Q: What's the most important part of the war on terrorism?A: It's the part fought by lawyers and accountants, not soldiers
Josh Meyer has an outstanding piece on the front page of today's Los Angeles Times
that looks at America's success (or lack thereof) in prosecuting the financial part of the war on terrorism. As I've written
before, this part is absolutely critical because global financial networks are what give terrorists the ability to move men, materiel, and money around the world. In essence, these networks give power projection capability to groups like Al Qaeda, transforming them from local thugs to global terrorists. Mr. Meyer reports that the work is not going as well as America might like.
Two years after Al Qaeda paymasters helped fund the Sept. 11 attacks from Dubai, one senior U.S. Treasury Department counter-terrorism official says this modern financial crossroads of the Middle East, Africa and Asia remains "a central switching station" of banks, money changers and gold and diamond traders through which terror organizations move cash.Analysis
Many countries believed to be at the epicenter of Al Qaeda's re-emerging network — including Afghanistan, Yemen and Somalia — are at best years away from establishing the financial and legal infrastructures needed to freeze terrorist assets or gain intelligence on how cells are raising, moving and spending money, say U.S. officials and their counterparts in other countries.
Away from the front lines, the effort to build a global coalition to staunch the flow of funds has suffered political, legal, cultural and technical setbacks so serious that some authorities fear it could fall apart. Many Middle Eastern and European countries, including Germany and France, have disagreed with the Bush administration over such basic questions as the definition of terrorism and what constitutes the financing of terrorism.
Nearly all of those who were identified by the U.S. government in the weeks after the Sept. 11 attacks as suspected senior financiers of Al Qaeda remain free, without ever having been detained or charged by foreign governments, and off limits to U.S. officials who want to question or arrest them.
Many other suspected financiers of Al Qaeda, other groups designated by the United States as terrorist organizations, such as Hamas and Hezbollah, and dozens of regional affiliates have simply gone deeper underground or changed to tactics such as using human and animal couriers to move large volumes of cash, officials say. Others have flocked to "soft spots," or countries and cities they have identified as having little scrutiny over their front companies, charities, relief organizations and banks, officials said.
"Two years after we started all this, we don't have a clue, really, as to how they raise their money, how they move it or where it goes," one U.S. official said of Al Qaeda, Hamas and Hezbollah.
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There have been many successes since President Bush signed Executive Order 13224 on Sept. 23, 2001, authorizing sweeping new powers for the Treasury Department and other agencies.
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But nearly all of the asset freezes occurred in the first few months, a sign, officials say, that the money has shifted elsewhere and that many countries have overlooked or refused to freeze suspected terrorist funds. Now, senior U.S. officials acknowledge, other complications have arisen.
: Surely, one major obstacle has been the general level of international support for America in its war on terrorism. After Sept. 11, America could do no wrong in the world. Even Arab countries were willing to look the other way when we launched Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan, understanding that it was necessary to excise the cancer of terrorism from that failed state. However, I believe we have squandered our international political capital since Sept. 11, and that this has cost us the ability to do what needs to be done in the financial arena. Mr. Meyer's article bears that out.
Saying this will land me in hot water, but I think there is some unfortunate irony here. Our campaign in Iraq was designed to open a new front in the war on terrorism. However, this campaign cost us dearly in world support, and that decline in world support now appears to be impeding other fronts in the war on terrorism. It's very likely that we have lost ground in this financial aspect of the war, and that those losses owe directly to our intransigence on the world stage. In an indirect way, our war in Iraq is frustrating the war on terrorism, and in net-assessment terms, it may actually be aiding terror networks abroad.
Moreover, our "flypaper strategy" in Iraq actually helps Al Qaeda remain a viable organization
in at least four ways:
(1) First, this strategy, helps Al Qaeda raise money
. The American occupation of Iraq inflames Arab opinion. It will help Al Qaeda raise money from moderate and radical Arabs for charitable and terroristic operations -- money which is fungible and highly moveable between the two operations. Furthermore, our war in Iraq will increase Al Qaeda's ability to recruit sympathetic persons around the world who are willing to move money around the world through the hawala system or other informal means.
(2) Our war in Iraq also helps Al Qaeda build its logistical support infrastructure
. A moderate Arab may not hate the U.S. enough to be a terrorist himself, but he may not mind letting them use his address for a visa, or store something in his warehouse. To the extent that our war inflames opinion among moderate Arabs and others against the United States, it will increase the number of people willing to lend discrete support for Al Qaeda. Such support may not include actual participation in a terrorist act, but it doesn't need to. Simply providing logistical support to Al Qaeda enables it to be a global terror network. The ability to move men and materiel across borders is a key component of Al Qaeda's organizational strength, and this ability will likely benefit from our war in Iraq.
(3) The war in Iraq will also produce a generation of trained guerilla fighters for Al Qaeda to recruit as terrorists
. One reason for Al Qaeda's lethality today is its skill base, which was gained through combat in Afghanistan, Sudan and Somalia, among others. The current guerilla war in Iraq is being fought in a complex operational environment, against a determined and sophisticated adversary (the United States and Britain). Moreover, these guerillas are learning the art of terrorism as theater, with legions of reporters and non-governmental organizations present to witness their actions. Just as Afghanistan and other conflicts provided training for Al Qaeda's recruits in the 1980s and 1990s, so too may Iraq provide the boot camp for terrorists in the 21st Century. Indeed, these fighters may form the new cadre for Al Qaeda to replace the fighters we have killed or captured in Afghanistan.
(4) Finally, success breeds success
. Al Qaeda depends on the conduct of "spectacular" operations for recruiting, financing, and other sustenance needs. Iraqi insurgents (possibly aided by Al Qaeda) have been able to successfully hit American and British forces in Iraq over and over again, producing casualties and frustrating the rebuilding effort there. These successes are much easier won than spectactular operations such as Kenya or 9/11, and they are probably helping Al Qaeda sustain itself in the Arab court of public opinion.
Before our soldiers and Marines crossed the line of departure into Iraq, the following question was raised on a military-officer listserv that I participate in:
Does an American invasion of Iraq --
(a) Make a terrorist attack on America more likely
(b) Make a terrorist attack on America less likely
(c) Maintain the same probability of a terrorist attack on America.
Our consensus was that (b) was certainly wrong, and that the right answer had to be (a) or (c). Today, six months after the war's start, I still think that's true. It's still too early to tell whether terrorists will leverage our campaign in Iraq to launch a terrorist attack on the United States, at least beyond the terrorist attacks they're launching daily against our soldiers there. And it's hard to tell how much our counter-terrorism/anti-terrorism measures have done to prevent another attack. However, I remain convinced that another attack is likely, and that we not let our campaign in Iraq distract us from the real threat to American security: terrorism
: Donald Sensing
points me towards a very interesting brief from the Congressional Research Service titled "Al Qaeda After the Iraq Conflict
", dated May 23, 2003. CRS terrorism specialist Audrey Kurth Cronin concludes that Al Qaeda remains a serious threat to American interests despite the Iraq and Afghanistan campaigns:
Most believe that the denial of safe havens and arrests of senior leaders have seriously crippled the organization when judged by its earlier form. However, it may be evolving into something new. For terrorist groups, periods of evolution can be particularly dangerous. Organizations in transition can be especially vulnerable to disruption and destruction, but they can also be less predictable and prone to lash out in order to cause additional damage, rally flagging supporters, and/or prove their continuing viability. With respect to Al Qaeda, evidence of new sophisticated operations, a possible succession plan in action, central coordination of attacks, and growing international ties, all increasingly converging on a common international agenda hostile to the United States and its allies, may give U.S. officials new reason for concern. In the short term at least, even successes in counterterrorist operations against a more decentralized organization can lead to greater difficulty in collecting reliable intelligence, as the paths of communication are increasingly unfamiliar, the personalities are changing, and the locations of operatives are more diffuse. While the long term trajectory is very difficult to assess, for the time being it seems that Al Qaeda (or its successors) has emerged from a period of inactivity and remains a very serious threat, requiring concentrated attention and vigorous countermeasures on the part of its prospective targets. [emphasis added]