a learned and telling voice in U.S. domestic discussions. Their arguments, based more on universal principles and known precepts of international law than immediate U.S. interests, have a chance of bridging the gap between terror­ism as the White House sees it and terrorism as the Third World and Muslim world see it.

Terrorism Kills Muslims.Most terrorist acts claimed by self-avowed Muslims injure or kill for­eign Muslims-in greater numbers than Americans of that faith or any other. The State Department has largely ignored this valuable fact, when instead it should be a leading line of argument abroad. The State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research should begin counting Muslim casualties by reviewing the victim rosters in the Algerian civil war of the 1990s: For every French monk or inter­national businessman killed, hundreds of Arabs and Berbers died. Injuries and deaths under Tali­ban and al-Qaeda rule within Afghanistan and the number of victims in the streets after militant Islamist attacks on foreign embassies and busi­nesses in Pakistani cities offer their own subtotals. Assassination attempts by Muslim assassins on Muslim leaders like Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan and Hosni Mubarak of Egypt should be included. U.S. public diplomacy has maintained a blind spot for this politically potent reality.[16] The statistics, if assembled, would refute the relativist notion that "terrorism is a code word for violence Washington doesn't like."

Moderate Muslim Leaders Condemn Terrorism.U.S. public diplomacy should accept and use another line of argument: moderate Islamic leaders' condemnations of terror. M. Shameem Ahsan, Min­ister and Charge d'Affaires of Bangladesh was one of the first in the United Nations after 9/11 to express sadness over the carnage which had killed civilians from 60 countries-including his own.[17] American officials speaking to foreign audiences should better note such heartfelt declarations by foreign states­men about the rank inhumanity of terrorism, which makes calculated use of the agony of innocents to score political points. Occasional newspaper ads by public-minded Islamic institutes or clerics do make this point, along with rare publications by the Department of State.[18] Such efforts are sound, but their frequency and volume must be doubled and then redoubled. Rhetoric, Aristotle wrote, requires that the audience trust the speaker. In the present struggle with evil, the U.S. government's voice has become somewhat predictable. Meanwhile, gentle­manly foreign voices-which the Muslim world could trust-are being lost in the din of zealous minorities with bullhorns. U.S. and allied public diplomacy should help amplify the voices of the virtuous, including moderate imams, sober Arab politicians, thoughtful Middle Eastern academics, and clear-eyed American Muslim leaders.

Advantages of International Law
Another "lost line of argument" is about justice and law. International law condemns international terror­ism and has always barred the use of national terri­tory-or even passive allowance of its use by others-for ranging abroad to kill and maim. Admittedly, the United Nations has taken some backward steps, including the General Assembly's condemnations of states opposing terrorism and indulgence of terrorists who wave the proper ban­ners of anti-apartheid or anti-colonialist politics. Yet the U.N.'s assets, and recent actions, should not be scorned.

The fact that the U.N. is a system of states makes any violent, inchoate political organiza­tion (such as al-Qaeda) its natural enemy. Moderate Arab states, themselves frequently attacked by militant Islamists, are natural part­ners in an anti-terrorist coalition.

The Security Council has repeatedly imposed sanctions against states for sponsoring interna­tional terrorism, such as Taliban-ruled Afghan­istan, Libya, and Sudan. Libya's and Sudan's many efforts to have the sanctions lifted indi­cate the sanction's substantial effect.

The U.N. has formally condemned terrorism. In December 1999, it reached a good defini­tion of terrorism[19] (within a convention that, once ratified, will constrict monetary support to terrorist groups).[20]

All of this can be very useful in public debate. As U.N. members, even anti-American states are accountable to U.N. law. Yet the Administration does not often publicize such arguments based on international law. Instead, it is fighting on the defensive about just how many allies Washington has in any one effort. Our spokesmen certainly showed how well that they could marshal U.N. support when war loomed against Iraq. Public diplomacy must make clear that terrorism is a human problem, far more than an American prob­lem. In international law today, the terrorist is one step above the pirate and the slave dealer, and political leaders should say so frequently.

Our coalition can fight better in public diplo­macy's arena. When Communism once seemed the political ideal of the future, one of the means of resistance was the war of ideas. From the young Winston Churchill's scorching essays on the inhumanity of the Bolsheviks, to the detailed exposes of Alexander Solzhenitsyn, to the bold "unsophisticated" speeches of Ronald Reagan, arguments against Communism had moral life and intellectual force and the support of the sys­tem of laws. By the end, even Mikhail Gorbachev appeared to prefer democracy to Lenin's dictator­ship of the proletariat. However, these important words and the mechanisms that carried them- such as the radio networks managed by the Board of International Broadcasting-have been far less effective in the battle of ideas with the new extremists. The Department of State has absorbed the U.S. Information Agency in a bureaucratic reorganization, but it has not made itself visible in the forefront of this battle of hearts and minds. The United States does not have a sufficiently strong voice abroad.

  • The Department of State, so skilled in tradi­tional diplomacy, needs to find its more public voice, and it deserves more funding to do so.
  • Congress should not merely accept the Presi­dent's recent State of the Union suggestion of doubling the size of the National Endowment for Democracy: It should treble it. Our inter­national radio and television broadcasting also deserve better.
  • Congress and the Administration should review the useful recommendations for public diplomacy made by Helle Dale and Stephen Johnson of The Heritage Foundation.[21]

History shows how leadership, conviction, strong morale, and smart actions can defeat terror­ists and their ideas.

Inadequate Intelligence
Every expert agrees that all counterterrorism depends upon intelli­gence. The Administration-not just Congress-is responsible for dealing with the persistent prob­lem of inadequate intelligence about terrorists. The dearth has long been evident. Known killers such as Imad Mughniya, infamous for the hijacking of TWA Flight 847 in 1985, are still free and, accord­ing to reports, still operating. Years of reports by experts steadily decry the inadequacies of U.S. human intelligence-including those by George Shultz in the mid-1980s, L. Paul Bremer in the late 1990s, and Representative Jane Harman (D-CA), the ranking member of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence.[22]

What explains the lack of remedy? How is it that al-Qaeda was based in Afghanistan for half a decade and yet the U.S. dispatched few to no case officers to live in that country? Former CIA agent Reuel Marc Gerecht announced this error to the world before the catastrophe of 2001.[23]

Three sources of the failings in terrorism intelli­gence have been excessive interest in high technol­ogy by intelligence professionals, absence of support for covert action, and strictures against CIA contact with known killers.

"Putting Platforms Ahead of People." During the Vietnam War, U.S. operatives could sometimes lit­erally make rain fall on the Ho Chi Minh Trails to slow porters and animals carrying Communist supplies. Yet they apparently could not find the headquarters of the Central Office for South Viet­nam (COSVN), which was organizing guerrilla and terrorist war in South Vietnam. In the last two decades, various U.S. intelligence agencies have developed impressive capabilities to locate fixed objects or targets emitting appropriate signals or behaving in predictable ways. But U.S. agents rarely, if ever, penetrated foreign terrorist groups to disrupt or destroy them. Reportedly, efforts to infiltrate Hezbollah have all failed. Placement of human agents close to, or inside of, such groups is an art related less to satellites, special devices, and engineering degrees[24] than to human psychology, strength of purpose over years, and willingness to pass money to certain undesirable characters.

"Caution on Covert Action." Before 9/11, Ameri­cans of several schools of thought were loath to kill terrorists-or even pursue them (at high risk) for transport to the U.S. Segments of U.S. public opin­ion-some liberal, some cautious, some sentimen­tal-have dwelled upon the dangers to life. A new study of the Pentagon's Joint Staff shows that even military men of influence could be experts at warn­ing against secretive violent operations likely to be exposed to public view.[25] In fact, some such "expo­sure" would have served justice and been a deter­rent to terrorists. Instead, the results of American "prudence," caution, and "humaneness" were con­tinued victimization of our citizens and other inno­cents, and continued liberty for too many terrorists.

"Let Us Have No Contact with Bad Apples."A third problem with U.S. intelligence has been that since the mid-1970s, the President has been pushed by Congress and certain segments of opinion to restrict covert actions that could forestall or defeat terrorism.

  • The executive order banning assassination- which President Gerald Ford signed and which every President since has quietly renewed- doubtlessly squelched assassinations, but also hampered many a tantalizing opportunity for armed forces to grab a known political murderer.
  • Another kind of rule has hurt efforts to gather information. Not long before 9/11, a periodic national news story was the campaign of one senator against U.S. intelligence agents in Cen­tral America whose searches for information meant liaison with reprehensible sources. To the author's memory, no Member of Congress used that opportunity to convert the senator's "news" into a public and realistic debate about the boundaries of intelligence gathering. Our intelligence professionals just carried on, their products disengaged from action. Under Presi­dent Bill Clinton and CIA chief George Tenet, 35 to 40 people at CIA headquarters alone were assigned to studying bin Laden's group,[26] but almost nothing actually resulted. By tragic irony, one real action-a missile attack on a target in Sudan-was bungled in ways that discredited National Security Council official Richard Clarke, the Clinton Administration's clearest voice for active defense.

Overcoming Our Allergy
One could argue that things may be changing now, as symbolized by the Central Intelligence Agency's operation of Predator drones armed with missiles. Doubtlessly, only by direct order of the White House were the drones introduced in Afghanistan, and later earned a sin­gular success in Yemen by killing a long-known anti-U.S. terrorist. However, the CIA's Directorate of Operations should not focus exclusively on such techno-wonders. The war on terrorism is a broad and protracted one, requiring layers of human intelligence. The U.S. will not win without losing its national allergy for things clandestine- such as clever psychological operations. The dis­taste is natural for an open society, but an open society also gives ease to enemies. Two-and-a-half years after 9/11-with many known terrorist prin­cipals very much at large-the American allergy against spies is trying to reassert its primacy over reasonable concerns about mass casualties from terrorism. Intelligence deserves more respect from the U.S. body politic. Sun Tzu had a sound answer for anyone embarrassed by spying or doubting its utility. He observed that generals who disdain spending gold on spies are "inhumane" because they are likely to get their soldiers killed unneces­sarily, due to their commander's ignorance of the enemy and his intentions.


What Congress Should Do About Domestic Intelligence
Congress should concern itself less about yet another blue ribbon commission to review past intelligence blunders: There have been enough commissions and blunders already. Instead, Congress should face the future and the actual challenges of legislating for, and supporting the production of, good human intelligence. It should openly address two neglected issues central to its own role in the fight against terrorism: the congressional restrictions on domestic intelligence collection and use, and the FBI's responsibility for knowing which enemies are in the U.S. and what they may be planning.

Finding the Balance
Debates about what may or may not be allowable in government snooping among a free people are long-standing, useful, and often cut across political ideologies. When the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing provoked Mr. Clin­ton to enhance domestic spying capabilities, con­gressional speeches on proposed legislation were heated and they featured a few Democrats who opposed the President and a few Republicans voic­ing concern about government prying. This debate has resumed with the approaching expiration of "sunset" provisions of the Patriot Act. Some Demo­crats-but also some Republicans-want the post-9/11 law to die. Others support President Bush's call for its renewal.

An Old Case…
Recent history offers a case study of the difficulties of balancing Americans' civil rights and the threat to such rights by alien vio­lence. In 1981, the FBI opened inquiries into the Committee in Solidarity with the People of El Salva­dor (CISPES). Within the U.S., this effort used mostly normal sorts of observation, non-electronic surveillance, and occasional infiltration. It sought to discover whether the group's hot political rhetoric was connected to hostile foreign entities such as the Salvadoran guerrilla front or its ally, the Sandinista government of Nicaragua. A related objective was to understand the pattern of public bombings in Washington, D.C.-some of which coincided with CISPES rallies or featured communiqués invoking solidarity with the Salvadorans and lauding guer­rilla warfare in Central America. When the FBI found little concrete evidence against Americans in CISPES, the inquiry was closed. Yet civil libertarians and CISPES activists were outraged, in part because of earlier experience with the FBI investigation called "COINTELPRO," which wrongly included surveilling anti-war activists and civil rights activ­ists. For years thereafter, the FBI was buffeted by the resultant political headwinds.[27]

For some Americans this "proved" the danger of police intrusiveness. Perhaps their view would have been different had more evidence been found. The better insight from the CISPES case is how it illus­trated a stricture on U.S. intelligence work. Subse­quent to the days of concern over the Vietnam War demonstrations and Watergate, the reigning princi­ple of domestic intelligence has been that the FBI may not investigate domestic groups unless they have broken laws or been violent. In the 1980s and 1990s, federal agents understood that they could not even begin a file on an American person or group absent evidence of criminal activity or a record of violence. Printing Marxist tirades against U.S. foreign policy or staging rallies in support of foreign guerrilla groups was not enough. These could not trigger a mere investigation. Thus, the FBI's CISPES inquiry was later ruled all but illegal.

…and a New Standard
Such an inquiry should not be illegal. The burrowing of the 9/11 terrorists into American society, and the "charities" linking Americans and non-Americans to terrorist groups indicate a need for a domestic investigation standard differing from that of the 1980s and 1990s. Of course our citizens do not deserve gov­ernment scrutiny for normal and pacific political activities and distribution of information. Citizens are rightly protected even in their outright opposi­tion to government policies. Common sense indi­cates that this extends to radical literature-which is rightly available, readily sold, collected by book lovers, and studied in universities.

However, with due discretion, there may be rea­son to open a domestic investigation of Americans, when more than one of the following is evident:

  • published ideology or platforms that are vio­lent and hostile to the U.S.;
  • direct connections to activities of a violent for­eign political group;
  • collecting money or preparing propaganda for a group known to include persons engaged in illegal domestic or transnational violence; and
  • group training in tactics or arms in manners clearly not limited to sporting activities, amass­ing working weapons or explosives of unusual lethality.

When several such activities are combined, they exceed what the Founders intended as rights of free speech and assembly, and depending on cir­cumstances, may justify an investigation.

Some Non-Americans Involved in Terrorism
Based upon charges, convictions, and admissions, at least four dozen Muslim militants have been involved in terrorism in the U.S. since 1993. Many of them are linked to al-Qaeda.[28] Congress should confront the question of non-Americans visiting or living in the U.S. Catching a higher percentage of those entering illegally will not be enough. Con­gress should conduct a thorough review of the law and of how the courts are interpreting it-with the objective of reestablishing the dignity, complete­ness, and high responsibilities of full U.S. citizen­ship, as distinguished from the lesser rights appropriate to aliens.

While the United States is a regime based on universal principles, it is not a universal regime. There is no inalienable right to American citizen­ship. There is also no natural right to enter the U.S. and violently challenge its foreign policy, much less American democracy. There should be no Miranda rights, no bans on electronic eavesdropping by police, and no bar to the search and seizure of papers and film for non-citizens suspected of ter­rorist activities. On appropriate grounds, it should not be difficult for a qualified judge, following pro­cedure, to deport a visitor without a public hear­ing.[29] These distinctions should exist throughout American law, with or without the Patriot Act. One benefit would be better security against terrorists: Another would be a more serious regard for the deep meaning of full U.S. citizenship.

Unreasonable Expansion of Alien Rights
Tra­ditional American law did extend limited civil rights and due process to resident aliens. Yet in modern decades, expansive new court interpreta­tions of the Constitution have notably broadened aliens' rights.[30] Congress adds to the problem when writing new laws to cover all "persons," when they should rightly extend these protections only to "citizens." Under the Clinton Administra­tion, Congress created a special Alien Terrorist Removal Court but no one had the courage to use it.[31] That institution permits in camera (secret) proceedings-in which special intelligence could be used without disclosing the sources, either through discovery or in public proceedings. It is errant for Americans to see such process as con­trary to U.S. law or interests: This special court has no jurisdiction over citizens.

By contrast, under a common law practice that Americans widely accept-that of the grand jury-a U.S. citizen may be required to testify without counsel, without explanation about what charges may result, without a judge, and without friendly witnesses. If grand juries do not endanger the republic, why would a judge's careful rulings about an alien do so?

Congress should review U.S. law with an eye for better distinguishing and better protecting citizens, and-to the extent possible-all other persons. However, in national security law-in which the two categories should not be conflated-Congress needs to show less sentiment and more discretion.

The Judiciary Committees should reexamine the statutes of 1996 and 2001 about removal of aliens suspected of terrorism. They should remove any barriers to the effective processing of appropriate suspects by the Alien Terrorist Removal Court.

Legislators should deal with the non-American proponents of particularly dangerous doctrines and publications. There is no right for an alien to enter the U.S. with malicious intent and pernicious doctrine and publications. (In fact, under U.S. law, legitimate legal questions about an alien's rights arise only after the alien has entered the country.) It thus makes sense to "check at the door" and put into place some new version of the McCarran-Walter Act- which during the Cold War allowed authori­ties to bar visitors who were adherents to doc­trines of Anarchism, Communism, or some other forms of totalitarianism. More than a few varieties of militant Islamic fundamentalism are indeed totalitarian, and allowing entry to their adherents is folly. Yet that is what the U.S. did in the case of the "blind Sheik," Umar Abd al-Rahman. After being charged in Egypt along with the religious terrorists who murdered President Anwar Sadat, he moved to the U.S. and prepared the cell that bombed the World Trade Center Towers in New York-the first time-in 1993.


Christopher Harmon

Bren Chair of Great Power Competition, Brute Krulak Center on Innovation & Creativity, Marine Corps University