Thursday, February 17, 2005

Testimony Before Congress

The Counterterrorism blog links to the testimony of intelligence, finance, defense and military officials before Congress on the status of the War on Terror.

The intelligence testimony unanimously identifies the key threat to America as Al Qaeda and the 'Sunni Jihadist movement', referring to both in the same phrase as essentially comprising the same set; their choice of weapons a Chemical, Biological, Radiological or Nuclear (CBRN) attack on America. Operationally, they are adapting to the heightened  Homeland Security defenses using covert methods or under the guise of charities, religious organizations, academe and the like. The intelligence community unanimously believed that 'Al Qaeda' -- shorthand for the Sunni jihadist movement -- was successfully using US operations in Iraq to create a favorable political environment for their cause not only in the Middle East, but in Muslim communities and in the Left of center political spectrum. Great power rivals, although not directly in league with terrorists, could potentially use the threat of tactical collaboration with terrorist organizations to checkmate the United States as part of their national policy by providing the enemy with enabling technologies and weapons..

All in all, the intelligence briefings painted a picture of an enemy that had not yet realized its power potential. It had been stayed, but not fatally wounded. On the contrary, if it could overcome its disorganization and mend fences with enablers it could become even more dangerous. To illustrate the resilience of the enemy, Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) Director Vice Admiral Lowell E. Jacoby described enemy forces in Iraq with these words:

"The insurgency in Iraq has grown in size and complexity over the past year. Attacks numbered approximately 25 per day one year ago. Today, they average in the 60s. Insurgents have demonstrated their ability to increase attacks around key events such as the Iraqi Interim Government (IIG) transfer of power, Ramadan and the recent election. Attacks on Iraq's election day reached approximately 300, double the previous one day high of approximately 150 reached during last year's Ramadan."

Yet it was not an invincible force, spreading like wildfire. It remained a curiously local devil, deriving its particular strength from the social soil of the area.

"The pattern of attacks remains the same as last year. Approximately 80% of all attacks occur in Sunni-dominated central Iraq. The Kurdish north and Shia south remain relatively calm. ... We believe Sunni Arabs, dominated by Ba'athist and Former Regime Elements (FRE) comprise the core of the insurgency ... collaborating, providing funds and guidance across family, tribal, religious and peer group lines.'

It was interesting that Porter Goss chose to characterize Iran as a WMD proliferation threat rather than as the direct source of a terrorist threat, reflecting perhaps not so much a different intent, as a different strategy of hostility towards the United States. Even more curious was Admiral Jacoby's intriguing reference to the Syrian WMD capability. "Longstanding Syrian policies of supporting terrorism, relying on WMD for strategic deterrence, and occupying Lebanon remain largely unchanged." Both Syria and Iran are depicted as having specific regional goals. Iran's objective according to Jacoby, is regional power. "Iran's long-term goal is to see the US leave Iraq and the region. Another Iranian goal is a weakened, decentralized and Shia-dominated Iraq that is incapable of posing a threat to Iran." A fairly sharp distinction is drawn between 'Al Qaeda or Sunni Jihadism', with its apocalyptic vision of an incinerated America, and the ambitions of Syria and Iran, which seek merely specific gain. Yet the threats of course, run together, with the suppliers of weapons and their users indistinguishable at the last.

Assistant Secretary of the Treasury Zarate's testimony takes us down from the heights of religious and geopolitical motivation to the way the enemy works. It is a world of crooked charities, suborned 'non-traditional' funds transfer systems, blackmarket currency exchanges, couriers and the trade in precious commodities. Author Douglas Farah described the workings of the Al Qaeda in the African gold, gems and precious minerals market.  These descriptions, far more than Koranic quotations and nationalistic rhetoric, describe the day-to-day working of the terror networks.

The transition from Farah's testimony to that of Secretary Donald Rumsfeld is somewhat startling for two reasons. First, the DOD .pdf files are the only ones formatted for copy-and-past operations, but more secondly, the testimony and its prequels raise the implicit question of how much of the War on Terror should actually be of a military nature. Rumsfeld addresses the issue up front.

After more than three years of conflict, two central realities of this war are clear. The first is that this struggle cannot be won by military means alone. The Defense Department must continue to work with other government agencies to successfully employ all instruments of national power. ... A second central reality of this new era is that the United States cannot win a global struggle alone. It will take cooperation among a great many nations to stop weapons proliferation. It will take a great many nations working together to locate and dismantle global extremist cells. It takes a great many nations to gather and share the intelligence crucial to stopping future attacks. Our friends and allies are increasingly aware that the danger confronting America is at their doorstep as well, as underscored by attacks in Madrid, Bali, Beslan, Casablanca, Riyadh, Istanbul, and elsewhere.

My own personal impression of the testimonies is that Rumsfeld alone, of all the witnesses, articulated a complete grand strategic view. In particular, he understood that the threat, so well described in component by the representatives of intelligence and finance, menaced the world  as a whole and not simply the United States and that it had been emerging over a long period of time.

Ours was a dangerous world in the years leading up to September 11, even though it might have seemed otherwise. Consider the world as it was on September 10, 2001. Terrorists trained and plotted in Afghanistan while America’s sworn enemy in Iraq sought ways to expand his power and regularly fired at U.S. aircraft patrolling in the Northern and Southern No Fly Zones. And the next day, on that bright September morning, 19 men killed over 3,000 people in the Pentagon, Lower Manhattan and Pennsylvania. The extremists continue to plot to attack again. They are, at this moment, recalibrating and reorganizing. And so are we. This thinking enemy continues to adapt to new circumstances. And so must we refocus our efforts to defeat a network dispersed across the world and which lacks a fixed territory to defend.

Against this menace, the United States had set the following counterstrategy in train.

The President’s strategy has been to create and lead an international effort to deny terrorists the resources and support they need to operate and survive. And since, ultimately, what they need to survive is the support of those who they can indoctrinate, this is an ideological battle as well. The strategy has three main components that require the support and coordination of all agencies of government and all aspects of national power:

  • First, defending the homeland: which has led to the creation of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, the National Counter-Terrorism Center, the military’s Northern Command, and this Department’s homeland defense division.
  • Second, attacking and disrupting terrorist networks: With the help of allies and partners the U.S. has had considerable success in Afghanistan, Iraq, the Horn of Africa, Northwest Pakistan, and elsewhere. Some three-quarters of known al-Qaeda leaders have been captured or killed;
  • Third, countering ideological support for terrorism: This war has required not only the vigorous pursuit of known terrorists, but finding ways to stop extremists from gaining recruits and adherents. It is this ideological component, I suggest, that is the essential ingredient for victory.

Rumsfeld went on to describing the marvelous increase in American fighting capacity. The threefold increase in firepower; the 30% increase in available manuever brigades by restructuring the ground forces. He alluded indirectly to the increased offensive role of the Special Forces Command, “a sports car nobody wanted to drive for fear of denting the fender" now being utilized to its fullest extent -- a fact reflected in the statistic that its operating budget has doubled although it remains at virtually the same manpower strength. Nothing captured the global reality of the struggle more than the incessant movement of personnel. Sixty three thousand military personnel were in movement at any given instant to and from their duty stations somewhere on the planet.

Yet despite the successes of the military, Rumsfeld remained acutely aware that the decisive area of operations -- the political and cultural fields -- remained largely outside his remit. He ended his testimony with these words:

Terrorists have brains and use them. They adapt and improvise quickly. Despite the size of our bureaucracies, we must learn to be equally agile. Our enemies are nimble and media savvy, and through networks like Al Jazeera deliver their message undiluted to their target audiences. Victory in this global struggle will require a military configured and funded to defend against the security threats of this century, not the conventional battles or the conventional wisdom of the last.

It was a remarkably inarticulate peroration for a man who is anything but, and may have reflected the frustration of someone who knew that the decisive blows against the enemy were reserved for someone else; and those persons yet asleep and wholly unaware.