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Unconquerable nation: knowing our enemy, strengthening ourselves

Brian Michael Jenkins -
- Editorial: RAND Corporation Año: 2006 Páginas: 250 ISBN-10: 0833038915


  We Americans and our allies have made undeniable progress in reducing al Qaeda’s operational capabilities since the 9/11 terrorist attacks, but we have neither dented the determination of the jihadists nor blunted the appeal of al Qaeda’s ideology. Its leaders, although in hiding, communicate frequently. Their message continues to inspire angry young men to prepare and carry out violent attacks on civilian populations. The terrorist threat is more dispersed but still lethal. The insurgency continues in Iraq. The fighting has intensified in Afghanistan. Radicalization continues worldwide. This will be a long conflict. It will require a sustainable strategy. It will require psychological strength as well as physical strength. At home, we in America have spent the past five years scaring the hell out of ourselves. Terrorism is either violence or the threat of violence calculated to create an atmosphere of fear and alarm. As we have seen, terrorism often works. Unfortunately, the unceasing public discussion of America’s vulnerabilities, the alarming alerts that followed 9/11, the proliferation of barricades and bollards, and the media reports of government officials holed up at secret sites have all added to the national anxiety. Instead of puncturing the terror by educating and engaging the public in its own preparedness and response, Washington consigned citizens to the role of helpless and frightened passengers while it went after the bad guys. What else but fear can explain the readiness of Americans to tolerate tossing aside the very Geneva Convention agreements the United States had fought to implement? What else but fear could have led Americans to even entertain public arguments in favor of torture and against any restrictions on how we might treat those in custody? There has always been an alternative, a strategy more consistent with American tradition — a strategy aimed at reducing public fear through a different style of communication and governance and at more actively engaging citizens in their own preparedness and response. Such an approach, if adopted, would attack the terror, not just the terrorists. It would see the White House working closely with the legislative and judicial branches to increase security without trespassing on liberty. It would aim at preserving national unity. In sum, it would be a strategy that seeks lasting strength. There is much concerning the conduct of the war on terror with which I agree: the muscular initial response to 9/11, the removal of the Taliban government in Afghanistan, the relentless pursuit of al Qaeda’s leaders and planners, the increasingly sophisticated approach to homeland security, and, although I have deep reservations about the invasion of Iraq, President George W. Bush’s determination to avoid an arbitrary timetable for withdrawal. The list of things with which I do not agree is longer. These aspects of the war on terror have, if anything, undermined our campaign: the needless bravado, the arrogant attitude toward essential allies, the exploitation of fear, the exaggerated claims of progress, the persistence of a wanted-poster approach while the broader ideological struggle is ignored, the rush to invade Iraq, the failure to deploy sufficient troops there despite the advice of senior military leaders and the head of the Coalition Provisional Authority, the cavalier dismissal of treaties governing the conduct of war, the mistreatment of prisoners, the unimaginable public defense of torture, the use of homeland security funding for political pork barrel spending, and the failure to educate and involve citizens. But today’s fierce partisanship has reduced national politics to a gang war. The constant maneuvering for narrow political advantage, the rejection of criticism as disloyalty, the pursuit by interest groups of their own exclusive agendas, and the radio, television, newspaper, and Internet debates that thrive on provocation and partisan zeal provide a poor platform for the difficult and sustained effort that America faces. All of these trends imperil the sense of community required to withstand the struggle ahead. We don’t need unanimity. We do need unity. Democracy is our strength. Partisanship is our weakness. The recasting of counterterrorism as “war” immediately following 9/11 was a good idea, but the ensuing “Global War on Terror” has conflated too many threats and lumped together too many missions. The focus must return to the destruction of the jihadist enterprise. In addition, homeland security must move beyond gates and guards and become the impetus for rebuilding America’s decaying infrastructure. We need to adopt a realistic approach to risk and become a lot more sophisticated about security. Instead of stoking fear, we need to build upon American traditions of determination and self-reliance — and begin firing up citizen participation in emergency preparedness and response. The strategic calculations of 2006 differ greatly from those of 2001. Our counterterrorism efforts today should be governed by the following strategic principles. Destroy the jihadist enterprise. The global jihadist enterprise remains the primary immediate threat to U.S. national security. Terrorist operational capabilities have been reduced considerably since 2001, but the jihadists have proven to be adaptable, resilient, and capable of continued action. Ideologically, they are still on the march. Conserve resources for a long war. It took Germany and Italy more than a decade to suppress the tiny terrorist formations operating on their territories. It took Britain a quarter of a century to persuade the Irish Republican Army to give up its armed struggle. A small group of Basque separatists continued their campaign of terrorism in Spain for nearly 40 years. The United States must conserve its resources for the long haul. This will take blood, treasure, the will of the American people, and the support of allies. Wage more-effective political warfare. Armed force alone cannot win this war. The real battle is ideological. Al Qaeda’s jihadist ideology must be delegitimized and discredited. We must therefore wage political warfare, which is notably different from advertising American values or winning hearts and minds — efforts aimed at the broader population. Political warfare comprises aggressive tactics aimed largely at the fringes of the population, where personal discontent and spiritual devotion turn to violent expression. Political warfare targets those on their way into enemy ranks, those among the ranks who might be persuaded to quit, and those in custody. It sees enemy combatants as constantly recalibrating their commitments. It accepts no foe as having irrevocably crossed a line. It sees every prisoner not merely as a source of intelligence, but as a potential convert. It accepts local accommodations to reduce violence, offers amnesties to induce divisions and defections, and cuts deals to co-opt enemies. It is infinitely flexible and ferociously pragmatic. The United States today has no strategy for political warfare. Break the cycle of jihadism. The U.S. strategy must be broadened to address the entire jihadist cycle, from entry to exit. The cycle begins with the radicalization of eager acolytes and ends with their indefinite imprisonment or death (see figure). U.S. efforts now focus on only the operational portion of this cycle, the visible tip of the iceberg: from late in the recruitment process to death or capture. Insufficient attention is paid to defeating radicalization, indoctrination, and recruitment at the front end or dealing with detainees at the back end. We have concentrated on eliminating jihadists but not on impeding recruitment, inducing defections, or persuading detainees to renounce jihad.
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Impede recruitment. Respected communicators can be deployed to warn of jihadist recruiters and to counter their messages. Informants can be enlisted to gather information; even their suspected presence obliges recruiters to move with greater care. False recruiting sites can be used to circulate repellent material. Recantations and denunciations can be elicited and broadcast. Known recruiting sites can be shut down or so obviously kept under surveillance that potential recruits see them as unsafe. As part of the campaign to reduce Ku Klux Klan violence in America, FBI agents conducted aggressive interviews informing Klan members that their identities were known, that there were informants in their ranks, and that, if trouble occurred, they would be under suspicion. The technique removed the cloak of clandestinity and created uncertainties and suspicions. Encourage defections and facilitate exits. The ranks of even the most fervent fanatics include potential defectors who might quit if offered a safe way out. They might come to fear the mad leaders who would happily have them die. Yet they also fear what might happen to them in American hands. The images of Abu Ghraib should not be seen as the only alternative to martyrdom. The Chieu Hoi (Open Arms) program during the Vietnam War persuaded more than 100,000 enemy soldiers to defect to the South Vietnamese side by offering them amnesty, cash, job training, and homes. Some of the “ralliers,” as they were called, eventually drifted back to the Communist side, but overall the program was an economical and certainly less dangerous way of removing a sizable number of enemy combatants. Persuade detainees to renounce terrorism. Turning detainees against violence should be considered as important as interrogation. Rehabilitation, especially if it can be used to discourage jihadist recruiting, is more important than prosecution. Those in custody should be offered the opportunity to quit jihad, repent, publicly recant. We should not let our desire for revenge or our determination to see justice done get in the way. We must be pragmatic. We are not settling blood debts; we are waging a political war. Other countries offer examples. British authorities compiled evidence to justify the release of those Irish Republican Army detainees whose family or community backgrounds suggested that they could be persuaded to turn against violence. This reduced both the population of detainees and the alienation in the communities from which they came. Italy, a Catholic country, used an appropriate religious term to encourage Red Brigade prisoners to renounce terrorism and cooperate with authorities. Those who did so were called “repentants,” and their sentences were reduced accordingly. The mere fact that some repented dismayed those still at large, and the information the repentants provided was crucial in cracking the terrorists’ campaign. In Yemen, Islamic scholars challenged a group of defiant al Qaeda prisoners to a theological debate. “If you convince us that your ideas are justified by the Quran, then we will join you in the struggle,” the scholars told the terrorists. “But if we succeed in convincing you of our ideas, then you must agree to renounce violence.” The scholars won the debate, and a number of the prisoners renounced violence, were released, and were given help in finding jobs. Some have since offered advice to Yemeni security services. A tip from one led to the death of al Qaeda’s top leader in the country. Americans have not done well in this area. Despite holding hundreds of detainees, some for more than four years now — including many whose participation in jihad was minor — not one detainee has been publicly turned against jihad. Is it because the interaction is limited to confinement and interrogation, which produces only resistance and radicalization? It would not be easy, but would it not be better to try to enlist at least a few detainees as spokesmen against al Qaeda’s brand of jihad, having them tell their stories to would-be jihadists — explaining their initial illusions and their eventual disillusionment? Doing so would shift the public debate from “terrorists versus government spokesmen” to “terrorists versus former terrorists.” Maintain international cooperation. One of the major reasons for the successes that have been achieved in the struggle against the jihadist network is unprecedented international cooperation among intelligence services, law enforcement agencies, and military forces. The United States cannot afford to waste the support of allies. The United States simply cannot defeat its terrorist adversaries by itself. In the long run, international cooperation is a prerequisite to success, a precious commodity not to be squandered by bullying, unreciprocated demands, indifference to local realities, or actions that repel even America’s closest friends. The war against terrorism should not be America’s war. Having captured the world’s sympathy immediately after 9/11, the administration in Washington fumbled by claiming the war as its own. The message “You’re either with us or against us” may have been initially useful to get the attention of some uncommitted states, but as a constantly repeated refrain, it was insulting and it complicated cooperation, which could then be perceived as only yielding to American ultimatums.
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Rebuild Afghanistan. Afghanistan is an initial success that could easily slip away. A representative government rules in Kabul, though not far beyond the city. The insurgency in the country has been growing. Ethnic and tribal antagonisms remain an obstacle to national unity. The country’s population is so poor and its infrastructure so undeveloped that the investment of even modest resources could have a significant effect. We have learned the lesson of neglecting Afghanistan once. We cannot walk away again. Preserve but narrow the principle of preemption. The determination of today’s terrorists to carry out large-scale attacks, together with their growing destructive power, requires that preemption be preserved as an option, but it is important to distinguish between preemptive action and preemptive war. The invasion of Iraq has called into question U.S. intelligence capabilities, raised the issue of possible government misuse of information as a pretext for bringing down a foreign government, and allowed foes of the United States to portray preemption as disguised aggression. The subsequent problems in Iraq have further discredited the principle of preemption. Nonetheless, this option should be preserved. However, it should be limited to precise actions, not regime changes, and it should be taken as a measure of last resort when no other options are available. Reserve the right to retaliate — a muscular deterrent. Either a bioterrorist or nuclear terrorist attack would unleash unprecedented fury and would fuel a demand for all-out warfare against any group or government known to be or perhaps even suspected of being responsible. Everyone, including our adversaries, should understand that. Fear is the greatest danger we face. It is more insidious than the jihadist enterprise itself. Fear can erode confidence in our institutions, provoke us to overreact, tempt us to abandon our values. Indeed, we have spent the past five years running scared. We need to get more realistic about risk. We need to mobilize Americans to participate in homeland security. We need to become more sophisticated about security and seize the opportunity to rebuild America’s infrastructure. We need to improve local intelligence. We need to build a better legal framework for preventive interventions against terrorists, but we also need to ensure proper oversight to prevent the abuse of those interventions. In all these areas, we need to uphold our core national values as we move forward. Otherwise, the terrorists will have truly won, even without having followed through on any of their attack plans. Their terror alone will have sufficed. We will have unilaterally surrendered the very liberty we are fighting to protect. Get realistic about risk. Since 9/11, most Americans have exaggerated the danger posed by terrorist attacks. This is because spectacular events, not statistics, drive our perceptions. Psychologists have learned that we rank fatal events by roughly squaring the death toll per event. An automobile accident with one fatality is seen as one fatality. One hundred accidents with one fatality apiece are still seen as 100 deaths. But a single event with ten fatalities has the same psychological impact as 100 individual fatalities, and an event with 100 deaths has the impact of 10,000 deaths. This is why we pay more attention to increasingly rare airline crashes, which usually involve many fatalities, than we do to the much larger national death toll from automobile accidents. The terrorist attack on 9/11, with nearly 3,000 dead, had the psychological impact of millions dying. Now look at the numbers. The average American has about a 1 in 9,000 chance of dying in an automobile accident and about a 1 in 18,000 chance of being murdered. During the past five years, including the death toll from 9/11, an average American has had only a 1 in 500,000 chance of being killed in a terrorist attack. It should be our operative assumption that further terrorist attacks will occur on U.S. soil. Nonetheless, the heightened probability of an attack does not significantly increase the danger to the individual citizen unless we move up into the territory of truly catastrophic scenarios with tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of deaths. The only plausible scenarios that would achieve this larger scale of destruction would involve the successful, deliberate spread of a contagious disease or the detonation of a nuclear bomb in a crowded city. Of more realistic concern, however, is the fact that lesser terrorist attacks involving lethal chemicals or small amounts of radioactive material might still produce mass psychological effects, causing panic and social disorder, which could cause more casualties than the attacks themselves. This is where public preparedness comes in. Enlist the public. The best way to increase our ability as a nation to respond to disasters, either natural or man made, is to enlist all citizens through education and engagement. This also happens to be a very good way to reduce the persistent anxieties that afflict us. In the wake of 9/11, Washington’s continual reminders of imminent threats induced Americans to think of themselves as victims instead of protagonists in a long struggle. By making homeland security a purely Washington affair, the government was signaling that it would take responsibility for both security and response. Instead of promoting self-reliance, the government created dependency. But the federal government does not provide homeland security. Citizens do. This nation has powerful traditions of self-reliance and resiliency, as proven on 9/11. We must build on those traditions. It is amazing how many people want to assist in homeland security — not just “be vigilant” or patriotically keep shopping when alert levels are raised. Citizen volunteers, from schoolteachers to security guards and from medical professionals to CEOs, could be assigned emergency roles, which could then be practiced in drills. Psychologists have learned that knowing what to do and having an assigned task in preparation, planning, and response not only increases preparedness but also reduces stress. Public education is the first step toward strengthening ourselves. We need to aggressively educate the public through all media, in the classrooms, at town halls, in civic meetings, through professional organizations, and in volunteer groups. This means more than speeches in front of the American flag. The basic course should include how to deal with the spectrum of threats we face, from “dirty bombs” to natural epidemics, with the emphasis on sound, easy-to-understand science aimed at dispelling mythology and inoculating the community against alarming rumors and panic. More-advanced training, including specialized first aid and family protection measures, can be offered through youth organizations and other groups. Our goal should be to have all American teenagers, adults, and able-bodied senior citizens capable of taking care of themselves first, then taking care of their families, then taking care of their neighbors who need assistance. Become more sophisticated about security. We cannot banish danger. Not every terrorist plot can be thwarted, no matter how much is spent on security. We have to become savvy about security, accept its limitations, and ensure that measures taken in the name of security do not destroy our open society or disrupt our economy. Terrorists will always have the advantage. They can attack anything, anywhere, anytime. We cannot protect everything, everywhere, all the time. This makes it difficult to allocate security resources with any precision. Moreover, security against terrorism will almost always be reactive. The problem is that terrorists and terrorism analysts can conjure up more attack scenarios than security can possibly cover. We must avoid lurching from one nightmare scenario to another and instead formulate broad security strategies that estimate comparative risks and establish priorities. Favor security investments that help rebuild America’s infrastructure. Given the uncertainty of terrorist attacks, compounded by the uncertainty of security costs, funding should favor investments that yield benefits even if no attack occurs. Improving the nation’s public health and emergency care systems are two obvious examples. Homeland security should also provide a basis for renewing America’s crumbling infrastructure. Much of America’s vital infrastructure is privately owned, and security mandates in the realm of infrastructure will affect major businesses. The private sector should be enlisted as a partner with government, but there will be friction. The fact is, the airline industry for decades successfully opposed measures to improve aviation security. Currently, America’s biggest retailers are opposing certain measures to increase the security of shipping containers. Vital infrastructure, even when privately owned, may sometimes have to be treated as a public resource and be required to meet higher security standards. Improve local intelligence. The more than 600,000 sworn police officers in the United States are in the best position to monitor potential homegrown terrorists. Recruited locally, police officers are likely to be ethnically closer to the communities they serve, more aware of local changes, and more acceptable to community leaders than are federal agents. Local police are in the best position to identify “hot spots” for terrorist recruiting, to talk with merchants and community leaders, and to develop sources of intelligence. Through routine criminal investigations, community policing, or dedicated intelligence efforts, local police may be the first to pick up leads on terrorist plots. But local police need to be given sufficient resources for intelligence collection and analysis, which differ from making cases for prosecution. Local police also need to be connected with other police departments, at home and abroad, and with the national intelligence apparatus. One can envision an arrangement in which the U.S. Department of Homeland Security would sponsor the building of a nationwide network connecting local police department intelligence operations and would participate in the analysis of intelligence gathered locally. This would keep collection under local control while ensuring nationwide connectivity. Such an approach would be compatible with U.S. traditions of strong local authority. Build a better legal framework for preventive interventions. The USA Patriot Act expands the definition of providing “material assistance” to a terrorist group, an offense that courts appear to be interpreting broadly. Meanwhile, President Bush has asserted wartime authority to detain whomever he wants as enemy combatants and hold them indefinitely, without judicial review. This type of extrajudicial action should not be allowed to become routine. It opens the way for abuses that could cause innocent people to be held for years, or even for their entire lives, without any kind of trial. It would mean accepting the idea of permanent warfare, which would profoundly change our political system. Carefully crafted legislation is needed to provide a better legal alternative. Guarantee oversight. Adopting a more aggressive posture toward alleged terrorists means that mistakes will inevitably be made in gathering intelligence and in making arrests. Oversight through internal mechanisms, by judicial reviews, and at the national level of congressional committees is therefore critical. The purpose of oversight is to provide guidance in an area where doctrine is still being developed. Such oversight could also protect intelligence operations against unwarranted attacks when honest mistakes occur. Traditionally, electronic surveillance and physical searches have been placed under the jurisdiction of special courts established by the Foreign Intelligence and Surveillance Act (FISA) of 1978. Until recently, to monitor telephone lines or conduct secret searches, investigators had to apply to a FISA court, where judges with appropriate security clearances reviewed the applications. Following 9/11, however, the administration chose to bypass the FISA courts altogether, claiming war powers of the president to do so. The later revelation that telephone conversations were being monitored without judicial oversight provoked a storm of criticism over privacy rights. But the real, neglected issue has been that we have systematically ignored established oversight procedures that no one has demonstrated were not working. If existing procedures are obstacles to keeping up with extraordinary circumstances or rapidly changing technology, then the procedures should be changed or replaced, not disregarded. The administration has claimed that all of its activities are lawful, but are they? To eliminate all external review by courts or legislative bodies on the grounds of executive authority in wartime is to assert unlimited presidential power, which is incompatible with the practice of democracy. Preserve American values. The United States has demonstrated that it will secretly apprehend suspected terrorists anywhere in the world, turn them over to other governments for interrogation, or hold them indefinitely at known or secret bases. The United States has engaged in “targeted killings,” or assassinations, of terrorist leaders. The president has authorized the apprehension and detention of U.S. citizens without allowing them access to legal counsel or courts. The administration defended its “right” to use harsh interrogation techniques, without defined limits, on suspected terrorists — until the U.S. Senate enacted legislation prohibiting abuse or torture of prisoners. In sum, the U.S. government recognizes very few constraints in its counterterrorist campaign. Today’s terrorists believe they can defeat America’s superior military technology with their superior convictions, and we have sometimes handed them ammunition to reinforce those beliefs. But we, too, have convictions — a cause more powerful than al Qaeda’s cult of intolerance and violence. We must not be cowed into abandoning our values. They are not constraints. They are part of our arsenal. The preservation of these values is no mere matter of morality; it is a strategic imperative, particularly in a battle rooted in ideology. Whatever we do at home and abroad must be consistent with our values, and here I think we in America are in some danger. We have ignored our own strengths. We have too readily accepted assertions of executive authority as necessary for our security. We have confused the appropriate need to gather intelligence with the rejection of all rules that govern collection. We have yielded too much to fear, and it is fear that could destroy us. No stranger to adversity and war, Abraham Lincoln in 1838 said in one of his most memorable speeches: “If destruction be our lot, we must ourselves be its author and finisher. As a nation of freemen, we must live through all time, or die by suicide.” Existential fear is the only reasonable explanation for America’s toleration of torture after 9/11. One of the unreasonable explanations is that many Americans were simply reacting out of anger. For them, it made little difference whether or not torture was an effective way to extract information; it was treatment the terrorists deserved. But it was unimaginable to me that I would ever witness the highest officials of the United States of America arguing publicly against any restrictions on how we treat those in our custody. I found it even more amazing that the statements did not provoke widespread outrage. As a nation, we treated the issue with remarkable insouciance. Here was a direct violation of the most fundamental value of Americans at war — we don’t torture — and we wobbled. “It has always been done,” many said, “we just didn’t know about it before,” as if ignorance justified it. Or we dabbled in sophistry about the precise definition of torture, how much pain could be inflicted, under what circumstances it might be permitted, whether we should consider the obscene idea of a judicial warrant permitting torture.
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Torture is wrong. Outlawing torture will not prevent every abuse, but we must keep the bar high. Torture must remain a crime. Violations must remain individual choices, with the consequences well understood. Abuse cannot be national policy. Officials who reject that position might be reminded that with authorization comes inescapable accountability. America will be judged not just by what we say, but by what we do. We cannot claim to be a nation of laws, a champion of democracy, when we too easily accept a disturbing pattern of ignoring inconvenient rules, justifying our actions by extraordinary circumstances, readily resorting to extrajudicial actions based on broad assertions of unlimited executive authority, and espousing public arguments against any constraints on how we treat those in our custody. The defense of democracy demands the defense of democracy’s ideals. To ignore this is to risk alienation and isolation. And defeat. Upholding our values may at times be inconvenient. It may mean, in some circumstances, accepting additional risks. But America has fought wars to defend what its citizens regard as inalienable rights. The country has faced dangers greater than all of the terrorists in the world put together. Neither the terrorists nor those who would promise us protection against terror should compel us to compromise our commitments. The campaign against terrorism is a contest not only of strength and will, but of conviction, commitment, and courage. It will ultimately determine who will live in fear. The choice, ultimately, is ours. Our most effective defense against terrorism will come not from surveillance, concrete barriers, metal detectors, or new laws. It will come from our own virtue, our courage, our continued dedication to the ideals of a free society. It will come from our realism in the acceptance of risk, our stoicism in the face of threats, our self-reliance, our humanity, our sense of community, expressed too fleetingly in times of disaster. It will come from our fierce determination, despite the risks, to defend our liberties and to protect our values, for which we have fought many wars. These are the kinds of defenses — the ones that come from deep within —that will make us an unconquerable nation.  Especial: 11-S. Operación global contra el terrorismo: El análisis de los profesionales

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