US “Intelligence” and the
“Global Terror War”
The recent revelations on the FBI not putting two and two together in the run up to the September 11 attacks should be shocking. But to many who have closely followed the American handling of Islamic terrorism in the several years before, such reports come as no shock. Why would the FBI from top to bottom be any different from the mandarins of the State Department, or the myriad foreign policy think tanks in Washington? Why would the FBI indeed think outside the blinders imposed by the White House and top US security officials upon themselves when dealing with the growing menace of Islamic fundamentalism in the past decade? The FBI agent who discovered the links between mid-eastern visitors and flight schools last year, or the FBI managers who ignored the tell-tale signs can hardly be accused of negligence, because they did not have the right context. That context has never been pieced together at any level in the United States.
When the FBI was fiddling with the evidence of the impending disaster on September 1, this magazine published an editorial warning of a “massive fundamentalist explosion” that could only be countered by a large-scale operation against the terrorist infrastructure in Pakistan and Afghanistan. No, the editors of this magazine did not have the combined billions of dollars and countless “humint” resources that the FBI, the CIA, or the NSA have access to. We didn’t need those resources to conclude that something big was coming. The extrapolation of the events of the past few years, and the acceleration, as well as increased brazenness of terrorist incidents, led to an obvious end point, especially when factoring in the clear connections between the Al Qaida and the Pakistani terrorists targeting India.
The earlier botched World Trade Center bombing, the US embassy bombings in Africa, the USS Cole bombing had a common thread with a long list of continued events in India, particularly terrorist violence in Jammu and Kashmir. The common thread was the Pakistani intelligence agency, ISI, and its military, which provided logistic and financial support to the terrorists, ran terrorist bases in Pakistan itself, and propped up the Taliban which hosted the Al Qaida in neighboring Afghanistan.
For a whole decade leading up to 2001, Pakistan invested heavily in helping build up this terrorist infrastructure. And during that entire decade, official America was aiding Pakistan in denying its world-leading role in terrorism sponsorship. The State Department annually brushed aside demands to add Pakistan to the list of state sponsors of terrorism, and downplayed a mountain of evidence that implicated the ISI and the Pakistani military in supporting international terrorism. US officials participated in a farce that condemned countries like North Korea, Libya, Iran and Iraq with economic sanctions for their support to terrorism, while leaving the main perpetrator, Pakistan, free to export terror.
Pakistan, and by extension its fellow compatriots in the Al Qaida, felt emboldened by this suicidal American policy. The Al Qaida under Bin Laden had vowed to teach America a lesson in a statement in 1998. Several leaders of Pakistani groups sponsored by the ISI had cosigned the statement. There were many other omens and factors that all pointed to imminent disaster in the summer of 2001. The hijacking of the Indian Airlines jet in 2000 was one of the omens. The Al Qaida had carried out a bold operation and succeeded. Terrorist operations that succeed are usually a precursor of more to come.
It was the official US stance of denial permeating from the top that prevented FBI officials from operating within the right context, which would have set off their alarm bells. They did not know that the Al Qaida had gotten emboldened by Pakistani sponsorship of terror, and by the accelerated development of weapons of mass destruction that Pakistan was indulging in. This acceleration happened in 2000 and 2001, and Pakistan’s brazenness in facilitating terror strikes was proportionately increasing. Just as Pakistan did not believe India would punish it, its Al Qaida compatriots believed the US would not go beyond pinprick missile strikes due to the nuclear weapon stash that was well within their reach. The Al Qaida, as well as the ISI, was not counting on the quick post-September 11 caving in of Musharraf, who had scuttled a CIA plot against Bin Laden two years earlier.
The suicidal lack of awareness of these realities among American officials is clear from the fact that while the State Department was consistently keeping Pakistan off the list of terror sponsors, the latter was not only sustaining the Taliban, but providing direct financial assistance for Al Qaida. Lt. Gen. Mahmood Ahmed, the ISI chief, was reported to have directed the transfer of $100,000 to Mohammed Atta, the main WTC hijacker, during last summer. Such a bold step was only possible since the Al Qaida and its Pakistani benefactors sensed that the Americans were giving them a long rope to continue with their sinister activities. The hijackers carried out preparations for months in the US, content in the knowledge that official US was complacent.
One would think that after the catastrophic events of September 11, reality would dawn on America. For a while it seemed President Bush was going to indeed change direction, particularly with his “you are with us or with the terrorists” refrain. However, as the Al Qaida and the Taliban were driven out of Afghanistan, US resolve to defeat terror morphed back into the complacent stupor it had lived in for the past decade. Bush himself switched his attention to old enemies, such as North Korea, Iraq and Iran, who have little to do with terrorism now. Pakistan was allowed to evacuate thousands of personnel, including an unknown number of key Al Qaida and Taliban from Afghanistan. The reverting back to “its some one else’s terrorism” policy of the 1990s was complete when Musharraf was given the go ahead to fully resume his sponsorship of terror in Jammu and Kashmir. Dozens of terror camps in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir were teeming again with jihadis. Taliban and Al Qaida officials are well known to have taken up comfortable residence all over Pakistan.
Musharraf basked in glory, with Powell calling him a “front-line ally against terror”, and brought back several of the key jehadi generals who had been sidelined under post-September 11 US pressure, including Gen. Mohammed Aziz Khan, who was appointed Chief of General Staff. The end result is that instead of two nations Pakistan and Afghanistan being the epicenter of terrorism, in 2002 Pakistan has become the sole epicenter. By using its nuclear arsenal as a threat to anyone daring to clean up its terrorist infrastructure, Pakistan has also set a chilling precedent for future terrorist sponsors. And all because of official America failing to see grave impending threats until they come to its doors.
It is a sobering thought that intense pressure through declaration of Pakistan as a terrorist sponsor would have forced it to cut off support to the Taliban and break Al Qaida ties in the 90s, thus preventing the creation of the Frankenstein’s monster that reared its head on September 11 last year. Furthermore, it is unnerving to realize that today within Pakistan, the Al Qaida is reforming, regrouping and renewing planning of future attacks on India, the United States and other democracies under the complicit noses of Musharraf and his fellow generals, while Bush and Powell call Pakistan and its two-faced General a front-line ally in the war against terror.
Hence, it wasn’t simply a failure of some individual FBI agents, or their management, or even the FBI as a whole. The failure is of American “intelligence”, of failing to connect the dots that were headed towards US shores, of failing to create the right context within which various US agencies carry out counter-terrorist operations. And by allowing Pakistan to carry out explicit nuclear blackmail, Americans are going beyond their pre-September 11 follies. They are now paving the way for nuclear rogue nations to dictate the resolution of issues around the world.