Wednesday, January 19, 2005

The right idea about how to fight terror

By the way, in the Sy Hersh New Yorker piece I linked to earlier this week, there was one piece of news that I found heartening:

The new rules will enable the Special Forces community to set up what it calls "action teams" in the target countries overseas which can be used to find and eliminate terrorist organizations. "Do you remember the right-wing execution squads in El Salvador?" the former high-level intelligence official asked me, referring to the military-led gangs that committed atrocities in the early nineteen-eighties. "We founded them and we financed them," he said. "The objective now is to recruit locals in any area we want. And we aren’t going to tell Congress about it." A former military officer, who has knowledge of the Pentagon's commando capabilities, said, "We're going to be riding with the bad boys."

One of the rationales for such tactics was spelled out in a series of articles by John Arquilla, a professor of defense analysis at the Naval Postgraduate School, in Monterey, California, and a consultant on terrorism for the rand corporation. "It takes a network to fight a network," Arquilla wrote in a recent article in the San Francisco Chronicle: "When conventional military operations and bombing failed to defeat the Mau Mau insurgency in Kenya in the 1950s, the British formed teams of friendly Kikuyu tribesmen who went about pretending to be terrorists. These 'pseudo gangs,' as they were called, swiftly threw the Mau Mau on the defensive, either by befriending and then ambushing bands of fighters or by guiding bombers to the terrorists' camps. What worked in Kenya a half-century ago has a wonderful chance of undermining trust and recruitment among today’s terror networks. Forming new pseudo gangs should not be difficult.... If a confused young man from Marin County can join up with Al Qaeda... think what professional operatives might do."

That the ticket: rather than launching needless wars against tinpot dictators, infilitrate the actual terrorist networks. The Bush regime is quite right that the people who perpetrated 9-11 cannot be dealt with the way one would deal with a conventional sovereign enemy; they need to be terminated, as Harrison Ford once put it, with extreme prejudice.

There's still stuff in this that's worrisome, of course (we're talking about the Bushies, after all). For one thing, it's quite inexplicable to me why there would be, by design, no oversight from the Pentagon and C.I.A. for these operations. While I understand that U.S. agents on these sorts of missions need to be able to act without being micromanaged, the lack of any oversight risks permitting unfortunate scope creep, and more seriously, makes it harder to synthesize any intelligence that may be gathered. In addition, the unwillingness to share any information about these activities with Congress is straightforwardly unconstitutional. But these are implementation details: the idea itself of covertly penetrating the terror networks is sound, and I'm glad to hear it's happening.

Of course, this kind of operation only highlights how Iraq has become the answer to the trivia question "What do you get when you cross a wild goose chase with a clusterfuck?" The problem with the war in Iraq is that, as even Bush himself has acknowledged, Iraq had absolutely nothing to do with the very real terrorist threat that the whole country finally woke up to on 9-11. In fact, as even conservatives are slowly beginning to concede, the Bush's splendid little war in Iraq has made the problem of dealing with the real terror threat only more difficult.

That Iraq is also a collosal human and diplomatic catastrophe is something else altogether.

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