Monday, January 04, 2010

Go West Young Jihadist

It is discouraging at best to see that our Global War Crackdown on Terror International Perpetrators of Man Caused Disasters has run up against the dreaded absence of a "smoking gun" in the nearly man caused destruction of an airliner over Detroit.

"There is no smoking gun. There was no single piece of intelligence that said, 'this guy is going to get on a plane.'"
That is, other than a wallet $3000 lighter having purchased a one-way ticket, and the wallet's owner walking onto the aircraft having checked no luggage. We don't even need to get into any of the sordid "Nigerian" details, do we?

This information was provided to soothe an American audience by White House aide John Brennan, Barack Obama's top adviser on the prevention of man caused disasters. He might as well have just said 'It ain't our fault," and then walked off stage.

I thought ultimately, people seek elected office and seek public service positions to be responsible for something. I'm not certain I've ever seen an administration spend as much time and effort aggressively not accepting responsibility for the things it campaigned to control. Arguably, there has never been a transition process from one president to another designed to better allow the incoming administration to hit the ground running. For what purpose?

If there was ever a time to be concerned about the direction this country is headed in its effort to keep Americans safe from being blown to bits by Muslim jihadis, this is it. It took many months after 9/11 to put in place the policies and infrastructure necessary to more effectively fight against the jihad. 9/11 occurred after our intelligence budget had been slashed in the 1990s becoming effectively the intrinsic "peace dividend" that so many gluttonous bureaucrats slavered over in a desire to fund domestic social welfare projects. Both Republicans and Democrats were complicit in this.

The Soviet Union had fallen. New priorities emerged.

The CIA (a department that became more politicized during the Clinton years) had not only atrophied of existing field agents, but found itself in 2001/02 with even fewer candidates in the pipeline capable of eventually being placed in sensitive Middle East venues. Lag time from recruitment to on the ground assignment is measured in years rather than months. The development of assets such as these are impossible to quickly create.

There was Jamie Gorelick's information wall between the CIA and FBI that had to be dismantled. Different intelligence gathering agencies had to learn to cooperate with each other in a new age of non-competition. New techniques for the surveillance of terrorist networks had to be developed given the immediacy of events. The Patriot Act was passed. The Guantanamo detention facility was constructed and populated with terrorists. Policies were enacted with congressional oversight. Clandestine surveillance techniques were implemented that allowed us to track the financing of terrorists, listen in on international communications between terrorists, and mine other data. Lists of potential terrorists were created. New screening measures were created at airports. Student visas were perused more closely. On and on and on.

Each step was resisted.

In addition, federal authorities had to begin to closely follow rather pedestrian components of our society with renewed vigor. Crop dusting equipment, flight training schools, fertilizer manufacturing, etc., all became areas where additional diligence was necessary. All of these things demanded additional assets.

Still, we got lucky. When Richard Reid failed to detonate his explosive shoe over the Atlantic shortly after 9/11, Americans were exposed to a more sinister world where even a size 10 Nike could kill hundreds. This was not your Father's war.

We struggled on. American agents, using enhanced interrogation techniques, were able to get Khalid Sheik Mohammad to sing like a bird. (Finding valuable information in captured computers that amounted to a terrorist Rolodex didn't hurt either.)

As the years have passed, we have learned of several serious terrorist plots that were discovered and thwarted. New York subway tunnels were a target. Skyscrapers on both coasts and the midlands were targets. Airliner plots that would have rivaled 9/11 were uncovered and destroyed before they could even be attempted. Terror cells have been broken up. There are and were other plots too, both those made public, and those we must assume that remain secret so that our techniques of discovery and current surveillance remain secret.

Things are changing. More than eight years after 9/11, and more than eight years after we finally recognized that were at war with jihadists, our new administration resists the complexion of our war. This heightened emphasis on our appearance to those who would resist us while fighting a war of survival is having an effect not only on our ability to fight the war itself, but in disheartening our enemies along the way. It is safer now for a terrorist to try to blow up a domestic American target in, say, Detroit, than it would be for him to kill on distant soil. If that doesn't provide an incentive to 'go west young jihadi man,' I don't know what does.

Much was made of George Bush's handling of the war--that it inspired new jihadists and created breeding grounds for Muslims that hate America and the west. I'm sure that on some level that it did inspire some jihadists, but there seems to be no fewer jihadis willing to kill Americans now that a kinder president is in office. Our exposing a soft underbelly seems to have done little to cower the enemy.

President Obama's orchestration of this war, indeed, his reluctance to even consider it a war, is having a serious impact in our ability to fight terrorism. Those who believe that the absence of a "smoking gun" in the Detroit terror relieves the government of any responsibility is simply obtuse. Sooner or later, after years and years of building the personnel, policies and infrastructure necessary to fight an extended Hostility Against Whatever, these assets must be able to stand on their own despite an event that did not (arguably) provide a smoking gun in hindsight.

We have hired the likes of Barack Obama, Janet Napolitano, and John Brennan to investigate man caused disasters rather than prevent them. An accusation that the terrorist Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab would be able to shed some light on, that is, if he hadn't already lawyered up.

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