Reports out of Algeria are still sketchy but it appears that Algerian security forces attacked the Islamist group holding hostages at a gas plant near the Libyan border—and in the process killed a number of hostages along with hostage-takers.
This is not exactly how the United States, Britain, Israel, France or other Western nations would approach a hostage crisis. The security forces in all those countries would seek a resolution that would be most likely to leave the hostages unharmed and plan an attack only if there was absolutely no alternative or if there was actionable intelligence which suggested a good chance to free the hostages. See, for instance, the hijacking of the merchant ship Maersk Alabama that ended with Navy SEAL snipers taking out the hostage takers and freeing the captain, Richard Phillips.
The Algerians, by contrast, appear to have blundered in, guns blazing. This should not be particularly surprising since (a) Algeria is not a democracy and (b) it has long cultivated a ruthless style of counterinsurgency. During the war pitting Algerian security forces against Muslim militants (including the predecessors of Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb) in the 1990s, an estimated 100,000 or more people died as a result of the indiscriminate and heavy-handed tactics employed by both sides.
Remember the World War II slogan, “Loose lips sink ships”? Perhaps those posters should be reprinted and spread around the most classified departments of the U.S. government because our soldiers and spooks just can’t seem to keep their lips sealed–at least not when they have a triumph to brag about.
The first case in point was of course Operation Neptune Spear, which killed Osama bin Laden. Details of how it was done, and of the resulting intelligence cache, were soon spread all over the news, notwithstanding an agreement among senior administration officials to keep the operation secret. More details have been gushing out in recent days–with still more to come–as President Obama uses this Special Operations Command triumph to bolster his reelection chances, never mind the palpable unease in Special Operations circles about the damage being done from the revelation of their “TTPs” (tactics, techniques, and procedures).
Now something similar is occurring with all the publicity resulting from an Associated Press leak about the double-agent who blew up the al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula plot to blow up a U.S. airliner with a more sophisticated form of “underwear bomb.” No doubt Saudi intelligence officials who ran the double agent and provided information to the CIA are aghast to see the details splashed across front pages.
For the past few days I’ve been in London, where I was presenting a paper at the Counter Terror Expo. I had the privilege to sit-in on other talks far more interesting than mine revolving around British preparations for the Summer Olympics; strategies to counteract terrorist charities; and very practical tactical approaches to the counter terror fight.
A few items jumped out at me during the course of the two-day conference which I simply had not known or previously thought about at length. For example, while American counter terror officials will confront terrorist charities and shut them down, the British believe (naively, in my view) that they can excise the terror influence yet preserve the charity. Likewise, while the U.S. Treasury Department is expert at tracking U.S. dollar transactions in order to deny terrorists funding, I had never fully considered the problem of laundering such transactions via the Mexican Peso, an increasing problem especially given the interplay between terrorists and drug gangs and the prevalence of informal Peso transactions in the American southwest.
Chalk it up to Ambassador Ryan Crocker and General John Allen–our dynamic duo in Kabul. They can get results even in the most unpromising circumstances.
Recently, they completed a deal to transfer custody of the main U.S. detention facility to Afghan control while maintaining American oversight and an American veto on any prisoner releases. Now they appear to be on the verge of concluding an agreement that would allow “night raids”–heavily criticized by President Hamid Karzai for their supposed infringement on Afghan sovereignty–to continue with only mild modifications. Afghan judges will be required to approve the raids but their approval apparently will be obtainable after the fact–which means that the secrecy essential for these operations will not be compromised.
Those determined to portray the life of American Muslims as a never-ending series of officially inspired torments have always confronted a basic problem: there is no tangible evidence that there is any wave of oppression that has reduced followers of Islam to second-class citizen status. Nor has there ever been. FBI crime statistics continue to show anti-Muslim hate cries dwarfed by those linked to Jew-hatred. Even when the mainstream media takes up the subject and treats the truth of this assertion as self-evident, such as last August’s TIME magazine cover story that asked “Does America Have a Muslim Problem?” the authors had to admit that all they can come up with to back their claim were anecdotes.
But that doesn’t stop those determined to force the country to repent of its supposed sins. The latest example is a blog post from New York Times editorial page editor Andrew Rosenthal that is breathtaking in its lack of intellectual integrity. While readers of his editorial page are accustomed to outrageous hyperbole delivered in the Times’ trademark tone of condescension, Rosenthal appears to have no limits in the depths of absurdity he is willing to plumb on behalf of his cause. Rosenthal not only hypes the post-9/11 myth, but goes so far as to assert that the United States has now established a “separate justice system” for Muslims. His proof: the fact that the New York City Police Department conducted a program of surveillance on mosques and community groups where Islamists were suspected to congregate. Oh and don’t forget Guantanamo Bay, which the Times editor describes as a “special detention center for Muslims.” So intent is Rosenthal on proving that America is hostile to Muslims that it seems to have slipped his mind the only reason the NYPD or the federal government is somewhat concerned about radical Muslims is because Islamist groups attacked the United States.
Max Boot believes that France is a success at counter-terrorism, despite “bungling” the case of Mohammad Merah. “Indeed France’s real mistake is not doing more to assimilate Muslims which ensures a constant supply of plotters,” Max writes; “the blame is more on society and government as a whole than on the security forces which are on the whole quite effective.”
Perhaps he is right. I am reminded, though, of something that Jean-François Revel wrote for COMMENTARY nearly three decades ago. The philosopher and former Résistance fighter who succeeded Raymond Aron as France’s most trenchant political commentator, Revel warned that Western democracies have a susceptibility to internal threats written into their genetic code. A democratic state can mobilize against external enemies, but:
can defend itself from within only very feebly; its internal enemy has an easy time of it because he exploits the right to disagree that is inherent in democracy. His aim of destroying democracy itself, of actively seeking an absolute monopoly of power, is shrewdly hidden behind the citizen’s legitimate right to oppose and criticize the system. Paradoxically, democracy offers those seeking to abolish it a unique opportunity to work against it legally.
D.G. Myers is right that French authorities bungled badly in the affair of Mohamed Merah who was on a terrorist watch list but was allowed to roam freely. That terrible mistake was obviated somewhat by the swift and massive French response after the terrible shootings at the Jewish day school; Merah was identified and cornered within two days of that attack and stopped before he could kill again.
But whatever the French did wrong in this case — and there is no doubt that a terrible oversight occurred — on the whole French counter-terrorism is a success story. I recommend reading this 2008 article by Reuel Marc Gerecht and Gary Schmitt that calls France “the European country most serious about counterterrorism.” The secret of French success has been their willingness “to grant highly intrusive powers to their internal security service, the Direction de la Surveillance du Territoire (DST), and to their counterterrorist, investigative magistrates, the juges d’instruction” — powers that far exceed any authorities given U.S. government officials even under the Patriot Act. With those powers, French forces have done an impressive job of stopping terrorist plots of which there is no shortage because of the large number of marginalized and aggrieved Muslim immigrants living there. Indeed France’s real mistake is not doing more to assimilate Muslims which ensures a constant supply of plotters; the blame is more on society and government as a whole than on the security forces which are on the whole quite effective.
Attorney General Eric Holder doubled down on his threats of a federal investigation of the New York City Police Department’s Counter-Terrorism Unit yesterday at a Senate Appropriations Committee hearing. Asked to comment on the brouhaha about NYPD personnel performing surveillance on Muslims in the Greater New York region, including those in New Jersey by Sen. Frank Lautenberg, Politico reports that Holder repeated his previous pledge that the Justice Department is reviewing these activities, clearly with an eye toward hamstringing the department’s work.
The NYPD’s post 9/11 attack surveillance program was both prudent and lawful. To his credit, Mayor Michael Bloomberg has slammed the attacks by Holder, the New York Times editorial page (here and here), as well as politicians like Lautenberg and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie as an attempt to turn the issue into a “political football.” Sadly, the campaign to restrain law enforcement agencies from taking a close look at groups and mosques where Islamists gather is taking its cue from those groups that purport to represent American Muslims but whose real agenda is to promote the myth there has been a wave of discrimination against this group when there is no evidence to back up their claims. The upshot of this grandstanding will be a blow to the effort to root out homegrown terrorists.