by Jerry Gordon (September 2013)
The Jihad attack that took the lives of 2,996 Americans and foreigners started at precisely 8:46 AM on 9/11. In less than an hour this dastardly act by Al Qaeda (AQ) Islamic terrorists, 19 middle class Egyptians, Saudis and Yemenis destroyed an iconic landmark of American International economic prowess, the twin towers of the World Trade Center, took out one side of the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia and crashed into a rural area near Shanksville, Pennsylvania at 580 MPH. The last recorded voice heard from Flight 93 was “allahu akbar” – their god Allah was “the greatest.” Debra Burlingame, a co-founder of Keep America Safe, whose brother Charles “Chic ‘Burlingame, III was a Captain on hi-jacked Flight 77 that crashed into the Pentagon, and David Beamer, the father of Todd Beamer on board Flight 93, earnestly believe that the valiant crews and passengers engaged in the first American counter attack against AQ Islamic terrorists. America, the West and the world were unprepared, although many warnings had been given.
Last year on 9/11/2012 four Americans, the US Ambassador to Libya, J. Christopher Stevens, Diplomatic Communications specialist, Sean Smith, CIA Contractors and former Navy Seals, Glen Dougherty and Tyrone Woods were killed in what was another premeditated attack by a shadowy AQ group, Ansar al Sharia. That battle raged for hours at the US Benghazi legation and at a nearby CIA annex. The perpetrators of that alleged AQ attack are still walking the streets of Libyan un-apprehended by Libyan authorities despite US warrants for their arrests. The Obama Administration at first tried to blame that 9/11 attack on a crudely made video, “The Innocence of Muslims,” that allegedly aroused the ire of the Muslim Ummah in Egypt and North Africa closing down US embassies and legations in several countries over the period from September 11 to 17, 2012. It was only through relentless testimony and investigation by the U.S. State Department and by the House of Representatives committees on Armed Services, Foreign Affairs, Intelligence, the Judiciary, and Oversight and Government Reform that it was revealed that the Benghazi 9/11/12 attack was premeditated and executed by a group of more than 150 to 250 well armed and trained perpetrators. The Benghazi hearings raised question about what our government was doing at the CIA annex. Rep. Frank Wolf (R-VA) has raised the matter of whether the CIA annex was engaged in filtering arms to the Syrian rebel opposition. There is the taint that a cover up of what actually occurred at Benghazi was contrived to ensure the re-election of President Obama to a second four year term in November 2012. One of his campaign slogans was “Osama Bin Laden is dead and Al Qaeda on the run.”
On this 12th anniversary of 9/11 we will address the question of whether we are better prepared and potentially safer than we were that fateful morning 12 years ago. We will examine several assessments completed by independent counterterrorism groups and then look at responses by both experts and ordinary Americans to this question.
What is the nature of the AQ Threat to the US Homeland post-9/11?
The Bi-Partisan Policy Center (BPC) released a report on September 9, 2013 Jihadist Terrorism: A Threat Assessment. Among the co-authors were 9/11 Commission Co-chairs former New Jersey Governor Tom Kean and former US Representative Lee Hamilton. Governor Kean presented the BPC panel assessment that the US faced a different more ‘diffused’ terrorist threat from so-called lone wolves, self energized by internet indoctrination from Muslim radicals like the US born the late Sheik Anwar al-Awlaki who was taken out in a drone attack in Yemen in 2011. US Drone attacks have taken out 33 AQ leaders to date. The BPC Report noted that U.S. indictments of individuals connected with jihadist terrorism have declined from more than 40 in 2009 to just six this year. The Tsarnaev brothers, the perpetrators behind the Boston Marathon bombings, received scant assistance from groups overseas and were radicalized by the propaganda of jihadists like al-Awlaki.” The BPC report referred to “lone wolf” domestic terrorists like convicted Jihadists Maj. Nidal Hassan the perpetrator of the Fort Hood Massacre on November 9, 2009 and Abdulhakim Mujahid Muhammad aka Carlos Bledsoe who perpetrated the murder of Army Pvt. Andy Long at a Little Rock, Arkansas Army recruitment Center on June 1, 2009, the first homegrown terrorist event since 9/11. Gov. Kean’s nuanced comment was:
This assessment finds that the United States faces a different terrorist threat than it did on 9/11/2001. The borders between domestic and international terrorism have blurred, and the U.S. adversaries are not only organizations, but also individuals. To best protect the homeland, we need to develop defenses against a more diffused threat posed by radicalized individuals, in addition to organized groups The Bipartisan Policy Center’s report is intended to evaluate the current domestic and international threats and provide recommendations to help lawmakers and the administration counter those threats.
Former 9/11 Commissioner Lee Hamilton had this observation about the process for implementing the PBC recommendations:
It has been twelve years since the attacks on 9/11. Political leaders from both parties should renew their focus on counterterrorism strategies to ensure that our current approach matches the threats of today. Congress should hold a series of public hearings to discuss where the U.S. stands in its counterterrorism strategy. Those hearings would be an opportunity to evaluate if our nation is absorbing the institutional lessons learned over the past decade, to analyze if the government is allocating resources to the right places, and most importantly, to determine what is missing from our strategy.
The BPC recommendations to Congress were:
reforms to the CIA drone program. Congress should use the withdrawal of combat troops from Afghanistan at the end of 2014 as an opportunity to review the Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF), and should create an independent investigative body—similar to the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB)—to investigate terrorist attacks in the U.S., explain how the attackers evaded law enforcement, and identify the lessons to be learned.
These recommendations reflected the views of the report’s co-authors, Messrs. Peter Bergen, Director of the National Security Program at the New America Foundation; Bruce Hoffman, Director of the Center for Security Studies at Georgetown University; Erroll Southers, Associate Director of Research Transition at the Department of Homeland Security’s National Center for Risk and Economic Analysis of Terrorism Events (CREATE) at the University of Southern California and former FBI special agent; and former CIA Operative Michael Hurley.
Bergen suggested that AQ core had been obliterated and been transformed when he commented:
Al-Qaeda has embraced a strategy that transformed it into a decentralized, networked, transnational movement, rather than the single monolithic entity it was on the eve of 9/11. This strategy was undoubtedly the result of necessity; U.S. counterterrorism efforts in the wake of the 9/11 attacks largely obliterated al-Qaeda as an organization.
Thus, the BPC report appears to follow the meme of the Obama West Wing that AQ had been decimated following the assassination of Usama bin Laden in a Navy Seal attack at his Abbatobid, Pakistan bastion on May 2, 2011.
Another counter-terrorism group, the Soufon Group, issued a different assessment. The head of the group is Ali Soufon, a former FBI Supervisory Special Agent who investigated and supervised highly sensitive and complex international terrorism cases, including the East Africa Embassy Bombings, the attack on the USS Cole, and the events surrounding 9/11. He is author of Black Banner: The Inside Story of 9/11 and the War against Al Qaeda about his experience in various counterterrorism investigations. In interviews prior to the twelfth commemoration of 9/11 Soufon commented in The Wall Street Journal that:
Countering jihadi recruitment and propaganda is the main focus of our report. The report studies countries where governments have launched programs to counter extremist rhetoric and indoctrination, and it found the U.S. trails many such countries in instituting such programs.
Soufon commenting on possible intervention in the Syrian civil war morass, “every time there is a vacuum, extremists have been able to fill the void.”
Al Qaeda: The reports of My death are Greatly Exaggerated.
The BPC and Soufon reports miss the clear demonstration of the resilience and high tech grasp of AQ core and its affiliates. An encrypted conference call between AQ Core and affiliates in the Middle East and Africa forced the temporary closure of more than 23 US Embassies and legations across the Muslim Ummah from the Atlantic Coast through the Arab Muslim heartland to South Asia and the Indonesian archipelago. That AQ conference call raised red flags about whether the chatter pre-figured a possible attack perhaps against US assets in the Ummah and possibly here in the US.
That was the subject of a Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD) panel discussion on August 22, 2013 in Washington, DC with Senior Fellow Tom Jocelyn, Editor of The Long War Journal, Eli Lake counterterrorism journalist at The Daily Beast and moderator FDD President, Cliff May.
Eli Lake expounded on a story that both he and colleague Josh Rogin had broken at The Daily Beast. It concerned, “an electronic conference between leaders of al Qaeda’s regional branches featuring advanced encryption methods with video, voice, and chat capabilities.” MEMRI had posted a related story out of Lahore, Pakistan that an Al Qaeda “data hub” with a similar command and control net connecting what the Obama Administration has taken to call the “core” of Al Qaeda with its “affiliates” The latter includes the alphabet soup of AQAP in Yemen, AQIM in the Maghreb, Boko Haram in Nigeria, Al Shabaab in Somalia and the latest Jihadi group in Syria, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.
As The Counter Jihad Report quoted Jocelyn saying, “It’s indisputable that [al Qaeda has] made more gains now than at any point in their history.”
The FDD panel was endeavoring to assess the validity of the 2012 Obama Presidential meme of “bin Laden is dead and Al Qaeda is on the run.” Clearly, given the spate of AQ prison breaks across the Ummah in Libya, Iraq, Pakistan and Yemen, releasing thousands of fighters the Jihadist group has not been flattened. This despite the Obama Administration conduct of counterterrorism, drone and special ops and secret war campaigns. Moreover, Office of Director of National Intelligence reports indicate over 100 of the 603 Guantanamo detainees who have been released returned to Jihadist activities. AQ appears to be alive and flourishing. Moreover, AQ’s genetic ideological source, the Muslim Brotherhood, has been metastasizing from the Arab Spring genesis of early 2011 attempting to assume political power in Egypt, Libya and Tunisia.
AQ has become the go to opposition military force in Syria and has re-ignited sectarian warfare in Iraq. Only Egypt’s military has overthrown elected MB leader, President Mohammed Morsi, now in jail along with the spiritual Leader of the MB, Mohammed Badie. Meanwhile the Egyptian MB has engaged in a futile uprising against Egyptian Gen. Adel Fattah al-Sisi’s army and security forces. AQ has fomented sectarian warfare in Iraq after the Obama Administration took French leave in 2009 without putting in place a status of forces agreement. Now, even the al Maliki government in Baghdad is suggesting that it may need US counterterrorism assistance. The AQ opposition forces in Syria are fighting Assad’s military, the IRGC Al Quds force and attacking the latter’s ally Hezbollah in both Syria and Lebanon.
So what to make of all of these Jihadist activities by AQ? Note this exchange between Tom Jocelyn and Eli Lake at the FDD panel:
Eli Lake: “Earlier this summer, Yemeni authorities were able to apprehend a carrier from AQ as he was uploading what appeared to be information from an important business meeting between high level AQ officials. It was a recording of a 7-hour remote internet conference. It opened with a message from Al-Zawahiri where he assessed that the U.S was in a similar situation to the Soviets in 1989.”
“There is no doubt about that AQ has lost a lot of senior leaders in the region, however, they have adapted and Zawahiri has shown he has the ability to manage and delegate.”
Tom Joscelyn: “The whole distinction between AQ core and affiliates is something we have been trying to shed light on for some time now. The core is not well defined; it sort of vaguely refers to the leadership and the councilors around them. However, if you think about it, you realize AQ is not so stupid to keep the whole of their leadership in one locale.”
“Why did so many people get it wrong? When you look back at the history of the post- 9/11 world, you see assessments that have consistently been wrong regarding the capabilities of AQ; when you look at their literature, AQ defines themselves as political revolutionaries, they want to wield political power.”
Lake: [Al Qaeda has] high levels of encryption. They are constantly aware of internet security. No one is allowed to use any type of wireless broadcast. They have developed some pretty impressive technology.”
Joscelyn: “What needs to be pointed out is the fact that the leadership has a way of reaching out to affiliates worldwide.”
“We are acting as if though the affiliates are something that AQ just stumbled upon. They have been part of their overall strategy for some time.”
“[O]ur enemy gets a say in this fight, and if we keep defining them narrowly as terrorists we are just going to keep picking off senior leadership without cracking the base of the organization.”
Lake: “[AQ and Iran] are like two rival cartels who share the interest of making sure that the FBI is weak. … [T]hey can cooperate when they see it is clearly in their shared interest.”
Joscelyn: “If you look at it right now, obviously Syria is a huge disagreement between the two. What are interesting are how many times the two have been able to put aside their differences in order to collude.”
The Washington Free Beacon noted differences between Lake and Jocelyn on what AQ’s objective is:
Lake said he remained hopeful that peaceful Muslims like the protesters in Egypt would reject the Islamist ideology, pointing to the necessity for groups such as AQAP to employ violent thugs to enforce Sharia law.
Joscelyn countered that al Qaeda continues to achieve victories despite the rejection of jihad by younger generations of Muslims.
“They’re not just terrorists—they’re political revolutionaries—and they want power for themselves.”
At a critical point in the panel discussion, FDD President and moderator Cliff May offered a useful historical analogy from WWII about fighting the “no name war” against AQ’s Jihadist ideology:
In 1943, Roosevelt and Churchill got together — they could see that they would defeat the Axis powers. They had no intention of destroying the populations of Germany, Italy and Japan, but they decided that they needed to destroy or defeat what they called the philosophies, what we call ideologies today, that were responsible for WWII. When we talk about ‘violent extremism,’ and we don’t grapple with the ideologies that are behind the regimes, movements and groups that are attacking the West. We are not taking up that task; we are not discrediting or delegitimizing those ideologies.
Jocelyn’s acknowledgement that the AQ doctrine is revolutionary and seeks to impose political governance based on Sharia is I believe a correct analysis. Thus the Administration’s AQ core /affiliates paradigm is inaccurate. All we are engaged in are endless whack-a-mole counterterrorism campaigns. Rather AQ is more like a revolutionary mafia endeavoring to spread its doctrine through opportunistic forays into the soft underbelly of the Ummah. The on again off again relations between AQ and the Islamic Regime in Tehran is a reflection of the diverse but underlying commonality in the fundamentalist Jihadist doctrine. May’s historical reference to the Quebec Conference in 1943 between Roosevelt and Churchill and the decision to destroy fascist militarist doctrine sent a message to the TV and FDD panel audience: “it’s the doctrine, stupid.”
Jocelyn knows that the “core Jihadist” doctrine of AQ has to be destroyed and replaced. Unfortunately, its thin religious veneer allows it to escape prosecution in the West, because it looks like an attack on a “religion” rather than what it is a totalitarian political ideology.
Given the attendance by the policy wonk community from both the Hill and the NGO’s, clearly FDD did a service both inside and outside the Beltway. It brought truth to power that the BPC and Soufon reports issued just before 9/11/13 missed completely.
Our government has increased our vulnerability to Jihadi attacks
The reality is that our government has made us more, not less, vulnerable through a decade of conscious actions. These include purging of Islamic Jihad doctrine from FBI, CIA and Homeland Security Counterterrorism programs, the infiltration of AQ-linked Muslim Brotherhood groups and figures into both federal and state advisory homeland security groups. Our government has abetted the expansion of mega-mosques, four fifths of which are led by Imams and boards with links to terrorist financing groups. These mosques are stocked with Islamic radical pamphlets. We have written about this extensively in NER articles like Muslim Brotherhood Triumphant in the Middle East and Washington (July 2012) and the Boston Marathon Bombings perpetrated by the Tsarneav Brothers in Refugee Jihad Terror in Boston (May 2013).
The apotheosis of these observation occurred in a small community in Manchester, Tennessee on June 4, 2013. It was triggered by a provocative Twitter posting by a Coffee County councilman that showed a cowboy sighting his double barreled shotgun with the title, “how to wink at a Muslim.” That set the alarm bells ringing in a Tennessee Muslim Advocacy group, American Muslim Advisory Council of Tennessee (AMACTN). We had profiled this group in our June 2012 NER report. AMACTN sponsored an educational session featuring the US Attorney for Eastern Tennessee, Bill Killian and FBI Special Agent Kenneth Moore of the Knoxville office. The event endeavored to educate Tennesseans about limits of free speech and that Islam is a recognized religion protected under the First Amendment. More than 2,000 rallied to protest the AMACTN sponsored event. Only 800 were admitted to the AMACTN event. The audience peppered US Attorney Killian with comments about Sharia and Special Agent Moore about the FBI not hiring Jews as translators for counterterrorism linguist programs. A Freedom of Information Act request revealed that Special Agent Moore had lead an internal FBI task force that in response to complaints from Muslim Brotherhood front group had purged counter terrorism training materials of incriminating radical Islamic Jihad doctrine.
Are we better prepared and safer than we were on 9/11 12 years ago?
We initiated a poll of our colleagues and readers at the NER and its blog The Iconoclast on this question. Here is a sampling of what they wrote.
It has been a dozen years since the malicious attack perpetrated against American sovereignty and culture on 9/11. History is like scripture. As Biblical text changes each time we read and consider its words (at least, for us Jews), so too with history. Yet, history is not to be confused with the past. History can be what we make of the past and what we have learned from the past.
Today, the question upon which I reflect is simple. What have we learned these past 12 years? What light has been cast on the past…or darkness? What have we chosen to remember? What have we chosen to forget? What have we learned from that awful day in 2001?
Rabbi Jonathan Hausman in Massachusetts:
I do not think that we are more prepared today than we were twelve years ago. If there's a will, there's a way…..Security can be tightened and there can be other approaches to take, but, when someone wants to “break thru the fence,” they will succeed………
Carole Rubin in Connecticut:
There is no question that the American public is better prepared, and therefore safer, now than 12 years ago. This is in spite of the counter-productive efforts of DHS and TSA and is due solely to the increased awareness of the threat of Islam to Western Civilization that 9/11 brought to the American consciousness. Everything most Americans know (and need to know) about Islam they learned on 9/11 and are safer and wiser because of it.
Bruce Tefft, Counter Terrorism expert:
Are we safer and better prepared today than were on September 11, 2001? That depends on what is meant by “prepared.” We are better prepared to deal with the aftermath of an attack. But we are not better prepared to prevent one.
The Times Square bombing, the shoe bombing, and the underwear bombing were all thwarted – not by anyone in the government's security apparatus, but by ordinary civilians who happened to be there when the devices failed to explode.
The Boston Marathon bombers were successful. So was the Ft. Hood shooter. In both instances the perpetrators were brought to the attention of authorities BEFORE the attacks, but no action was taken against them because of fears that doing so would be considered anti-Muslim profiling.
Mike Bates of WEBY in Northwest Florida:
I think we are convinced by the government and media that we are safer and better prepared. However, a simple search of our military readiness numbers, our border security and the fact that we still do not have a comprehensive method of following those who enter our country through visas and overstay, will let us know we are no better than before. Now we not only are not prepared but we are convinced we are.
Rabbi Eric Tokajer in Florida:
We're safer from violent attacks by groups like Al-Qaeda, but the success of the Muslim Brotherhood's non-violent strategy has skyrocketed since 9/11. In 2001, we didn't actually wake up to the threat. We woke up to Al-Qaeda and the incendiary jihadists whose agenda is plain for all to see.
Nidra Poller American Ex-pat writer, Paris France:
It would be unfair to say we are not, in some ways, safer today than on 9/10 2001 and it would be untrue to say that the danger is not constantly increasing. The jihad forces that attacked the United States on 9/11 hoped to extend and widen the path of destruction until Washington, New York and other great cities looked like a bombed out neighborhood of Libya or Syria. Over the past 12 years countless plots have been foiled and jihadis arrested before they could commit mass murder. A few succeeded but never again on the 9/11 scale. Despite relentless efforts to hide the truth, the public is starting to learn about the nature of the threat.
But the war waged against us is raging and our defenses are not mobilized. On the contrary, they are persistently demobilized by a strategy that I have called “lethal narratives.” Sporadic, apparently unrelated events are treated as individual crises in limited space-time segments, large-scale upheavals are deliberately misunderstood, thinkers with a coherent vision of reality are marginalized and vilified, and the same forces that perpetrated 9/11 gain ground all over the world.
The lethal narrative strategy perpetrates concrete actions while at the same time weaving a narrative that disguises their thrust and objectives. The misnamed “Arab Spring” is a recent example. The new outburst of peace process fever over the misnamed Arab-Israeli conflict is another. The “let’s be friends” approach to relations with Muslims in the United States, the murder of Jews in France, the Boston Marathon bombing, minarets that rise in our skies and Christians persecuted and chased from Islamic countries… none of this looks like world war.
That’s why we don’t know what and why we have to fight. The free world will awaken, perhaps at the last minute. It is up to us to refine our strategy and not be content to state and restate the facts.
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