Random thoughts from the counterterror front:
- It’s been commonplace, especially among conservative chest-thumpers, to say that world terrorism gained power during the ‘90s thanks to the insouciance of the Clinton administration. This was among the first assertions made by former Reagan Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger (on Fox News, natch) when he got on television after 9/11. But another part of the conventional wisdom is that a key to rousting the Taliban and al-Qaida in Afghanistan was the establishment in the Pentagon of a separate and powerful U.S. special operations command. And a former Senate staffer recently pointed out to me that this development was vehemently opposed by … Caspar Weinberger.
- Despite the news media’s emphasis on the hijackers’ split-second timing and Abu Zubaydah’s brilliance, the scariest thing about terrorism is that it doesn’t take a genius to pull off. None of the 9/11 suicide pilots was a good flight student. There is no evidence that any of them had significant multiengine stick time, much less heavy aircraft or airliner experience. The hijackers who were along to provide muscle got ready by dabbling in self-defense courses at fitness clubs. A former longtime CIA field agent recently told me he viewed the 9/11 operation as a “C-minus/D-plus.” But it should be clear now that at Terror University, that’s summa cum laude. If you have to think like a terrorist to beat one, this means counterterrorists have to be smart enough to think like a not-so-smart person.
- Much of the DOD’s tightfistedness about releasing meaningful counterterror information to reporters seems based on the view that journalists, unlike military and intel folks, have a loyalty problem. Witness Donald Rumsfeld’s complaint last month, made to a convention of newspaper editors, that “Anything that is against the U.S. … is big news and it gets on the front page.” Excuse me, but it’s a snap to come up with examples of career military and intelligence employees who sold the country down the river—like Navy Warrant Officer John Walker, Navy analyst Jonathan Pollard, CIA officer Aldrich Ames, FBI agent Robert Hanssen, and Army Col. George Trofimoff. Can Rumsfeld or his minions name even one reporter who’s done the same?