Thursday, January 14, 2010

Brillant Defender or Light-Weight?


Brillant Defender or Light-Weight?
By Barry Rubin

Michael Leiter, director of the National Counterterrorism Center, gave a very interesting interview to the alumni magazine of his old college, Columbia University. I analyze some of the points made not to criticize Leiter but to point out some basic ideas held by the people responsible for protecting America and Americans from terrorist attacks.

We might as well begin by the statement I found most disturbing:

“I’m often asked if it’s a coincidence that we haven’t been attacked since 9/11, and the answer is flatly no.”

Not attacked? True, there has been no large-scale September 11 type operation but the number of small attacks or incidents that might represent terrorist attacks has risen very sharply. Like a police department that claims success in fighting crime by reinterpreting the statistics, U.S. officials have systematically classified Islamist terrorist events as something else.

Of course, Leiter’s statement sounds ironic in light of the Detroit underpants’ bombing but how about the Fort Dix plan, Fort Hood, the apparent preparations to attack Fort Bragg, and the assassination of an army recruiter in Arkansas (there does seem to be a pattern here, doesn’t there?), the shooting at the El Al counter in Los Angeles, the murder at the Jewish community center in Spokane (another pattern), and so on?

Perhaps Leiter meant to say there haven’t been successful attacks in most cases but that is also not quite true, though it is legitimate for officials like him to claim they have achieved a number of successes.

If the threat is being underrated, however, and terrorist attacks attributed to, say, mental instability, and attacks by individuals are being downplayed, this means the danger to the public is higher.

Leiter attributed the successes to three things; the first two are somewhat ironic after the Detroit operation:

“First, the U.S. government is much better prepared and organized; we share information today in ways that we never thought possible on September 10, 2001. Today, the information that flows through this building is from the CIA, the FBI, the military, DHS, all of them coming together to make sure that we don’t have gaps. Second, we’ve elevated our defenses in ways that simply make it a lot harder for al-Qaida or its sympathizers to get into or operate in the United States. Some of that obviously has negative repercussions — the way in which we screen travelers, and visas and the like.”

All of these factors failed in the Detroit case.