What If Everything You Know About Terrorism Is Wrong?

One of the points I consistently try to get across in my writings and talks is that international terrorism is a good deal more complicated than most portrayals of it would have you believe. In many movies — and official presentations too, since governments often leave interesting details out of what they tell the public — there’s a shadowy group of bad guys bent on blowing something up, and it’s up to the good guys (cops and/or spooks) to stop them before they kill. Sometimes the case really is as simple as the Official Narrative portrays it, but often it’s not.

A couple days ago I explained how a terrorist group in Turkey called Tawhid-Salam, which is behind several attacks and assassinations in recent years, is really a wholly owned subsidiary of Iranian intelligence. It serves as a cut-out for the notorious Pasdaran, Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps, which is recognized by the U.S. Government as a terrorist group. What makes this particularly troubling is that Tawhid-Salam has evaded close scrutiny for years because top Turkish officials are in bed with Tehran.

My piece was met with a certain degree of incredulity. Would revolutionary Shia Iran really support Sunni terrorists? Yes, Tehran certainly would — and does. The Pasdaran has been backing Sunni jihadists, including Al-Qa’ida (AQ), since at least the beginning of the 1990’s, as my writings on Bosnia, which are based on reliable intelligence, have demonstrated. Certainly there has been a detectable relationship between Tehran and “AQ Central” since 1996 at least, a fact which is well known to intelligence services worldwide.

Yet most journalists and a distressing number of “terrorism experts” ignore such matters. One happy by-product of the current American-led war on the Islamic State is that some people are now more willing to state that Iran does in fact possess ties to various terrorist groups, among them AQ and the Islamic State. Yet it’s still a struggle to get many people to see what’s obvious here.

Part of this willful disbelief is due to simple ignorance. Most “terrorism experts,” and virtually all of them possessing academic credentials, have exactly zero personal interaction with operational counterterrorism; therefore they are ignorant of the fact that many intelligence services — and all of them in the Middle East — play a wide range of operational games with terrorist groups, AQ very much included, encompassing everything from placing agents inside terror cells to actually creating terrorist fronts like Tawhid-Salam.

Yet much of their ignorance is intentional, since there is ample open-source information demonstrating that the actual backstory of many terrorist groups is murky and messy. The Official Narrative peddled by virtually every talking head on television or mainstream op-ed writer omits important details, particularly the clandestine interaction of states with terrorists. There is no “it’s complicated” button in counterterrorism studies, but there ought to be.

This dirty complexity deters most “terrorism experts,” since it quickly leads to awkward questions about what’s really going on behind news reports of bombings and murders. Academics especially like things to be simple and preferably numeric. Here the dominance of social scientists in terrorism studies has played a pernicious role, since they want clean numbers upon which to work their statistical magic. Big Data is all the rage among academics working in counterterrorism, yet it seems to never occur to what I term the Credulous Number-Crunching Brigade that their data may be junk.

I’ve taken Brigade members to task over this, but the plain truth is that most academics simply ignore things that may contradict their assumptions about the reality of international terrorism. I’m not talking about professors who play fast and loose with numbers — academia is as prone to fantasy fads as anywhere — but those who simply avert eyes when discussion of real-world provocation and what I’ve called Fake Terrorism comes up. They don’t want to know.

This is particularly troubling because many of these “terrorism experts” are taken seriously by governments and are treated like rock stars in the Pentagon and other halls of power, even when their work is deeply flawed by its omission of fundamental realities. This aversion to complex questions that may have messy answers does not serve the cause of defeating terrorism.

As a result, critical questions about which governments are secretly collaborating with AQ and Salafi jihadists, and to what degree, tend to never even get asked, much less answered. To even bring them up is to invite ridicule, amid whispers of “conspiracy theories.” This leads to a strange, faculty-lounge-friendly universe of imagination that bears little resemblance to what the problem of international terrorism actually is.

A classic example of this came a few years back when I was sitting through a presentation on Salafi jihadism by a noted expert, someone who has appeared regularly in the media. Let me state that he’s a smart guy who has crunched a great many numbers and much of his presentation was interesting and relevant. The jaw-dropper arrived when he put up a slide — counterterrorism is as fueled by PowerPoint as everything else that touches the Department of Defense or the Intelligence Community — showing 1995 as the year with the greatest number of AQ terrorist attacks on the West.

In a very technical sense, this was a true statement, since that year did indeed witness an unusually large number of attacks by AQ-linked terrorists in Europe; several bombings in Paris by Algerians of the Armed Islamic Group (GIA) bolstered the numbers. However, the real story of the 1995 Paris bombings is one of the murkiest of all terrorism sagas in recent memory.

The Official Narrative is straightforward enough: GIA was using France, which has a large Algerian diaspora, as a major base for fund-raising and recruitment for their jihad against the Algerian regime, and a cell of operatives led by one Ali Touchent went off the rails and conducted seven bombings between late July and mid-October 1995, most famously attacking the Paris Metro, which altogether killed eight and wounded 157 civilians.

Paris was in panic mode after the bombings, and the terror cell was mostly rounded up by French authorities, being sentenced to long prison terms, save two members, one of whom went out in a blaze of glory. The other terrorist who evaded capture was Ali Touchent, the ringleader, who escaped the dragnet via GIA ratlines and apparently returned to Algeria. What became of this mystery man is difficult to answer with certainty — Algiers proclaimed his death more than once — but there is no doubt that Algerian intelligence, the military’s feared Department of Intelligence and Security (DRS), missed several chances to arrest Touchent, which may have something to do with the fact that the terror mastermind turned out to have close family connections to the DRS.

Hence there is a real question of who actually bombed Paris in 1995. Senior Algerian officials have admitted personal knowledge that Touchent was really a DRS agent provocateur, while top French intelligence officials have stated the same — and that Paris knew at the time that Algiers was actually behind the terror wave. The DRS manipulated GIA terrorists to conduct a series of bombings in France, an operation led by Ali Touchent, known as Tarek in the jihadist underworld, and this is something that jihadists close to the bombings likewise figured out.

Why the Algerian junta would bomb Paris via jihadist cut-outs is debatable, although DRS officials have stated that Algiers was feeling diplomatic pressure from France to take part in negotiations to end the country’s ugly civil war, which was entering its bloodiest phase. Paris was aware of the extent to which its Algerian partner was employing mass violence to defeat the Islamists and was troubled by the bloodshed. But the powerful DRS, which serves as the backbone of the military regime in Algiers to this day, was in no mood to negotiate with terrorists and wanted Paris to back off. The bombings achieved this, and French intelligence officials got the message and dropped talk of a negotiated settlement of Algeria’s civil war, which the regime effectively won in the latter half of the 1990’s by crushing GIA.

In contrast, there is ample evidence that the DRS deeply manipulated GIA from the outset, employing a strategy of penetration and provocation that Algerian spies learned from KGB instructors, the Russians having invented and perfected this dark art. This approach, while morally repugnant, proved highly effective at defeating the jihadists. By encouraging GIA to employ repulsive methods, above all embracing a violent takfiri tendency that led to the deaths of tens of thousands of Algerian civilians, the junta drove the jihadist movement into the ground and undermined the Islamist message.

GIA’s takfiri tactics, which included massacres of civilians by the hundreds, became so noxious that AQ broke ties with the group in 1997. Abu Musab al-Suri, perhaps the wisest strategist that the Salafi jihad movement has produced, worked closely with GIA and he realized that they had been deeply penetrated by Algerian intelligence, which was manipulating the group to murder innocents.

I have written about how the DRS defeated GIA with these ugly yet effective clandestine methods, making statements that are uncontroversial to most Algerians, who are well aware of how their country functions, only to meet skepticism from Western “terrorism experts,” who seem content to ignore mountains of evidence about what was really going on behind the scenes in Algeria’s civil war. Most academics will not acknowledge what Al-Qa’ida figured out about GIA almost twenty years ago.

At times, I have been tempted to conclude that fictional depictions of terrorism are sometimes more accurate than scholarly treatments of the problem. Yet, even then, many “experts” seem to miss the obvious. After 9/11, Joseph Conrad’s 1907 novel The Secret Agent enjoyed a brief fad as a “must-read” for insights into terrorism and the murderer’s mindset. No less than geo-strategy guru Robert Kaplan praised its “surgical insight into the mechanics of terrorism.” Conrad’s book can plausibly claim to be the first novel about terrorism (and one of the first spy novels), and I heartily endorse it.

However, those who encouraged everyone to pick up The Secret Agent to understand terrorism completely missed the point, as Conrad’s book is not about terrorism but fake terrorism. It’s unintentionally revealing that Western “terrorism experts” have plugged a novel that actually details how Russian intelligence used agents provocateurs masquerading as terrorists to discredit real terrorists over a century ago (which, in fact, the Tsar’s agents did frequently). Conrad, a Pole born Józef Korzeniowski in what is today Ukraine, was well acquainted with Russian secret methods, including what they call provokatsiya, his father having been imprisoned by the Tsar’s secret police for his Polish nationalist activism.

Really understanding terrorism is of more than academic interest as the West confronts a long-term war against Salafi jihadism. Obama came into office in no small part due to hopes from many Americans that the Bush-era Global War on Terrorism could be ended. But the enemy invariably gets a vote, and the rise of the Islamic State means that we face a protracted struggle against Salafi jihadism on many fronts. Even if Western governments, above all America’s, were to immediately embrace the unconventional strategy which I have proposed to defeat the enemy (see here and here), lasting victory over the jihadists is decades, not years off.

But a necessary first step is acknowledging that international terrorism is a good deal more complex than talking heads would have you believe. “Terrorism experts” in the academy and think-tankdom are hardly unique in their myopia — as I’ve noted, quite a few bookish “experts” in other fields basically have no idea what they’re talking about — but their unwillingness to dig deeply into the influence of states and intelligence services on terrorist groups means that the public is being misinformed and governments are getting bad advice. We no longer have the luxury of averting eyes, as the Salafi jihadist threat to the West is real and rising.

The appearance of the Islamic State as a major force in Iraq and Syria, with threats of terrorist attacks on the West, has concentrated minds again to a degree. But unwillingness to ask difficult questions persists in many quarters. Despite the fact that we have more than circumstantial evidence that the Islamic State is being manipulated by Syrian intelligence, and Iran’s too, these notions are dismissed out of hand by too many Westerners who study terrorism. Yet if we want to defeat the Islamic State, it would be wise to actually understand it. That Washington, DC, continues its bipartisan blocking of release of the full 9/11 Commission Report, which includes troubling details of Saudi misconduct regarding Al-Qa’ida, is not an encouraging sign.

This week we have yet another appalling beheading by terrorists linked to the Islamic State, this time the victim was a French tourist in Algeria. Given that the Islamic State has been cast out of the Al-Qa’ida family for its takfiri ways, including mass murdering of civilians — just as GIA was in 1997 — any serious analyst should be asking questions about what is really going on here, particularly given Algeria’s murky counterterrorism track record. Don’t let the Credulous Number-Crunching Brigade win, the stakes are too high.


48 comments on “What If Everything You Know About Terrorism Is Wrong?”
  1. Erik Jonker says:

    Great blog but this can not be “news” , even for amateurs like me who just read the available history of intelligence agencies and espionage. The problem is politicians in every country want to keep the picture as simple as possible for their electorat. The truth is always murky as you describe.

    1. 20committee says:

      It’s certainly not news to anybody who wants to know…which is really my point.

  2. c6543 says:

    The Islamic State may well have been cast out of Al Qaida, once, but it certainly seems to be getting more and more “likes” by the day anyway. Nusra seems to be joining the State in an upcoming attack on Lebanon, and several more groups, from Indonesia and the Phillipines to Libya have stated their allegiance, so there certainly seems to be a huge demand for still more ultraviolent takfirism in quite large circles in the Muslim world. IS may be managed from somewhere but it’s not all about pretence.

    If this kind of terrorism have been managed before as a repeated/inverted TRUST-operation to suck in and destroy the most violent-minded enemies of the Algerian state, then I guess it might also be managed to wage proxy-wars on “third parties”, such as the West for instance, as we know that all Jihadi ideology names the US as enemy no 1, which by the way followers of another major ideology do as well.

    The effect would of course be increased by combining the forces of IS/AQ/MB islamism with other forms of warfare in a huge special war operation: psychologic, economic or even demographic and political/diplomatic for a turbo effect. More effective, reliable and cheap than a thermo-nuclear war.

    German daily Die Welt has written a bit about the bombing of “La Belle” discoteque in Berlin. Do you see a continous line from those days up until today?


    Would you classify the mass murder on Utoya Island in Norway as an act of false flag Provokatsya, closely related to what is happening today in the Middle East, or just an act of a lone wolf madman?

    1. 20committee says:

      Breivik was a lone-wolf madman. There remain unanswered questions about the LaBelle bombing. If you’re familiar with TRUST, you’re halfway (at least) to getting what I’m talking about.

      1. c6543 says:

        No loose ends at all in the official Breivik investigation? What about the rumours of trips to Belorussia and dealing with conflict diamonds in Liberia and forged certificate scams? Sounds more like he was part of a network of some kind. He certainly made a useful impact.

      2. 20committee says:

        Key word: rumors.

      3. AIM9 says:

        Hope I’m getting this in the “correctist place” as XXCommittee isn’t likely to. Given recent History.


      4. Guns says:

        Breivik was as you say “a lone wolf madman”.
        But does that rule out that somebody could have groomed him through advaced manipulation into his lone wolf madness?

      5. 20committee says:

        No, but I would need to see some evidence of that.

    2. KyleWOrton says:

      Just FYI while it’s true the Islamic State is having some success in the Far East—indeed the only significant baya it has is from Jamaah Ansharut Tauhid in Indonesia—it’s actually not gotten any organisation-level loyalty elsewhere, though there is much popular enthusiasm (for now) in the jihadi “community”. And the alliance of the Nusra branch in Qalamoun—attacking into Lebanon around Arsal—is a wholly localised phenomenon: Nusra’s central control is breaking down but its official leadership and all other branches (Idlib, the south, what’s left in the east) are warring with the IS.

  3. AIM9 says:

    I assure you XXCommittee I was going to be commenting upon reaching your final sentence but, I didn’t want to forget something you’ve noted that I got (maybe presumptuous – hope not) “itchy” to add a gentle clarification to.

    Your paragraph eight ” … but the plain truth is that most academics simply ignore things that may contradict their assumptions about the reality of international terrorism”?

    Of course my insertion makes the sentence a little oh, clunky I suppose but:

    … the plain truth is that most academics simply ignore things that may contradict their *for the contract* assumptions about the reality of international terrorism.

    It used to be said more frequently, “If it doesn’t say AQ, it won’t get funded” is what I’m meaning.

    Now I’ll go back and finish your post.

    By the way, it’s a good and, as it happens, a necessary post. Thank you Sir.

    1. 20committee says:

      Thanks for your comments. “Just add AQ” is an easy way for academics to get funding and for countries to get US financial and military help (and often a Western/US blind eye turned to your human rights abuses if they can be spun as “counterterrorism”).

  4. mrmeangenes says:

    Reblogged this on mrmeangenes and commented:
    Thought provoking as always !

  5. Schillervision says:

    Great post! So much complexity and differing dimensions than what meets the eye.

    For some reason I thought it was just obvious (or at least, its the narrative I’ve followed) that IS has grown out of the remnants of AQI and was bolstered by al-Assads release of his most ruthless criminal minds in that act of a benevolent dictatorship, several years ago. (Likely at the behest of his Iranian counterparts)

    So we see what its become at this point, and the Iranian/Syrian plan to drag the US back into battle in the middle east has definitely worked, if that was indeed the goal. But ultimately, how much control does Shia Iran really have over these groups? Is it really as easy as a handover to the US on the bargaining table?

    And looking for an experts opinion, how much say, if any, would the Russians have had in this given their involvement on Syria? Mostly Im curious as to their worries of blowback via the increasingly large number of Chechens that are being reported there. Would they be facilitating these numbers? Unhappy but hands are tied and not really worried (e.g. same s**t ,different toilet), or actively monitoring this situation and keeping tabs on any returnees?

    I just find it interesting how Russia was such a large force in the news media regarding Syria in the opening stages of the war, but now Iran and IS seem to be taking front and center, I have a hard time believing Russia has just backed out, even with their business in Ukraine.

    1. 20committee says:

      Indeed….Moscow has not backed out, they are just being a bit quieter about their role in the Syrian civil war. Given the large number of Chechens fighting with IS, the Kremlin follows their activities with considerable interest.

      1. AIM9 says:

        It might be added and considered in light of Ukraine – Iran’s proven gas reserves exceed those of Russia’s.

        Follow the pipelines.

    2. 4MK says:

      at the end of the road everything post June 2001 will eventually trace back to Moscow,with hindsight its obvious,the common denominator is Moscow,you might s well say it i have believed it for 13 years and 3 months

  6. There was always a strange gap in Western knowledge about the degree to which (post 9/11) Iran was holding AQ leaders in Iran who had fled from Afghanistan in late 2001. My understanding was Iran had AQ leaders under “house arrest” which to be fair was more arrest than house.

    I have to say that I have always been a sceptic as to how much coordination Iran and its security apparatus would ever with takfiri Sunni groups, not just because they kill Shia etc (which is no small matter to Iran) but also because Tehran does not support people they cannot control. And any group that thinks it is getting Iranian help from the kindness of its Persian heart knows nothing about how Iran has been able to dominate its near abroad since the 16th century. (This was true of the Shahs as well btw).

    This said, one cannot help but notice IRGC Quds’ Qasem Soleimani’s moving in ever decreasing circles in the last few years as Tehran’s plenopotentiary for Iraq-Syria etc. I have always seen Iran’s plan as a Tehran-Baghdad-Damascus-Hezbollah axis (aka Shiastan) right across the Middle East. It is the only scheme being pursued at present that makes any sense whatsoever. Qasem Soleimani has been in all those places in the last decade bolstering Iran’s clients.

    The only real obstacle to Iran’s plan are whatever Sunni Arab fighters, militias etc that stand in its way. Is IS one of Iran’s black proxies to wipe out the Sunni resistance? I am not convinced as yet because I see IS as much or more benefiting Turkish interests as I do Iran’s. But then you could be right and Erdogan’s spooks are themselves clients of the IRGC as well?

    Regardless, I would rather accommodate Iran’s Shiastan – at the price of it and its proxies crushing takfiri jihadis – than have the West again intervene in Iraq or Syria. Let the Iranian gendarme bring order to its own backyard.

    1. 20committee says:

      Let me say up front that I think that the USG’s pro-Saudi policies in the Gulf/ME – which have had canonical status since 1979 as an anti-Tehran strategy of sorts – should be open to question. Bob Baer wrote a whole book on this which I think is worth pondering (especially because Baer has zero illusions about Pasdaran, et al*).

      Soleimani has been the most important man in the region for a long time when it comes to implementing Iranian foreign policy. Just like the USSR, the intelligence service has more control here than the MFA, which is theoretically in charge (and, just like in Soviet times, most Western “experts” choose to avoid this fact).

      Iran has never worried about collaborating with Sunni extremists, though I think their relationship with AQ Central is very complicated even by Persian standards (they are closer to some AQ regional franchises than to Corporate HQ) – in fact, the resistance to a genuine alliance has always come from the Salafi side, for theological reasons.

      We are living in interesting times, mon vieux….

      PS One of my favorite present-day spy/terror novels is Baer’s, which is about the secret backstory to 9/11:

      1. Many thanks John. Will do so.

        My general view of Iran is that, under Shah or Mullahs, it would have the same hegemonic approach to the neighbourhood. The Shah supported insurgencies in neighbouring countries (esp the Kurds) and the Shah also asserted his Shia credentials to ensure Iran held sway, even as Khomeni etc plotted against him. If there is some magical transformation of Iran into a democratic state, then again the successor Iranian regime will pursue very similar policies.

        Iran cannot help but dominate its region and that means also subverting neighbours and undermining those who will not be directed from Tehran. The Iranians have a literally ancient strategic mind and anyone familiar with the Iranian military knows that the Iranian military – not just the IRGC – look at the centuries of the Shahs and their wars/conflicts as ‘teachable moments’ for Iran today. This is not a nation that is going to, as we say, “pull its head in” but instead is the same Iran of centuries that expects to get its way in the region.

        (Moreover there is NO Arab country that is remotely as capable as Iran at wreaking havoc outside its borders especially far outside its borders. The enormous network Iran has in the Gulfies states is based upon Gulfies figuring it is better to turn a blind eye to the Iranians than to risk a confrontation with Tehran.)

        Notwithstanding this and the respect I have for Soleimani’s impressive capacity to deliver hurt to Tehran’s foes/disloyal ex-proxies, as well as QS’ ability to be Keyser Söze….. BUT the Mullahs and QS must know that Tehran must have a relationship or understanding with the Turks for Iran to achieve the Shiastan it wants. Only the Turks can really stop the Shiastan that will naturally occur once IS is smashed.

        [This is why I find it curious that Iran has never called out the Turks when IS could not operate without Turkish acquiescence. Only explanation is that Iran gets something from IS as well]

        Finally, Iran also needs a rapport with the US. Iran especially needs the US to loosen sanctions. Iran would be wise to make sure that the NATO departure from AFG was smooth and trouble free, and that the Kabul regime was not destabilised by any insurgency run from or near Iran’s “Heratistan”.

      2. 20committee says:

        All things I have pondered as well … bottom line is whenever the mullah regime falls, as someday it will, Iran will default – probably rather quickly – into traditional Persian policies which will be more favorable to Western interests, broadly speaking, than not. Like clockwork. Bad news for the Saudis, of course.

  7. nutsandbolt says:

    So if we are so open to believing that Russian, Iranian and Algerian intelligence services are in bed with these terrorists, why the resistance to calling out American involvement? IS is more a creature of the CIA than Iran. With the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan winding down the USMIC needed a new enemy to keep the billions rolling in and who better than a shadowy hydra, so evil and omnipotent that it takes 40 nations and counting just to confront it let alone defeat it.

    Where I live IS is being used to justify increased servalence powers and serious attacks on our basic freedoms. Our PM has even gone as far as to admit that freedom and democracy are too weak and that we must give up freedom in order to have security. I’m not afraid of being beheaded by an IS fanatic but I am terrorified by what my government is doing to “protect” me from “fake terrorism”. As you admit the truth about terrorism is murkier than we think.

    1. 20committee says:

      Please provide evidence of US direct support for terrorist groups. Not Chomsky, an actual primary source.

    2. jorge says:

      “Please provide evidence of US direct support for terrorist groups” You’re kidding, right ? Gladio, Gladio B ? Of course none of the GCC countries (or Turkey) have nothing to do with ISIS/ISIL/IS…
      KGB didn´t invented or perfected “fake terrorism”. Sun Tzu said “All warfare is based on deception” (sixth century BC). Excuse my english.

      1. 20committee says:

        Is you take Ganser seriously I can’t help you.

      2. jorge says:

        What’s a “terrorist”? For example, US government considered Nelson Mandela a terrorist until 2008 (http://www.nbcnews.com/news/other/us-government-considered-nelson-mandela-terrorist-until-2008-f2D11708787) and helped the mujahideen (“freedom fighters”) in Afghanistan (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Operation_Cyclone#The_program). Operation Gladio (A) isn´t a Ganser’s “conspiracy theory”, to use your expression. (see here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Operation_Gladio#References , for example). And what about US involvement in South America ? About Op. “Gladio B”, I’m sure that you know who is SIbel Edmonds, for example. All this to say that “fake terrorism” and the strategy of tension are not techniques exclusive to KGB or Iran, of course.

      3. 20committee says:

        You are clearly unfamiliar with the scholarly standards I think are important to this debate.

  8. Alex says:

    I especially appreciate the point that the Algerian intelligence had learned their methods of infiltrating terrorist groups from the Soviets. It seems to my untrained judgment that as Communism fell in the 80 s and early 1990s, the knowledge and material resources for conducting terrorism at any professional level passed from the Societ Union and some Eastern Oc rogue states to Iran. This would have been a major historical turn that belies any claims that Iranian involvement in ostensibly Sunni jihadist terrorist attacks are simply the subject of conspiracy theory. Even without hard evidence, it would be irresponsible NOT to suspect Iran behind nearly every act of international Islamist terrorism.

  9. Lost Dog says:

    Fascinating post. Evidently I have a lot of reading to do.

    Any suggestions on where to start?

    1. 20committee says:

      Start with the links in the article…blog has a lot more.

  10. Dan says:

    I am bookmarking this one to resurrect when the US cuts a deal with the Persians to drop the hammer on the Sunnis to stabilize Iraq and check SA among other notable states and nation-states.

  11. c6543 says:

    How much good is a fake alliance, including Turkey and Iran (though not nominally), doing really? OK, this way of creating Unity Fronts might force some countries to act in a way they would otherwise not do, for the cameras, but if the impression is entirely false, doesn’t it really hurt our long term security more? Isn’t it just like the Pakistani Swat tactics on a grand scale?: Driving around in the Swat valley, shooting a bit here and there, mostly in the air, and at the same time having Bin Laden staying next door to the army HQ.

    Wasn’t the Grand Strategy all the time all about sucking the West into a meaningless costly war it can’t win, in this way at least, exhausting it’s resources and it’s will to fight. Are “we” not just doing what “they” want us to do, when the real war is going on somewhere else?

  12. listeningpost says:

    John, you’ve made a good case that all the state actors have been playing both sides of the board every chance they can and that precedents go back decades if not centuries. Clearly the US would not be hobbled by not following suit. You ask for examples of the US supporting terrorists. Isn’t that what we are doing now in Syria? What about the Contras? We know that the historical roots of AQ go back to the CIA. You’re not saying the the US has never given support to any terrorist groups ever, are you? I think to assert that one would have to have a definition of terrorism that would be so narrow as to be unserviceable. The CIA has had murky relations with the drug cartels as well.

    I don’t believe for a minute that the USG directly facilitated 911, however we do know that the USG at the highest levels was alerted that an attack via commercial airliners was imminent and that they basically turned a blind eye to it. We are told that various security and enforcement agencies had most of the pieces of the puzzle but that none put the pieces together, but we don’t know how true that may really be. Many of the actors were actually under surveillance. 911 greatly strengthened the agenda of neo cons’ goals, the rest is now history.

    Don’t you agree that we need to turn the mirror towards ourselves as well in order to understand the intrinsically murky aspects of these dirty ongoing wars?

    In the long run it seems that goals of all these regimes is their own self preservation, not nationalism per se, or cultural imperative, but maintenance of the reins of power by specific factions. The fate of hapless populations is not really part of the equation. In that light a coherent policy or strategy looks near impossible.

    1. 20committee says:

      I have repeatedly made clear that democratic societies must craft intelligence operations that are commensurate with their laws and customs, and that varies from country to country.

      As for, “We know that the historical roots of AQ go back to the CIA” — who’s “we” kemosabe? The roots of AQ go back to one Palestinian doctor in the mid-1980s, Abdullah Azzam, and the Afghan jihad. If you think the CIA created AQ, you have been reading too many weird websites. Try facts, many are available.

      1. listentingpost says:

        I apologize for being incorrect and imprecise, what I meant to point to was the Mujahadin that we trained and arme who migrated to AQ, and the Taliban as well I suppose. Perhaps “we” can agree on that.

        As far as weird websites, you’ve pretty much convinced me that what you assert in this blog is true, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t extremely weird. And tragic.

      2. 20committee says:

        Sometimes the truth is kinda weird.

  13. MarqueG says:

    Another informative post, and again well written and argued. I think the Paradebeispiel, parade example most familiar to everyone would be the Pakistanis and the Taliban — pronounced “tolly-bahn” in so many number-cruncher circles, I imagine, much like they might say “pocky-stahn.”

    I heard Michael Ledeen on the radio describing the Iranians’ methods as first to throw money at any nascent terror group, and next to finance its enemies when it gets out of hand. Based on the case you make, I take it that the Kremlin also takes bold risks experimenting with dangerous terror groups. Of course, their support for the mullahs might just be the best exemplar of the tactic altogether.

    Have to wonder, though, whether our national leaders are paying too much attention to the jihadist/takfiri bait while neglecting the source: depending on the shiny head-hacker involved, either the Iranians, Russians, Norks — or perhaps the Chinese CP? The latter seem mysteriously under-discussed in the realm of intelligence dark arts beyond cyber-this-and-that, IP theft, and what not. Have they no external provokatsia and Special War skills so seemingly common among authoritarian regimes?

    1. 20committee says:

      Looks like Ledeen’s got Tehran’s number there. As for the PRC, they are underdiscussed because their intelligence model (in FI) is rather different, namely based on battalions of students abroad (ie quantity vs quality), most of whom look nothing like spies. Also, they seldom go far outside their ethnic milieu. That said, they are a big threat that merits much more CI attention.

  14. Alex says:

    I hate to put the author on the spot, so I won’t be offended if he ignores this question, but I would be extremely glad to know what conclusion(s) he may have drawn regarding any role of state sponsorship in the 09/11/2001 attacks.

    I personally suspect heavily that Iran sponsored the attacks, based on information contained in the 09/11 Commission report and the (admittedly unverifiable) claims put forward by popular writers such as Ken Timmerman and Yossef Bodansky. The hijackers knew that the bare minimum number of terrorist operatives necessary to hijack certain commercial passenger jets without firearms was 5, and they were proven correct when the one plane on which there were only 4 hijackers was overtaken by passengers and crashed in Pennsylvania. Such operational planning would have required very good and thorough training, and there are no details available in open sources on where the hijackers learned how to hijack. I do believe, however, that the information available In English open sources does provide circumstantial clues that the hijackers were trained in Iran and by Imad Mughniyah. For instance, the 09/11 Commision notes that a senior Hezbollah operative was listed on the flight manifests of trips that some of the hijackers took throughout the Middle East. It does not take a particularly brilliant analyst to surmise that Mughniyah was the operative referenced and that he was training the future hijackers.

    1. 20committee says:

      I think Bob Baer’s novel about 9/11 comes uncomfortably close to certain truths nobody really wants to talk about.

  15. petedavo says:

    Some things may never come to light, but it’s probably more from embarrassment than criminality. (or should that be the other way around?) bit.ly/1a9taSl

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