Long War Journal : US official explains National Counterterrorism Center's view of the enemy

Thursday, September 23, 2010

US official explains National Counterterrorism Center's view of the enemy

By Thomas Joscelyn | September 23, 2010

In testimony before the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee yesterday, Michael Leiter provided an overview of how his National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC) sees the terrorist threat. Leiter highlighted three types of threats: al Qaeda in northern Pakistan, al Qaeda affiliates around the world, and “homegrown” extremists who are inspired by al Qaeda’s “narrative” but do not necessarily receive guidance or assistance from senior al Qaeda leaders.

Leiter said the “range” of terrorist plots over the past year “suggests the threat against the West has become more complex and underscores the challenges of identifying and countering a more diverse array of Homeland plotting.”

Al Qaeda central

Leiter claimed that al Qaeda in Pakistan is “weaker today than at any time since the late 2001 onset of Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan.” Still, al Qaeda “remains intent” on “attacking the West and continues to prize attacks against the US Homeland and our European allies above all else.”

Al Qaeda launched a plot against the New York City subways last year. In Europe, there have been five “disrupted plots during the past four years,” Leiter told Senators in his written testimony. These include “a plan to attack airliners transiting between the UK and US, a credible plot in Germany, disrupted cells in the UK and Norway, and the disrupted plot to attack a newspaper in Denmark.”

Leiter also cited al Qaeda’s “propaganda efforts” as a substantial threat since “they are intended to inspire additional attacks by motivating sympathizers worldwide to undertake efforts similar to Nidal Hassan’s attack on Fort Hood last fall.”

Al Qaeda’s affiliates

Leiter cited al Qaeda’s “personnel losses” as one reason the core of al Qaeda has been weakened in recent years. Indeed, al Qaeda has lost key leaders due to America’s ongoing drone attacks in northern Pakistan. However, Leiter’s testimony also indicates why al Qaeda has been able to remain a serious threat despite these losses.

If al Qaeda is defined as only Osama bin Laden, Ayman al Zawahiri, and their immediate followers in northern Pakistan, then the threat they pose would still be worrisome but not nearly a global menace.

Unfortunately, al Qaeda’s power reaches beyond this narrow band of individuals. Leiter’s testimony confirms, once again, that al Qaeda is the tip of the jihadist spear – the vanguard of a global jihadist movement that shares a common ideology, goals, and resources.


Inside Afghanistan and Pakistan, al Qaeda’s senior leadership forged close relations with the heads of various jihadist organizations, thereby providing al Qaeda with strategic depth. For example, while Leiter cited the disrupted plot against a newspaper in Denmark as a success against al Qaeda, which is undoubtedly true, he noted that the plot was organized by Mohammed Ilyas Kashmiri, a commander in Harakat-ul Jihad Islami (HUJI).

HUJI was originally forged by jihadists committed to fighting the Soviets in the 1980s in Afghanistan. They received support from the Pakistani military and intelligence establishment, as did most if not all Pakistan-based jihadist organizations. In the 1990s, HUJI expanded its sphere of activity to India and Bangladesh, reportedly with assistance from Osama bin Laden.

Today, senior HUJI leaders such as Kashmiri actually work with and for bin Laden’s al Qaeda in the global jihadist struggle against America and her allies in Central and South Asia and beyond. In fact, Kashmiri is now a senior al Qaeda commander responsible for external operations – that is, operations against the West.

The same phenomenon can be seen in the disrupted plot against airliners traveling from the UK to the US in 2006, which was also cited by Leiter. Al Qaeda intended to destroy multiple airliners using liquid explosives assembled on board the planes once they were airborne. The plot was modeled after a plan named “Bojinka,” which was conceived by Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and his nephew Ramzi Yousef in the mid-1990s.

The plan was revived by al Qaeda after KSM’s arrest in 2003. The point man for the operation was Rashid Rauf, a senior member of Jaish-e-Mohammed (JEM). JEM was originally formed with assistance from the Pakistani military and intelligence establishment in the 1990s to fight Indian forces inside Kashmir. Like HUJI, JEM leaders serve al Qaeda’s global jihad. Thus, Rauf became one of the key figures in al Qaeda’s external operations wing.

The dossiers of terrorists like Rauf and Kashmiri illustrate that the lines between al Qaeda and other, like-minded jihadist organizations are becoming increasingly blurred.

Leiter cited other relationships in this vein. He called the Pakistani Taliban (Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan, or TTP), which was responsible for the failed Times Square plot in May, al Qaeda’s “closest ally.” Leiter added, “TTP leaders maintain close ties to senior [al Qaeda] leaders, providing critical support to [al Qaeda] in the FATA and sharing some of the same global violent extremist goals.”

Counterterrorism authorities are “looking closely” at the TTP, as well as the Haqqani Network, “for any indicators of attack planning in the West,” Leiter said. Like the TTP, the Haqqani Network has “close ties” to al Qaeda.

Leiter noted that Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), another creation of the Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency in the 1990s, “poses a threat to a range of interests in South Asia.” Moreover, LeT’s “involvement in attacks in Afghanistan against US and Coalition forces and provision of support to the Taliban and [al Qaeda] extremists there pose a threat to US and Coalition interests.”

Leiter said that while the LeT has not launched an attack against the West, it “could pose a direct threat to the Homeland and Europe, especially should they collude with [al Qaeda] operatives.”

Yemen, Somalia, North and West Africa, and Iraq

Outside of Afghanistan and Pakistan, Leiter cited four areas where al Qaeda’s affiliates are a particular concern.

Leiter described Yemen as a “key battleground and potential regional base of operations from which [al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, AQAP] can plan attacks, train recruits, and facilitate the movement of operatives.” As evidence of the threat posed by AQAP, Leiter cited an assassination attempt on a Saudi prince last August, as well as Umar Farouq Abdulmutallab’s attempted attack on Flight 253 on Christmas Day 2009.

Al Qaeda cleric Anwar al Awlaki “played a significant role in” Abdulmutallab’s plotting, Leiter says. According to published reports, Abdulmutallab met with the al Qaeda cleric in Yemen months prior to boarding a Detroit-bound airliner.

Some commentators have tried to distance Shabaab in Somalia from al Qaeda. But Leiter said that East Africa “remains a key locale for al Qaeda associates.” In addition, some Shabaab “leaders share [al Qaeda’s] ideology and publicly have praised Usama bin Ladin and requested further guidance from the group, although Somali nationalist themes are also prevalent in their public statements.”

Leiter also noted that Shabaab “leaders have cooperated closely with a limited number of East Africa-based [al Qaeda] operatives and the Somalia-based training program established by al Shabaab and now deceased [al Qaeda] operative Saleh Nabhan, continues to attract hundreds of violent extremists from across the globe, to include dozens of recruits from the United States.”

“The potential for Somali trainees to return to the United States or elsewhere in the West to launch attacks remains a significant concern,” Leiter explained in his written testimony.

In North and West Africa, al Qaeda in the Lands of the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) is a “persistent threat to US and other Western interests.” The “primary” threat, Leiter reported, comes from AQIM “conducting kidnap for ransom operations and small-arms attacks, though the group’s execution in July of a French hostage and first suicide bombing attack in Niger earlier this year punctuate AQIM’s lethality and attack range.”

Finally, counterterrorism operations have “continued to pressure” al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) and “hinder its external ambitions.” But it remains a “key” al Qaeda affiliate, Leiter reported. “While AQI’s leaders continue to publicly threaten to attack the West, to include the Homeland, their ability to do so has been diminished, although not eliminated.”

Homegrown Sunni extremism

Homegrown Sunni extremist activity has spiked, according to Leiter, with “plots disrupted in New York, North Carolina, Arkansas, Alaska, Texas, and Illinois during the past year.” Although these plots were “unrelated operationally,” they are “indicative of a collective subculture and a common cause that rallies independent individuals to violence.”

A crucially important part of Leiter’s testimony is his public identification of a “US-specific narrative that motivates individuals to violence.” This narrative, according to Leiter, is “a blend of [al Qaeda] inspiration, perceived victimization, and glorification of past homegrown plotting.”

In his new autobiography, A Journey: My Political Life, former British Prime Minister Tony Blair discusses this “narrative” at length and points out that it is not only a problem in the West, but also throughout the Middle East. Blair writes:

Here is where the root of the problem lies. The extremists are small in number, but their narrative – which sees Islam as the victim of a scornful West externally, and an insufficiently religious leadership internally – has a far bigger hold. …

It is the narrative that has to be assailed. It has to be avowed, acknowledged; then taken on, inside and outside Islam. It should not be respected. It should be confronted, disagreed with, argued against on grounds of politics, security and religion.
Leiter explained that the NCTC is coordinating a number of initiatives within the US government to counter this narrative. For example, the NCTC “helps coordinate the Federal Government’s engagement with Somali American communities” in order to counter radicalization. It is not clear, however, if the NCTC has a comprehensive plan in place to counter the narrative, as Blair argues is necessary.

Leiter cited two specific terrorist attacks in 2009 as examples of the threat posed by homegrown extremism: Major Nidal Malik Hassan’s shooting spree at Fort Hood, Texas and Carlos Leon Bledsoe’s attack on an US military recruiting station in Little Rock, Arkansas.

Leiter said these attacks “serve as stark examples of lone actors inspired by the global violent extremist movement who attacked without oversight or guidance from overseas-based [al Qaeda] elements.”

Leiter’s description does not match the facts of Hassan’s and Bledsoe’s attacks. Maj. Hassan contacted Anwar al Awlaki repeatedly by email to ask about the permissibility of certain acts (e.g. turning against the American Army) under Sharia law. Awlaki gave his blessing to Hassan. Awlaki would later claim in a propaganda video that he was proud to call Hassan one of his “students.” This certainly amounts to guidance.

In a letter to the judge in his case, Bledsoe (who changed his name to Abdulhakim Mujahid Muhammad) admitted he was guilty of the “Jihadi attack.” It is at least possible that Bledsoe did receive some “guidance” from overseas actors as he admittedly studied jihad in Yemen, and claimed that he was a member of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. It is not clear how much of Bledsoe’s letter is true, as opposed to bluster. But it is at least plausible that he did consort with al Qaeda or other jihadist organizations in Yemen.

"Homegrown" extremism is undoubtedly a serious security threat. However, it is often poorly defined.

MI5 : The Threat to National Security

Saturday, September 18, 2010

The Threat to National Security

Address at the Worshipful Company of Security Professionals by the Director General of the Security Service, Jonathan Evans.

September 16, 2010

1. Thank you very much for the invitation to speak at the Worshipful Company of Security Professionals.

2. I would like to take this opportunity to provide some comments on the national security threats as we currently see them, not least so that those with responsibility for managing risks to their businesses – or even in their private lives – can do so on an informed basis. So I intend to cover the threat in three parts, first, Irish Republican dissident terrorism, then Al Qaida and its associates, and finally espionage.

3. I start with Northern Ireland because of the developments in the last eighteen months. The Security Service, as part of the arrangements to facilitate the devolution of policing and justice under the Good Friday Agreement, assumed the lead responsibility for national security intelligence work in Northern Ireland in October 2007. At that point our working assumption was that the residual threat from terrorism in Northern Ireland was low and likely to decline further as time went on and as the new constitutional arrangements there took root. Sadly that has not proved to be the case. On the contrary we have seen a persistent rise in terrorist activity and ambition in Northern Ireland over the last three years. Perhaps we were giving insufficient weight to the pattern of history over the last hundred years which shows that whenever the main body of Irish republicanism has reached a political accommodation and rejoined constitutional politics, a hardliner rejectionist group would fragment off and continue with the so called "armed struggle".

4. Like many extreme organisations, the dissident Republicans have tended to form separate groups based on apparently marginal distinctions or personal rivalries. But those separate groups can still be dangerous and in recent months there have been increasing signs of co-ordination and cooperation between the groups. This has led to a position where this year we have seen over thirty attacks or attempted attacks by dissident Republicans on national security targets compared to just over twenty for the whole of last year. In addition we have seen an increasing variety of attack techniques used, ranging from shootings to undercar devices to large vehicle bombs. At the same time we have seen improved weapons capability (including the use of Semtex). The vast majority of attacks are directed at the security forces, principally the Police Service of Northern Ireland. But the terrorists are reckless - often putting members of the public at risk. While at present the dissidents' campaign is focussed on Northern Ireland we cannot exclude the possibility that they might seek to extend their attacks to Great Britain as violent Republican groups have traditionally done. Therefore, while we do not face the scale of problems caused by the Provisional IRA at the height of the Troubles, there is a real and increasing security challenge in Northern Ireland.

5. There is a crucial difference in my view from the position fifteen years ago. The Provisionals at their height could claim the political support of a significant body of opinion in Northern Ireland, and did develop a credible political strategy to operate alongside their terrorist campaign, but we see little evidence of a viable political programme on the part of the dissident Republican splinter groups. Their political base is small and localised. It is also clear that many of the dissident Republican activists operate at the same time as terrorists and organised criminals, with involvement in both smuggling and the illegal narcotics market, despite public denunciations of drug dealing. No doubt they see some benefit to their criminal enterprises from their terrorist activity and vice versa.

6. Despite the demands in Northern Ireland, where we have reinforced our presence in response to the increased violence and work closely with the Police Service of Northern Ireland, the main effort for the Security Service remains international terrorism, particularly from Al Qaida, its affiliates and those inspired by its ideology.

7. I don't want to give a number for those of current security interest as that has sometimes been used in the past as a kind of metric for the severity of the threat. But I can say that while the UK's counter terrorist capabilities are enormously more effective than was the case ten years ago, we remain extremely busy with terrorist casework on a day-to-day basis. Though it is rightly invisible to the man or woman in the street there is a huge amount of activity taking place every day to manage the terrorist risks this country still faces. Every day hundreds of officers are involved in this intense struggle, identifying and investigating people suspected of being, or known to be, involved in terrorism or the infrastructure that makes terrorism possible. And all the time we are looking for opportunities to disrupt their illicit activities before they can endanger the public. The secret nature of this struggle makes it hard for those not directly involved to understand some of the skirmishes that come into the public domain: for example the Control Orders, the immigration cases and the criminal cases. So it might be helpful for me to describe what this daily struggle involves, since counter terrorism is subject of some rather misleading and excitable conjecture.

8. Each month at present we receive in Thames House, our Headquarters, several hundred pieces of information that might be described as new "leads" to violent extremism and terrorism relevant to the UK. These leads come from a variety of sources. They might be suspicions passed on by members of the public, they might be pieces of information passed to the UK from other countries, they might be reports from the police, from GCHQ, from MI6, from our own telephone intercepts, human sources in and around extremist groups and so on. But it is impossible to investigate fully several hundred new leads a month so we have a well established system for prioritising the leads according to how directly they appear to indicate a terrorist threat, or terrorist support activity here in the UK. The most worrying leads are investigated most fully; those at the bottom of the priority list might receive only limited scrutiny. This is not ideal and involves difficult risk judgements, but it is the unavoidable practical fact of counter terrorist work within any realistic resource constraints. We are fully aware that among those apparently lower priority leads might be some that are in reality very significant, but given that most of our resources are already tied up in existing cases (because some cases can go on for months or years) and that we shall have several hundred more new leads every month, we have to make decisions about which ones we pursue. (It was this need to prioritise that the Intelligence and Security Committee described in their thorough report into the 7 July bombings).

9. Once these leads have been prioritised, the higher priority ones are investigated using the capabilities available under the law to our Service, the Police and the other agencies. This is a highly integrated process because there is no way effectively to separate the domestic and overseas aspects of such cases. Very few of our counter-terrorist investigations today are solely UK-based, which is why close integration with SIS and GCHQ, as well as the Police, is critical. The purpose of the investigations is to find out whether there is anything to worry about, and if so to find out as much as we can about it so action can be taken to stop the terrorist planning or stop the support activity. This might be by arrests, by immigration action, by special measures such as Control Orders or in some other way. Our aim is to reach a position of assurance where any threat is identified and action taken to disrupt it before any harm is done, and particularly before there is an imminent danger to the public. This is of course easier said than done, and will never be fully achievable, but it is the aim.

10. It is interesting to note in this context that in the last ten years what might be called a "zero tolerance” attitude to terrorist risk in Great Britain has become more widespread. While it has always been the case that the authorities have made every effort to prevent terrorist attacks, it used to be accepted as part of everyday life that sometimes the terrorists would get lucky and there would be an attack. In recent years we appear increasingly to have imported from the American media the assumption that terrorism is 100% preventable and any incident that is not prevented is seen as a culpable government failure. This is a nonsensical way to consider terrorist risk and only plays into the hands of the terrorists themselves. Risk can be managed and reduced but it cannot realistically be abolished and if we delude ourselves that it can we are setting ourselves up for a nasty disappointment.

11. In the investigations that we are pursuing day to day, sometimes our ability to uncover and disrupt a threat goes right down to the wire, as was the case with the airline liquid bomb plot in 2006. The plotters were only days away from mounting an attack. Sometimes it is possible or necessary to step in much earlier, though in such cases it can be hard to get enough evidence to bring criminal charges. But I would rather face criticism when there is no prosecution (often accompanied by conspiracy theories about what was supposedly going on) than see a plot come to fruition because we had not acted soon enough. Operation Pathway, the disruption of an Al Qaida cell in North West England 18 months ago, is a good example of a necessarily early intervention where criminal charges could not eventually be sustained. The case has subsequently been reviewed by the Special Immigration Appeals Commission and Mr Justice Mitting concluded that the case involved a genuine threat from individuals tasked by Al Qaida. Whilst we are committed to prosecutions wherever possible it is a sad fact that for all sorts of good reasons terrorist threats can still exist which the English criminal justice system cannot reach. The government cannot absolve itself of the responsibility to protect its citizens just because the criminal law cannot, in the particular circumstances, serve the purpose.

12. If that is the investigative and assurance process, how does the overall threat look today in comparison with three or four years ago?

13. At any one time we have a handful of investigations that we believe involve the real possibility of a terrorist attack being planned against the UK. That number will fluctuate and some cases may not develop as far as we had expected, but most turn out to be the real thing. The fact that there are real plots uncovered on a fairly regular basis demonstrates that there is a persistent intent on the part of Al Qaida and its associates to attack the UK. But as well as intent there has to be capability and their capabilities can be patchy. Some of those we see being encouraged or tasked by Al Qaida associates to mount attacks here are not people with the skills or character to make credible terrorists. Others are. But determination can take you a long way and even determined amateurs can cause devastation. The case of the neo-Nazi David Copeland, who attacked the gay and ethnic minority communities with such appalling results in 1999, is a good example of the threat posed by the determined lone bomber. Against that analysis, the recent encouragement by a senior Yemen-based Al Qaida associate to his followers in the West, to mount any sort of attack against Western interests and not to feel the need to aspire to spectacular terrorism such as 9/11, is a real concern.

14. The percentage of the priority plots and leads we see in the UK linked to Al Qaida in the tribal areas of Pakistan, where Al Qaida senior leadership is still based, has dropped from around 75% two or three years ago to around 50% now. This does not mean that the overall threat has reduced but that it has diversified. The reduction in cases linked to the Tribal areas of Pakistan is partly attributable to the pressure exerted on the Al Qaida leadership there. But the reduction is also partly a result of increased activity elsewhere. In Somalia, for example, there are a significant number of UK residents training in Al Shabaab camps to fight in the insurgency there. Al Shabaab, an Islamist militia in Somalia, is closely aligned with Al Qaida and Somalia shows many of the characteristics that made Afghanistan so dangerous as a seedbed for terrorism in the period before the fall of the Taleban. There is no effective government, there is a strong extremist presence and there are training camps attracting would be jihadists from across the world. We need to do whatever we can to stop people from this country becoming involved in terrorism and murder in Somalia, but beyond that I am concerned that it is only a matter of time before we see terrorism on our streets inspired by those who are today fighting alongside Al Shabaab.

15. The other area of increased concern in respect of the domestic threat to the UK is Yemen. The AQ affiliate based in Yemen, known as "Al Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula" is the group that among other things developed the concealable non-metallic underpants bomb used in both the attempt to murder the Saudi Security Minister His Royal Highness Prince Mohammed Bin Naif in 2009 and in the narrowly averted Christmas 2009 aircraft bombing over Detroit by Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab. The operational involvement of Yemen based preacher Anwar Al Awlaqi with AQAP is of particular concern given his wide circle of adherents in the West, including in the UK. His influence is all the wider because he preaches and teaches in the English language which makes his message easier to access and understand for Western audiences. We saw his hand in the Abdulmutallab case. There is a real risk that one of his adherents will respond to his urging to violence and mount an attack in the UK, possibly acting alone and with little formal training, and we have seen a surge in Yemen related casework this year. The outcome of some of these investigations has been reported in the media.

16. In terms of the trajectory of the threat it is worth also drawing attention to some other relevant factors.

17. First, our experience over the last ten years has shown that networks of terrorist supporters can be extraordinarily determined, resilient and patient. We see groups that have been disrupted and where several members have been convicted of terrorist or other offences, but that are able to revive and resume terrorist-related activities within a relatively short period of time and sometimes under other leadership. And of course they learn each time from the mistakes that they or others have made.

18. Second, it is now nine years after 9/11. The upsurge of terrorist support activity in the years immediately following it is long enough ago for individuals who were successfully investigated and convicted of criminal offences during that period now to be coming out of prison having served their terms with remission. Unfortunately we know that some of those prisoners are still committed extremists who are likely to return to their terrorist activities and they will be added to the cases needing to be monitored in coming years. Experience has shown that it is very rarely the case that anyone who has been closely involved with terrorist-related activity can be safely taken off our list of potentially dangerous individuals; the tail of intelligence "aftercare" gets increasingly lengthy.

19. Third, we are now less than two years from the London Olympics. The eyes of the world will be on London during the Olympic period and the run up to it. We have to assume that those eyes will include some malign ones that will see an opportunity to gain notoriety and to inflict damage on the UK and on some other participating nations. There will be a major security operation to support the Games, but we should not underestimate the challenge of mounting the Games securely in an environment with a high terrorist threat, the first time this has been attempted.

20. So, to sum up the Al Qaida related threat. The country continues to face a real threat from Al Qaida-related terrorism. That threat is diverse in both geography and levels of skill involved but it is persistent and dangerous and trying to control it involves a continual invisible struggle. Counter-terrorist capabilities have improved in recent years but there remains a serious risk of a lethal attack taking place. I see no reason to believe that the position will significantly improve in the immediate future.

21. I would like to conclude with a brief reference to the espionage threat. Events over the summer in the United States underlined the continuing level of covert intelligence activity that takes place internationally. Espionage did not start with the Cold War and it did not end with it either. Both traditional and cyber espionage continue to pose a threat to British interests, with the commercial sector very much in the front line along with more traditional diplomatic and defence interests. Using cyberspace, especially the Internet, as a vector for espionage has lowered the barriers to entry and has also made attribution of attacks more difficult, reducing the political risks of spying. And cyber espionage can be facilitated by, and facilitate, traditional human spying. So the overall likelihood of any particular entity being the subject of state espionage has probably never been higher, though paradoxically many of the vulnerabilities exploited both in cyber espionage and traditional espionage are relatively straightforward to plug if you are aware of them. Cyber security is a priority for the government both in respect of national security and economic harm. Ensuring that well informed advice is available to those who need it, including through the use of private sector partners is, and will remain, vital.

22. It is fitting that I should make these comments to the Worshipful Company of Security Professionals. National security is obviously a responsibility of government but the assets that underpin both our security and our economic wellbeing are to a large extent owned or managed by the private sector. The objectives of the Company, including the promotion of excellence and integrity, and the advancement of knowledge in the security profession, in whatever sector, are therefore highly relevant to the national security challenges we face. I hope that the comments that I have made will contribute to the successful planning and implementation of the good security practice that underpins so much of our national life today.


Monday, September 13, 2010


by Kurt Haskell | September 13, 2010

It has been nearly nine months since Lori and I were almost killed by the Underwear Bomber, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab. For the first few months, Lori and I were very vocal over the media blackout and corresponding cover up to the real story of the Christmas Day events. If anyone is not familiar with our experience, our story can be read here in this blog. For the past few months, we have chosen to sit back and watch as the trial, or lack thereof, plays out in the courthouse we regularly practice in. While the media blackout to the true events continues, the failed attack on our credibility has been replaced with deafening silence as to our eyewitness account. To us, this matter has never been about seeking vengeance against the Underwear Bomber. When taking our eyewitness account and adding it to the small amount of honest facts that have come out, one can only recognize the Underwear Bomber as a mere patsy. It is quite shocking that, thus far, the Underwear Bomber hasn't been forever silenced as other patsies that have come before him. What has led me to write this update is the following article:


It seems as though the Underwear Bomber has now decided to fire his attorneys and represent himself. I am actually not too surprised by this event. Being an attorney myself, I can see his attorneys trying to stuff a settlement down his throat while he argues in opposition that he was set up. Further, I must consider the following in realizing why this happened:

My nephew recently started law school. In August he had an orientation with a guest speaker. That speaker just happened to be none other than the Underwear Bomber prosecutor, Barbara McQuade. During such orientation, Attorney McQuade indicated that she has a case in which certain information can only be given to the judge and not released elsewhere due to "National Security". Since Attorney McQuade was only appointed as a federal prosecutor in the summer of 2009, it is not too difficult to determine what case she is referring to. I am sure that this information could only lead to further frustration on the part of the Underwear Bomber and continued conflict with his attorneys.

When I read the Free Press article today, the attorney in myself came out and I had to ask how I would like to see the defense of this case handled.

It seems to me, that now that the Underwear Bomber is representing himself, or possibly using new attorneys, that the use of an entrapment defense is not out of the question. The use of such a defense could be one of the greatest moments in the history of the United States of America. Only through a defense such as this, could the full involvement of the U.S. Government be fully discovered and divulged. Please consider the following:

1. The Underwear Bomber was escorted through security without a passport by the Sharp Dressed Man who by all accounts, appears to be a government agent.
2. Congressional hearings have confirmed that the Underwear Bomber was likely let on flight 253 intentionally.
3. The bomb failed to detonate, and by many accounts, was designed so that it would not detonate.
4. The entire terrorist attack was filmed from before it started until after it ended.
5. The bomb was obtained in Yemen where the CIA has been known to have agents interacting with Al Qaeda.

Once you accept the above, it is not so far fetched to believe that the U.S. Government planted a defective bomb on the Underwear Bomber to:

1. Renew the Patriot Act
2. Get body scanners in the airports
3. Further the U.S. involvement in strategically located Yemen
4. Further the fraudulent war on terror
5. Provide further profit to the military industrial complex

Only through an entrapment defense that is fully litigated in open court could the American citizens get what they deserve, an open honest investigation into the Christmas Day events of 2009. Such a trial could possibly wake up the millions of American citizens that fail to even consider that its government is corrupt, dishonest, and working for those who only seek to consolidate their power and wealth.

I am not holding my breath that a trial with an entrapment defense will occur. Nor could I (under the rules of the State bar), or would I, want to be involved in the representation of a man that almost killed me. I encourage my fellow members of the bar to consider representing the Underwear Bomber pro bono and using such a defense to help not only your potential client, but also your fellow American citizens. It is not the prosecution of the Underwear bomber that will help fight the fraudulent war on terror. It is the prosecution of the U.S. Government officials responsible for the Underwear Bomber attack that will put an end to the U.S.S.A. (United Socialist States of America) and restore the U.S.A.

Reuters India : Arrests stir worry about Qaeda plots in West

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Arrests stir worry about Qaeda plots in West

By William Maclean, Security Correspondent | September 7, 2010

LONDON (Reuters) - Their place in history assured, are al Qaeda's ageing leaders content merely to propagate their ideology and tactics among like-minded militant groups?

Counter-terrorism analysts say the answer is no: evidence emerging in the West shows the veteran Islamist instigators of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on the United States retain an ambition to execute plots and not just act as propagandists.

They point to investigations into suspected conspiracies uncovered in the past 18 months in the United States, Norway and Britain, which law enforcement officials say were directed by a group of operatives in the core leadership's bases in Pakistan.

Gauging the influence and expertise of the movement's leaders, believed hiding in northwest Pakistan near the Afghan border, is important for Western strategists since Washington has said its main goal in the Afghan war is fighting al Qaeda.

In recent years the threat of U.S. drone strikes is believed to have constrained the ability of a once-active core of plotters around Osama bin Laden and his deputy Ayman al-Zawahiri to bring to fruition significant conspiracies beyond south Asia.

But experts say that in 2008 Saleh al-Somali, then al Qaeda external operations chief and believed close to the leadership, set in motion a plot in the United States and two alleged conspiracies uncovered in Britain and Norway.

He organised bomb-training for militants in northwest Pakistan and sent them back to prepare attacks in the United States, Britain and Norway, analysts say.


A Western counter-terrorism official said the evidence of Somali's involvement suggested to Western governments that the group's leaders retained an ambition to launch attacks.

U.S. prosecutors said Somali was helped in the U.S. plot by Adnan al-Shukrijumah, a Saudi-born operative, and Rashid Rauf, a British al Qaeda-linked militant of Pakistani ancestry.

Paul Cruickshank, a terrorism expert and an alumni fellow at the Center on Law and Security at New York University's School of Law, said the plots "show al Qaeda core remains a threat".

"Westerners are still travelling (from homes in the West) to the tribal areas (of Pakistan) in significant numbers... It gives al Qaeda a chance to turn them around and send them back."

"Some of al Qaeda's most experienced bombmakers are there, and so the area remains a significant danger," he said.

For al Qaeda, carrying out a big attack in the West is key to fundraising among wealthy supporters, some of whom have been demoralised by the failure of the group to strike at the West sucessfully since London bombings in 2005 that killed 52 people.


Bill Braniff, a senior expert at the Combating Terrorism Center at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, said Somali's siting of the plots in three different countries was intended to reduce the risk that all three would be detected.

"These plots show al Qaeda's trademark complex attack, geographically distributed," he said referring to the movement's style of multiple bombings.

"If they had succeeded, you would have had a huge propaganda effect from attacks in all three countries."

The plots were dealt successive blows when Rauf was reported killed in a U.S. drone strike in Nov. 2008 and Somali was killed by a drone in Dec. 2009.

But Shukrijumah is widely believed to be alive and is now considered "a very prominent member of the inner circle" of operational planning, according to Roger Cressey, a U.S. security expert and president of Good Harbor Consulting.

Western governments are concerned that subsequent groups of militants trained in northwest Pakistan in 2009 and 2010 may have now made their way to the West to prepare other attacks.

Brynjar Lia and Petter Nesser, research fellows at the Norwegian Defence Research Establishment, said the discovery of an alleged al Qaeda cell in Norway suggested the group sought a new capability to strike Europe's periphery after disruption to cells in Spain, Britain, Germany and France.

Terrorist cells hardly ever emerged in a vacuum because they needed supporters to recruit and train, they said.

"Discovery of such cells is usually a strong sign that radicalism and underground extremist networks are on the rise," they wrote in a joint article in CTC Sentinel.

LRB : Jonathan Steele: Diary

Monday, September 06, 2010

Jonathan Steele: Diary

by Jonathan Steele | LRB | Vol. 32 No. 17 | September 9, 2010

The road from Kabul to Kandahar was once known as the Eisenhower highway. Built in the 1950s, when the United States and the Soviet Union competed peacefully for Afghan friendship, this US-funded 300-mile ribbon of tarmac was plied for two decades by lorries and garishly painted buses with no concern for security. Among the passengers were half-stoned Western hippies on the overland trail through Asia. Then came civil war and in 1979 the Soviet invasion. Ambushes turned the highway into a death trap until the victorious Taliban swept into Kabul in September 1996, eliminating all security problems once again. The only threat when I travelled the highway a few weeks later was colossal discomfort. After years of neglect, the road was close to collapse. Long stretches rippled like a corrugated roof, making travel in our hired minivan unbearable even at five miles an hour. What should have been a six-hour journey took 23.

I was on the way to the Taliban’s Kandahar heartland with a colleague from the New York Times. We had seen wide-eyed young Taliban fighters in Kabul, like peasant boys parachuted into Gomorrah, rip cassettes out of car stereos and stride into hospitals to order female doctors home and men to grow beards. Now we wanted to meet the ideologues who had launched the movement. We asked an official in the Taliban’s ‘liaison office’ about the Taliban budget and how they decided their spending priorities. He looked blank. It was clear that the Taliban had nothing resembling normal state administration, let alone service delivery. What role did the government play in connection with the foreign aid which the UN and a few Western NGOs were still providing? The official relaxed visibly. ‘We identify projects. We assist them in assisting us,’ he answered, as though the Taliban were doing foreigners a great favour.

Mullah Muhammad Hassan Rahmani, the governor of Kandahar and a close associate of Mullah Omar, the Taliban leader, was happy to receive us for two hours as soon as our translator contacted his office. An unhurried and genial figure, he planted the metal end of his artificial leg on a small table between us in an apparently practised gesture. He clearly saw it as a useful talking point, knowing we would ask about his record in the jihad. He had lost his right knee fighting the Russians, he said. With no sense of awe he described Mullah Omar as a political leader more than a fount of wisdom. ‘He has not too much religious knowledge,’ he said. ‘He was involved in fighting for years and did not have the time to acquire it. A lot of scholars know more than he does.’ Television was banned under Taliban rule because ‘worshipping statues was forbidden by the Prophet and watching television is the same as seeing statues. Drawing pictures or looking at them is sinful.’ Large weddings with male and female guests and music and dancing were also forbidden. Education for girls was permitted but had to take place in a separate building; the Taliban hadn’t had the funds to build any new schools in the two years they had held power in Kandahar. Women would be allowed to work outside the home once the war was over. Stoning was the punishment for adultery, with the man put into a sack and the woman, in her burqa, placed in a pit up to her waist before the crowd pitched in. It was an effective deterrent, the governor said: so far as he could recall there had been only two or three cases in Kandahar in the last two years. ‘I was busy and couldn’t see it. In fact I’ve never seen it.’ Asked whether the Taliban wanted to spread their views beyond Afghanistan’s borders, Hassan was adamant that this was ‘enemy propaganda’. Afghanistan wanted good relations with everyone and would not interfere abroad.

Fourteen years have passed since that encounter and, remarkably, almost no other senior Taliban leader has offered himself for interview in that time. After 1996 journalists rarely got visas to Afghanistan, until the Taliban lost power in 2001. Since they re-emerged to start their insurgency against the US-led intervention, not one top mullah has met the press. About 30 ‘reconciled’ Taliban now live in government guesthouses in Kabul. Some are ex-Taliban leaders who were captured and taken to Guantánamo after their regime fell, then amnestied on their release and sent back to Afghanistan; others were not senior enough to be detained in the first place. They talk to the media and Hamid Karzai sees them as potential mediators with their former colleagues. But none were part of the new insurgency and it is unclear whether they still have contact – let alone influence – with the men who are running it.

So the Afghans who really matter are out of view at exactly the wrong time, with Obama’s war sinking into a Vietnam-style quagmire and pressure growing for a political settlement as the best exit strategy for the US and its allies. Mullah Hassan went into hiding when Kandahar fell in 2001. His whereabouts are unknown, as are Mullah Omar’s. He is said to live near Quetta but no diplomat, politician or journalist has been able to meet him since 2001. Occasional statements on the Taliban website are all we have to go by. So the important questions remain unanswered. Have the Taliban changed in the decade since they lost office? Is there a neo-Taliban, as some suggest? What of the younger generation of field commanders who lead today’s resistance to the Americans and British? Are they in regular touch with Mullah Omar and do they answer to him in any practical sense, either in military strategy or in their political objectives? Above all, is there room for compromise between the Taliban, President Karzai and the Tajik and Uzbek leaders who surround him in Kabul so that, if the US withdraws in the next few years, a power-sharing government can have a chance of lasting?

Some evidence that the Taliban have moved on since they were in power is provided by Antonio Giustozzi, a scholar at the Crisis States Research Centre at the London School of Economics, who has edited a collection of essays entitled Decoding the New Taliban.[*] For one thing, the technology has changed. Men who used to reject television now put out propaganda DVDs and run a website of news and opinion, complete with pictures. More important, their social attitudes have shifted. Giustozzi argues that the Taliban realise their old position on education was self-defeating and lost them support, and the line is now being reversed. In Lashkar Gah, the capital of Helmand, according to Tom Coghlan, one of Giustozzi’s contributors, people in September 2008 ‘reported a strikingly less repressive interpretation of the Taliban’s social edicts.’ They no longer ban TV, music, dog-fighting and kite-flying; nor do they insist on the old rule that men grow beards long enough to be held in the fist.

Some analysts believe that US air strikes have been so effective in killing senior Taliban that the war is now being run by a new generation of men in their twenties and thirties, with no experience of the anti-Soviet struggle that schooled the mujahidin warlords as well as Mullah Omar and his Taliban colleagues. Whether this means they are more radical than the previous generation is unclear. Coghlan quotes a Taliban cleric near Lashkar Gah in Helmand in March 2008 as saying: ‘These new crazy guys are really emotional. They are war-addicted.’

Recent reports suggest that most Afghans, tired of the all-pervasive insecurity, want negotiations with the Taliban. A survey of 423 men in Helmand and Kandahar, carried out in May by the International Council on Security and Development, found that 74 per cent were in favour of negotiations. In Kabul in March, I interviewed several women professionals, the people who suffered most from the Taliban’s restrictions on girls’ education and women working outside the home. To varying degrees they all supported the idea of dialogue with the Taliban. They felt the top priority was to end what they saw as a civil war – not an insurgency, as Nato calls it. They saw the Taliban as authentic nationalists with legitimate grievances who needed to be brought back into the equation. Otherwise, Afghans would go on being used as proxies in a long battle between al-Qaida and the US. It was time to break free of both sets of foreigners, the global jihadis and the US empire. Shukria Barakzai, an MP and women’s rights campaigner, put it like this: ‘I changed my view three years ago when I realised Afghanistan is on its own. It’s not that the international community doesn’t support us. They just don’t understand us. The Taliban are part of our population. They have different ideas but as democrats we have to accept that.’

The shift in Afghanistan’s public mood since 2007, when I was last in Kabul, is dramatic. Then, the Taliban’s military comeback was still in its infancy and defeating them was the priority. There are several things behind the change: growing disappointment that billions of dollars of Western aid seem to go nowhere except into the bank accounts of foreign consultants or local politicians; despair over the continuing civilian casualties, many caused by US airstrikes; anger and humiliation caused by the high-handedness of foreign troops; and a desire to build a national consensus in which Afghans resolve their problems themselves. Karzai’s recent outbursts against the Americans and other foreigners reflect a widely held mood.

The war logs released by WikiLeaks and analysed in July in the Guardian, Der Spiegel and the New York Times paint a picture of worsening insecurity and previously unreported but mounting civilian casualties, caused by Taliban IEDs as well as Nato air strikes. A UN report in August said civilian casualties had risen by almost a third in the first six months of this year, including an increase in Taliban assassinations of teachers, doctors and tribal leaders accused of collaborating with the US. The war logs put the spotlight back on Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence directorate’s role in funding the Taliban in the early 1990s and sheltering many of its leaders since 2001. Although much of the intelligence is flimsy or based on prejudice, the general trend of ISI support for the Taliban is clear.

Conversations with Afghans, too, reveal increasing anger with Pakistan as well as the US. Many feel Pakistan exploits the war to keep Afghanistan divided and weak. They see Pakistan’s link with the Taliban as malign, though opinions differ as to whether the Taliban are puppets, victims or willing agents of Islamabad. Among Afghanistan’s Pashtun population there is considerable support for the view that the north-western territories of Pakistan, including the city of Peshawar, belong to them; Afghanistan has never officially recognised the Durand Line that was drawn in 1893 between the British Empire and Afghanistan. Afghans believe Pakistan tries to control any Afghan group that seeks power in Kabul in order to prevent it from raising the Pashtunistan issue.

The only detailed insider account of the Taliban is a memoir by Abdul Salam Zaeef, the movement’s former ambassador to Pakistan. Zaeef is no spokesman for Mullah Omar and the Quetta shura. But My Life with the Taliban usefully shows that its leaders saw themselves as nationalists, reformers and liberators rather than Islamist ideologues.[†] Mullah Hassan’s characterisation of Mullah Omar in that 1996 Kandahar interview as a political rather than a religious leader fits well with Zaeef’s version of history. Zaeef, too, is contemptuous of Pakistan, and the ISI in particular. He made a point of resisting their advances when he took up his diplomatic post in Islamabad, seeing them as ill-intentioned and manipulative. Pakistan ‘is so famous for treachery that it is said they can get milk from a bull,’ he writes. ‘They use everybody, deceive everybody.’ Some of his anger comes from his childhood in refugee camps near Peshawar, where Afghans were treated as second-class citizens, regularly picked on by the Pakistani police. But he is also furious with Pakistan’s role in the ‘war on terror’: its torture and detention of suspected terrorists, he believes, is as bad as anything the US does.

Arrested after the Taliban collapse in 2001, Zaeef was sent to Guantánamo. On the way he spent time in US custody in Kandahar and Bagram, where he was kept in solitary confinement with his hands and feet tied for 20 days. In Kandahar – shades of the abuse in Abu Ghraib – Zaeef says he was stripped naked and mocked by male and female US troops, one of whom took photos. After three years in Guantánamo, he was offered release on condition he signed a statement that he had been a member of al-Qaida and the Taliban and would cut all ties with them. ‘I was a Talib, I am a Talib and I will always be a Talib, but I have never been part of al-Qaida,’ he retorted. Eventually they allowed him to go after signing a declaration: ‘I am writing this out of obligation and stating that I am not going to participate in any kind of anti-American activities or military actions.’

Zaeef maintains that he was shocked by al-Qaida’s attack on 9/11, of which he had no foreknowledge. He says he wept when he watched TV pictures of the burning buildings and people throwing themselves out and falling to the ground like stones: ‘I stared at the pictures in disbelief.’ He immediately saw the likely repercussions. ‘I knew that Afghanistan and its poverty-stricken people would ultimately suffer for what had just taken place in America. The United States would seek revenge.’ He admits that some of the Taliban watching the scene were jubilant and thought the US was too far away to retaliate. ‘How could they be so superficial?’ he asks.

Mullah Omar rang to consult Zaeef about how to react. Next morning Zaeef called a press conference in Islamabad and read a statement condemning the attacks. ‘All those responsible must be brought to justice. We want them to be brought to justice and we want America to be patient and careful in their actions,’ it said. Zaeef returned to Kandahar, where he found Mullah Omar blindly sure that the US was unlikely to attack. He tried to warn the Taliban leader. He told him Pakistan was urging the US to launch air strikes on Afghanistan and had already started talks with the Northern Alliance in the expectation that they would be the leaders of a post-Taliban government. But Omar claimed America could not attack Afghanistan without valid reason. He had asked Washington to deliver proof incriminating bin Laden and said the Taliban would take no further action until it was given hard evidence. Zaeef’s account seems plausible given that the Taliban made no preparations for war, but it shows how out of touch Omar had become. The destruction of the Buddha statues at Bamyan earlier in the year had already suggested he had no real understanding of the way the outside world perceived the Taliban.

We know almost nothing about the Taliban’s current views, but it’s clear that on the US side there is as yet no readiness to talk. There is some evidence that General David Petraeus, the new US commander in Afghanistan, is more in tune with Afghan realities than his predecessor, General Stanley McChrystal. But both have been committed to the current ‘surge’ of extra US troops. Petraeus’s image in the US as a man who had success with the surge in Iraq may wed him even more closely to the strategy than McChrystal. Known as a company man with an ear for the subtleties of inter-agency jockeying in Washington, Petraeus recognises that the White House believes the Taliban have to be weakened militarily before the US can contemplate talks. Petraeus will not step out of line.

In its political strategy the US puts its money on ‘reconciliation and reintegration’. Decoded, this amounts to little more than amnesty and surrender. Taliban fighters and commanders should renounce violence and sign up to the constitution, in return for which they may be paid a short-term allowance and perhaps be offered a job. The deal is highly unlikely to tempt anyone of any significance. Amnesty was first offered in 2005 and no senior commander has defected. Only 12 of the 142 Taliban leaders on the UN security council sanctions list have come over, and none was involved in the post-2001 insurgency. The Americans are fighting a variety of local Taliban commanders, and, in south-eastern Afghanistan, different groups entirely: Hizb-i-Islami, founded by Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, and the so-called Haqqani network, led by a father and son team. Each group has different regional and tribal loyalties but it is fanciful to imagine any of them can be persuaded to join the Americans and fight each other. Previous American efforts to create local militias have had minimal success. Offering local ceasefires is a more productive path. Groups would keep their arms but drop out of the fight unless outsiders move into the district. The British tried this in 2006 in Musa Qala in the northern part of Helmand when they persuaded the town’s elders to ask the Taliban not to enter if the British withdrew. At the time the Americans were not happy, and neither was General David Richards, then the International Security Assistance Force commander in Afghanistan and soon to be Britain’s chief of the Defence Staff. The truce broke down after a US air strike killed the brother of the local Taliban commander just outside the demilitarised area. It may have been deliberate sabotage.

The US ‘reconciliation’ approach at least recognises, for the first time, that most Taliban are motivated by a sense of grievance and a demand for justice. They are not ideologues or Islamists pursuing a global jihad like al-Qaida. Trying to start a dialogue with them through local elders may be productive if it is aimed at understanding their wider objectives beyond the obvious one, the withdrawal of Western forces from their district and ultimately from the country. At the national level it is essential that talks take place between Karzai and Mullah Omar. If Omar insists he can only talk with the Americans, there could be a format that includes plenary sessions with Karzai, the Taliban and the Americans so that the Taliban address their remarks to the Americans. Pakistan’s role is vital. Ideally, Pakistan would be included in a regional forum of ‘Friends of Afghanistan’ made up of Iran, Pakistan, India, China, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Russia: these countries would be asked to make pledges of non-interference and recognise Afghanistan as a non-aligned state with no foreign bases. But Pakistan is likely to insist on more than that. A model might be the Geneva talks that ended the Soviet occupation in 1988. They included the Soviet Union, the US, Afghanistan and Pakistan. Today’s version would be the US, Pakistan, the Kabul government and the Taliban. Eventually, there should also be an Afghan Loya Jirga with all the Afghan parties, including the Kabul government, the Taliban, and Hekmatyar and the Haqqanis. Any changes to the constitution must be agreed by representatives of Afghan women’s groups and human rights organisations.

Can a settlement along these lines be found? Only an exploratory dialogue with the Taliban can even begin to answer this question. There are bound to be misunderstandings and breakdowns on the way. Twenty-six years elapsed between the Conservative government’s first secret contacts with the IRA in 1972 and the signing of the Good Friday Agreement. In South Africa, where there was broad agreement on the need for a transfer of power, it still required four years to work out the details. What would a post-American Afghanistan look like? It is likely to have a weak central government and powerful semi-autonomous regions, in part because Kabul has never been a strong ruling centre. The national army may well have to be broken into regional corps. At the moment its officer corps is Tajik-dominated and it is hard to see how Taliban commanders could work with them.

Are we getting ahead of ourselves? Until the Obama administration comes round to the idea of negotiations, progress is stalled. When David Miliband advocated talks with the Taliban in March, he did not mention their name in his key sentence. ‘The idea of political engagement with those who would directly or indirectly attack our troops is difficult,’ he said in a speech at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In spite of this cautious formulation, US policy-makers reacted negatively and the current British government’s line is not to repeat it. But Obama will have to move at some point from his ‘reconciliation’ policy to one of ‘accommodation’. That means taking the Taliban’s grievances on board and being willing to address them in a compromise deal that is likely to involve the formation of a power-sharing government in Kabul in return for a US withdrawal. The US public is growing steadily more disillusioned with what is already America’s longest war. Obama has promised to review his strategy in December, a year after he announced the surge. By then the results of November’s Congressional elections will be in. The decision he faces is momentous: go into the 2012 campaign as a president who has started the endgame or play the tough guy even though he must know any hope of defeating the Taliban militarily is doomed.