My sense of deja vu is starting to get overwhelming. This afternoon, I read an Internet news report from Reuters about President Obama's expected announcement of some changes in his administration's counterterrorism policy. This comes after an attempted Christmas Day transatlantic airliner bombing, alleged to have been plotted by a 23-year-old Nigerian suspect en route from Amsterdam to Detroit. Apparently, this man (named Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab) was in cahoots with al-Qaeda operatives in the Middle Eastern country of Yemen, yet despite this fact, somehow slipped through cracks between intelligence agencies and managed to smuggle explosives onto a commercial civilian airplane headed for the United States.
Something doesn't add up! What's wrong with this picture?
Well, for starters, the Bush administration was supposed to have fixed any lingering communication problems among U.S. intelligence agencies that might have allowed a terrorist to proceed this far with his plot. The USA PATRIOT Act, a landmark piece of legislation enacted in 2001, broke down virtually all barriers between U.S. intelligence, defense, police, security, investigation, and immigration departments, enabling and requiring these different agencies to share any and all terrorism-related information with one another. Thus an all-new network infrastructure was formed that should intercept terrorists long before their plans reach execution stage. Add to this the War on Terrorism, military action against al-Qaeda, the Department of Homeland Security, and better passenger screening at airports, and you have a thick, interlocking series of nets designed with the official purpose of catching terrorists and disrupting their activities.
President Obama talked tough against terrorism and boldly pledged to continue his Republican predecessor's War on Terrorism as he took office in January 2009. All was more or less quiet on the terrorism front until December, when the recent incident threw the issue of terrorism back into the spotlight. Now Republicans are charging President Obama with weak and inadequate counterterrorism policies, and the president himself seems to be admitting that they are right with his announcement of some changes to those policies. But is President Obama really to blame for the latest terror fiasco?
It is worth noting that high-profile terrorist attacks marked each year of the Bush administration (9/11, 2001; Bali, Indonesia, 2002; Istanbul, Turkey, 2003; Madrid, Spain, 2004; London, 2005; Iraq, 2006; Algeria, 2007; Mumbai, India, 2008). Moreover, in 2006 alleged al-Qaeda suspects came frighteningly close to carrying out a well-engineered and coordinated effort to bomb multiple transatlantic airliners flying from Britain to the United States.
U.S. counterterrorism debacles even date back to the Clinton administration, during which terrorists attacked the basement of the World Trade Center (February 26, 1993); attempted to assassinate Pope John Paul II with a bomb on his plane to the Philippines (1995); Osama bin Laden established al-Qaeda training camps in Afghanistan (1996-98); and U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania were simultaneously bombed (August 7, 1998).
Perhaps the most spectacular counterterrorism failure that runs through the past three administrations is the seeming ability of Osama bin Laden to escape justice as long as he pleases. Acting upon U.S. intelligence regarding bin Laden's location, President Clinton fired cruise missiles at bin Laden's training camps in Afghanistan in an attempt to kill the infamous terrorist leader and financier himself in 1998, but for some reason the missiles missed their target. Bin Laden remained on the run thruout most of the Bush administration, yet somehow we never managed to capture him. He survived our multilateral invasion of Afghanistan and overthrow of the illicit Taliban regime, which had been his host government, and continued to crank out televised speeches denouncing our foreign policy. Meanwhile, U.S. intelligence reports indicated that bin Laden was hiding out somewhere in the Afghanistan-Pakistan border region, yet his exact location was never conclusively identified. Senator Barack Obama and his running mate, Senator Joe Biden, capitalized politically on this failure in their 2008 run for president by promising a repeat of the Clinton strategy to deal with bin Laden: raining a trio of nuclear missiles on Pakistan if Osama is found there. As of this writing, America's no. 1 Most Wanted Terrorist is still at large.
Ironically, during the Bush administration, Democrats blamed the terrorist crimes and attempts on the president's overbearing, military counterterrorist policies. A similar attempt occurs during the Obama administration, and Republicans blame him for not being tough enough on terrorism. Our politicians have taken credit for what they didn't do right (in the case of President Bush) and apologized for what they didn't do wrong (in the case of President Obama). They have become accustomed to playing politics with terrorism, but this only heightens the urgency of the real issue. The issue is that the U.S. intelligence community--which includes the CIA, the State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research, and dozens of sub-departments that serve them--seems to harbor a flaw that transcends political parties and presidencies. Moreover, this flaw has continued through four different CIA directors in the time period we are considering.
According to President Obama, intelligence agencies had the information necessary to prevent this terrorist attempt but failed to connect the dots. This is the same problem that has been plaguing the United States intelligence community since the Clinton years; it has resurfaced over and over again in Congressional reports, independent investigations, and the memoirs of senior officials from former administrations, during the past two decades. The question is, why has this vexing problem persisted with such remarkable regularity for almost twenty years through three different presidencies, including one that saw a complete revision and expansion of the federal government's counterterrorist system?
The suspect in our current terrorism case, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, has a supposed connection with al-Qaeda in Yemen. This rather obscure country dominating the southern tip of the Arabian Peninsula has some significance related to last month's foiled Christmas bombing. For one thing, it is the birthplace of Osama bin Laden. He was born in Hadramawt, a lonely desert region famous since antiquity for producing the world's finest frankincense, some of which was offered to the Baby Jesus by one of the biblical wise men. Unfortunately, this nation that yielded a gift for the Prince of Peace has become a place where certain terrorists plot to kill innocent human beings in the name of freedom. Its extremely hot, dry climate, low population, limited government and ill-defined borders with neighboring countries render it amply suitable for clandestine subversive activities. Yemen has a fair amount of political instability in its history. During part of the Cold War, this region was divided into two nations, one under Communist rule (South Yemen) and one free (North Yemen). While popular dissatisfaction affected both republics, terrorist incidents climaxed in the years following the reunification of Yemen in 1990.
While not the center of al-Qaeda's presence, Yemen serves as an al-Qaeda outpost. The Arabian nation is also a major ally of the United States, commanding a strategic position for ships and warplanes between the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden. Every year we give a good deal of financial and military support to Yemen's government, and Yemen in return looks out for our oil interests in the Persian Gulf; allows us to maintain military bases for our fighter jets on its soil; and allows our Navy ships to dock in port there. On October 12, 2000, suicide bombers--allegedly members of al-Qaeda--detonated a small boat laden with explosives near the U.S.S. Cole as it refueled in the port of Aden, killing seventeen Americans and injuring 35 others. This terrorist attack also happened during the Clinton administration. Yet if Yemen is our ally, another question emerges: Why is al-Qaeda still alive and well there today?
As we review the above examples, it becomes increasingly evident that neither Republican nor Democratic presidents are at fault for the string of lapses in security against terrorism in recent years. Nor have the U.S. military, intelligence agencies, security forces, or immigration officials necessarily been culpable for these failures. Something else is going on that renders the United States itself incapable of preventing certain terrorist attacks and plots that would seem to be easily preventable. America has a back-door enemy. Her federal government, military headquarters, and even intelligence agencies have been infiltrated by agents of a foreign power. While our politicians play politics with terrorism, these spies have quietly hijacked our government and are stealthily moving the pieces in a much more deadly, secret game.
You can find out which foreign power this is, its effect on our government and intelligence agencies, the organizations its agents belong to, the unique religious extremist philosophy they follow, and what the object of their game is, if you read my book, America's Back-Door Enemy: Unmasking the Unknown Terrorists. Scrupulously researched and authoritatively written with over 500 references, this book will help you make sense of the confusing picture of terrorism and America's response to it. Available on Amazon, at your local bookstore and direct from the publisher.