by Randolph T. Holhut
American Reporter Correspondent
January 9, 2010
THE RIGHT AND WRONG WAY TO DEAL WITH TERRORISM
DUMMERSTON, Vt. -- There is much about the case of Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the 23-year-old Nigerian accused of attempting to explode a plastic device aboard a flight from Amsterdam to Detroit on Christmas Day, that doesn't add up.
If airport security has improved so much since the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks, how did a guy with plastic explosives in his pants make it through a security checkpoint?
If the terrorist "watch list" that was started after 9/11 is so effective, how did Abdulmutallab keep both his American tourist visa and avoid extra flight screening? Even after his father warned authorities that his son was hanging out with radical Islamists?
Normally, someone who checks in for an international flight without luggage and who pays for his ticket in cash would raise suspicions. Why did no one take note of Abdulmutallab?
Why were the only things that kept a tragedy from happening in the skies Abdulmutallab's ineptitude with explosives and the aggressive action of his fellow passengers when they saw what was happening?
The Obama Administration is currently investigating what went wrong and what can be done to prevent a repeat of Abdulmutallab's attempted attack. The Republicans in Congress, however, are taking a different tack. They are doing the two things they done so much of over the past year - obstructing progress and blaming President Obama.
Why is there no one in charge of the Transportation Security Agency? Because U.S. Sen. Jim DeMint, a conservatibve Soth Carolina Republican, has placed a hold on Obama's choice to head the agency, former FBI agent and police detective Erroll Southers. Why? Because DeMint is concerned that Southers might let TSA workers join a labor union.
Why is there no one in charge of the Customs and Border Protection agency? Because the Republicans in the Senate have spent so much time engaging in parliamentary delays to kill a health reform bill and other key legislation that they haven't gotten around to setting a date to hold hearings for nominee Alan Bersin, a former U.S. Attorney.
Abdulmutallab has told authorities that he traveled to Yemen to link up with al-Qaida operatives. So, of course, U.S. Sen. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., who evaded the draft during the Vietnam War but has been the biggest cheerleader for our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, thinks we should start bombing Yemen now. Lieberman recently told Fox News that "Iraq was yesterday's war, Afghanistan is today's war. If we don't act preemptively, Yemen will be tomorrow's war."
Starting another war seems preferable to providing effective oversight and guidance for our nation's domestic security operations - something Lieberman is supposed to be doing as chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.
U.S. Rep. Pete Hoekstra, R-Mich., the top Republican on the House Intelligence Committee, agrees with Lieberman and says the U.S. needs to be more forward-leaning and put into place the latest technology for dealing with terrorism. Except that Hoekstra and 107 other Republicans voted against a bill to fund the TSA last June.
It is clear that Republicans like DeMint and Hoekstra are trying to score cheap political points. But all you have to do is remind people of the real record of the GOP on national security, starting with the Bush Administration's response to what it knew about al-Qaida prior to Sept. 11, 2001.
The incoming Administration was warned by the outgoing Clinton Administration that al-Qaida would be the No. 1 national security problem. FBI agents in Arizona issued warnings in the summer of 2001 that a large number of Arab men were seeking pilot, security and airport operations training at American flight schools. German, Russian and Israeli intelligence agencies warned their American counterparts that terrorists were planning to hijack planes to fly them into buildings. No one seemed to remember the 1993 attack on the World Trade Center, the 1995 and 1996 bombings of U.S. military facilities in Saudi Arabia, the 1998 embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania, and the 2000 attack on the USS Cole - all attacks linked to Osama bin Laden and al-Qaida.
On Aug. 6, 2001, President Bush - in the midst of a month-long vacation at his Texas ranch - received an intelligence memo entitled "Bin Laden Determined to Strike in U.S." It suggested that al-Qaida forces were planning to hijack airliners sometime soon. This memo apparently was ignored by the Bush Administration because, at the time, as it entered office, it saw no urgency in fighting al-Qaida. Also, there was a general dismissal by the Bush team of anything related to President Clinton.
That there was a catastrophic intelligence failure in the months leading up to 9/11 is well established. But the catastrophe was compounded by the Bush Administration's leveraging of the attacks for political advantage while doing almost nothing to prevent a subsequent attack. All we got was fear mongering, along with illegal spying, torture, excessive secrecy and the creation of an Executive Branch with more extensive and more intrusive powers than ever before. And, sadly, President Obama has done little to dismantle the apparatus of repression that the Bush Administration created.
You want to really fight terrorism? A RAND Corporation study of 268 terrorist organizations done in 2008 found that, over the course of nearly 40 years, the primary reasons for these groups' demise were participation in the political process (43 percent) and effective law enforcement (40 percent). Only in 7 percent of the cases did military force account for the defeat of terrorist groups.
In other words, war and torture usually increases the number of people who become terrorists. The more people imprisoned, tortured and killed, the more recruits are created to avenge those actions. After all, terrorism is nothing more than a strategy. You can't occupy it or conquer it. All you can do is reduce the conditions that breed terrorism. The tools needed to reduce the odds that a major attack will happen are diplomacy, intelligence gathering and good police work.
Before this nation succumbs to another round of fear and hysteria whipped up by conservatives, it's time to take a real look at our foreign policy, domestic security, airline safety and whether what we have been doing for more than eight years is working.
Clearly, it's not. But, as U.S. Rep Jane Harmon, D-Calif., recently pointed out, Congress "could use a sledgehammer to fix this problem and make it worse. We want a scalpel, not a sledgehammer."
Randolph T. Holhut has been a journalist in New England for nearly 30 years. He edited "The George Seldes Reader" (Barricade Books). He can be reached at email@example.com.