British journalist Peter Bergen,
educated at Oxford, is one of the
world’s leading “authorities” on Osama bin Laden (sometimes spelled as Usama bin Laden) and the Taliban. He was early to
recognize the threat, when we was contacted as early
as 1997 to interview Osama bin Laden. American journalist Sebastian Junger had become intensely concerned about this by early
2000, and many other journalists, especially British and Pakastani
and several females, have filmed and reported in detail recently. But this is one of the most important books
on bin Lader to date.
The title is ironic: that
terrorism is a “business” with “earnings” and can be run (illegally) like
one, just like the Mafia. Novelist Richard Condon had explored this notion in
the 1965 novel Mile High.
What is important so far is Bergen’s
explanation of what makes bin Laden tick.
“What he condemns the United States for is simple: its
policies in the Middle East. Those are, to recap briefly, the continued U.S.
military presence in Arabia; U.S. support for Israel; its continued bombing
of Iraq; and its support for regimes such as Egypt and Saudi Arabia that bin
Laden regards as apostate from Islam.”
So religion and cultural
values—the war with modernism and individualism—may be much less important
than more traditional politics, dressed as religion. As for excess es of self-indulgence and individualism (as we see it) –
“He leaves that kind of material to the
Christian fundamentalist Jerry Falwell, who opined
that the September 11 attacks were God’s vengeance on Americans for condoning
feminism and homosexuality.”
view of what U.S.
faces in Afghanistan
is sobering, and yet the terrorist threats – and possibility of more huge
attacks if bin Laden and Al-Qaeda were not terminated – really do amount more
to acts of conventional war than we realize.
Osama bin Laden doesn’t seem to be drawn to attacking American
“lifestyles” and “capitalist values” (that make some people uncomfortable
with themselves) as we could imagine some other terrorist might (like the
anti-hero of the 1995 film Seven). Decapitating the leadership of Al-Qaeda
will go along way to making our homeland much safer.
In early 2003 a CIA agent created controversy
with the publication of Through Our Enemies’ Eyes: Osama
bin Laden, Radical Islam and the Future of America
DC, 2003, ISBN: 1-57488-522-9; Brassey’s is a military subject-matter publisher), by
“Anonymous,” and not Joe Klein. Apparently the CIA
allowed the agent to publish the book if he kept his identity secret, which
he did even on an ABC “Nightline”
interview on May 3, 2003,
although intellectual property law assumes that people will be able to
identify him anyway. But the author
wants to emphasize that much of the asymmetric threat from Bin Laden comes
from his dedication to a purely religious ideology, and that he is not a
“typical terrorist.” Such a view has become “politically incorrect” to
protect the rights of Muslims. However, the author believes that Islam
requires subjugation of the self, including suicide when necessary, to an
extent not found even in the most fundamentalist Christian or Jewish
branches. Islam, as the author sees it, provides a profound experience of
religious and moral collectivism, including coincidence of church and state,
all of this threatened by the presence of individualistic, secular Western
culture on the same planet. It is a kind of religious communism. Even this
view can be challenged, however. Does all of Islam follow this notion of
religious communal virtue, as so well written up by Sayyid
Qutb? For over twenty years, for example, I have
worked in information technology with Muslims from countries like Pakistan
and never encountered anything resembling this religious fanaticism. In the
Twin Cities, which has a large Muslim population from countries like Somalia,
Malaysia and Indonesia,
some Muslim men, finding freedom in this country, even visit gay clubs and
seem to buy the ultimate expression of Western individualistic values.
In October 2004 The Atlantic Monthly presented an article by Peter
Bergen, “The Long Hunt for Osama,” p. 88, in which at one point Bergin
repeats an unnerving assertion about Osama bin Laden’s
association with Egyptian physician Ayman al-Zawahiri, as being (according to a “senior Afghan
official) as (when they travel together) “like a couple.” That doesn’t help
the gay marriage debate. But Bin Laden has had four wives and a multiplicity
Bergen has an anthology The
Osama bin Laden I Know: An Oral History of al Qaeda’s Leader (New York The Free Press, 2006, ISBN 0-7432-7891-7, 444 pgs,
indexed). Bergen provides
personal accounts of an enormous number of people who knew Osama all the way
back to his boyhood, and provides his own commentary in boldface. There is a
chapter on 9/11 with a quote from Mohammed Atta,
with a bizarre comment on his body and private parts being washed. There is
discussion of WMD’s and the rumors that they were
present in various countries, like Afghanistan.
Bergen gave a public signing on Jan. 15, 2006 at the Politics and Prose Bookstore in Washington.
Bergen indicated that the Muslim
community as whole in the US
has not become radicalized to follow bin Laden as it has overseas, and this
helps explain the non-recurrence of a catastrophic attack. He also indicates
that bin Laden’s extreme religious ideology goes
all the way back to adolescence, and his actions do seem to be motivate by extreme
It’s important to note that radical Islamic terrorists seem to want to
make individual Americans (or westerners) feel responsible for political “crimes”
committed in the past by their governments. They do use this “tainted fruits”
style of thinking that is well known from the extreme left (and communism) in
earlier generations. But this time they give it a religious context. An
individual could be singled out and immolated with a suicide terrorist and (in the terrorist's thinking)
be denied salvation, they seem to be saying, for the crimes of their nation.
It’s guilt by association or derivation, and this kind of thinking (and the
idea of “forced conversion:”) may have been behind
Pope Benedict’s claim that Islam is “irrational.”
views of Osama bin Laden are confirmed in another controversial “anonymous”
Hubris: Why the West Is Losing the War on Terror (2004,
Washington, Brassey’s ISBN 1-57488-849-8) which,we now learn, is a sequel
to Through our Enemies’ Eyes: Osama bin Laden, Radical Islam, and the
Future of America
(2002, Brassey’s, above). Both books were authored
by Michael Scheuer. By the time of his authorship
of the second book, the author had retired from the CIA,
and this prompted a debate about writing and publishing by government
officials having access to classified information (at http://www.doaskdotell.com/content/empint.htm
). Visitors to my sites know that I have severe reservations about people
writing and speaking freely for their own self-promotional purposes about
work for which they are already paid while still working in these jobs. This
goes beyond the usual concerns about trade secrets and sensitive information
to basic questions about fairness in how people advance. Scheuer
points out that intelligence analysts are not permitted to even suggest
policy, and that in general government careerists must leave and go into
private business as “consultants” (or “Beltway Bandits”) until they are free
to express themselves—he considers this “conflict of interest” paradigm (as I
have characterized it on my site) as something that can get in the way of
facing the truth. But here, we have to
get beyond that and into Scheuer’s arugment.
His book is dense, with many long sentences and paragraphs and a great
deal of repetition. In that sense, his writing is a bit like mine. So are his
thought processes. I think his writing could be organized with more
sonata-like form, as he jumps among issues, in and out of talking about our
involvement in Afghanistan
and Iraq. So
he needs an editor and literary agent, which understandably he couldn’t have.
Again, though, let’s get to his message.
His idea of “hubris” is the official Bush doctrine, that
terrorists are thugs who don’t believe in freedom, etc. He sees the current Enemy as an Islamist insurgency,
not just a decentralized web of terrorists. Why have they become our enemy?
Because they cannot live with what we do, and not just because of who we are.
This is a top-loaded statement. I was once told, when working on my first
job at NBS, that I had a tendency to make enemies. Consider Lawyer A who threatens Writer B (with a cease-and-desist).
Suppose Lawyer A says, “you are an Enemy.” (A lawyer shouldn’t do that, but
move on..) He
goes on. “I think you are a Low Life and have No Morals. I think your basic
essence is immoral. But I am litigating against you not for who you are but for what you did, which is make my
client’s life intolerable. You are keeping my client from making a living.” A
major part of the problem is that fundamentalist Islam sees the state and
religion as inseparable, and the presence of an
alien culture on their lands threatens that nexus.
Osama bin Laden acts a bit like this kind of self-appointed judge and
master-of-what-it-will-be-like. He personifies the notion that American
foreign policy and economic exploitation is destroying the ability to
practice Islam. We are not pursued with hijacked airplanes and maybe WMD’s
because of our lifestyles, movies, gay and straight extramarital sex (the
author mentions gay issues at least once), emancipation of women, and
secularism. We are pursued because we are inhibiting the practice of Islam in
Islamic lands. Why? That is hard to understand in individualistic terms. Scheuer characterizes Islam is a kind of decentralized
but very communal religion in which Allah determines any “purpose driven”
life (to quote the title of another famous best-seller). God is regarded with
a kind of internal affection. For many young men, this determines the only
conceivable source of identity in life. Now, it seems to me that a similar
idea underlies a lot of evangelical Christianity, even though the theology
(the Christian idea of salvation through Grace) enters the thought process.
(Just ask Rick Warren.)
Therefore, Scheuer argues, we must drop any
pretense of nobility in our arguments about terrorism. Instead, if we really
need our foreign policy to be as it is, we must be prepared to kill
aggressively for it. He feels we should have hit back hard on Sept. 12 or 13,
2001, rather than waiting for four weeks to begin a campaign that seemed like
a strategic chess middle game when we needed a quick
attack with Byronic tactics. In Chess terms, we need to think more in terms
of old King Pawn openings (don’t be afrad to make
quick mate threats) and quit playing Queen Pawn and the English Openings with
this. And we need to play gambits. That is, we need to realize that a
professional military get paid not just to fight our wars, but to lay down
its life. It is a true warrior class. (He doesn’t get into “don’t ask don’t
tell” but I presume he would look upon it with disdain.)
He does, however, warn us that we must rethink our loyalty to Israel,
which no longer serves any conceivable national security interest, and end
our dependence on foreign oil.
American citizens, so far, are culpable only because they bear the
responsibility of participatory democracy (which Scheuer
does not think can be recommended for a part of the world that seems like
another planet out of Star Wars.) But here it would get interesting if we
took the discussion further. For ultimately, I think it would come down to
talking about personal sacrifice.
Scheuer early-on discusses the use of the
Internet as a public space for Al Qaeda to spread “propaganda” and make
communications. He does not seem concerned (as I have been) that it intends
to drawn in ordinary citizens with no Islamic connections just because they
have provocative websites. A big mouth
like me might make an enemy with an anti-abortionist or other domestic right
wing fanatic, or maybe someone who imagined he or she was personally
“oppressed” but not from a sleeper cell member, who is interested in
punishing our economic system and government and national symbods,
not in hand-picking individual citizens.
Paul Marshall, Roberta Green, Lela Glibert: Islam
at the Crossroads: Understanding Its Beliefs, History and Conflicts. Grand
Rapids, MI; Baker Books; 2002.
ISBN 0-80106416-3, 121 pgs with chronology. This book is a concise summary of
Islam, in its three forms, and its history, and an explanation of radical
Islam today. In a word, its about religion and
apostasy, echoing what Peter Bergen says. Islam reached a nadir on Sept. 11, 1683 just before the second battle
of Vienna. After that, European
civilization gradually took over much of Muslim lands. This goes way beyond
the explanation of the Crusades. For about 1000 years, Islam culture really
was more advanced, particularly around Cordoba
Radical Islam believes that its fall is based on apostasy and unfaithfulness.
The book provides a concise outline of how Islamic beliefs contrast with
Christianity and Judaism. Theology is different, but some practical beliefs
are similar. Muslims should give 2.5% if their network every year to the
poor, and every able bodied Muslim makes a hajj at Mecca
once in a lifetime. Prayer is an enormously ritual and concentrating
Islam naturally brings up questions about balancing involvement with
people as people for the organic experience with worshipping an ideal,
whether it is supernatural and spiritual or somehow tied to human perfection.
Islam sees a trampling on its ideals as a source of shame, as it would
sometimes see a compromise (outside of its laws) for the needs of people. Yet
people often see themselves this way. Politically, this makes negotiation
itself as a form of apostasy and giving in to infidels. Radical Islam aims at
reinstating a caliphate (lost in 1923 after World War I where the Ottoman
Empire was replaced by modern secular Turkey), first in Muslim lands and then
the entire world. It is an aggressive ideology, like Communism and Fascism.
Mr. Marshall spoke at the First Baptist
Church of the City of Washington
DC on Feb. 8, 2005,
as part of the “Faith and the Media” FBC
Hunter: The Extraordinary Story of a Woman Who Went Undercover to Infiltrate
the Radical Islamic Groups Operating in America.
New York: Harper Collins, 2003
335 pgs hardcover.
First as to authorship.The New Yorker
piece “Annals of Terrorism: How Rita Katz got into the spying business,” by
Benjamin Wallace-Wells, May
29, 2006, p. 28, identifies Ms. Katz as the author of this book
on p. 39, Katz is now the head of
SITE (Search for International Terrorist Entities) trolls radical Islamic web
sites and message boards for intelligence, in an unidentified city. In a way,
as I have noted elsewhere on this site, she serves the function with respect
to terrorists that “Perverted Justice” performs in tracking down potential
sex offenders who look for minors in chat rooms. At a certain level, the
potential for tracking down the bad guys this way is fundamentally similar (I
expect this idea to get the attention of NBC “Dateline”).
But this leads to the book. Late in the book, she talks about the need to
remain anonymous after publication – three years later,
it obviously didn’t, given the New
Yorker, because the government and enemies could go after certain sources
or even her and her family. I don’t think this has happened, but, as we know
even from the NBC Dateline “To Catch a Predator” series, undercover “amateur”
investigations can remain effective for years even when they have been
disclosed. Anonymous speech has always been a guaranteed First Amendment
right (and it is threatened sometimes by various government subpoenas to ISPs
and Google); yet I think generally it is not as effective as when the speaker
is willing to “out himself” publicly. (We know that from gay rights issues.)
Also, as we know from libel and invasion of privacy law concerning fiction,
it is often relatively easy for people who matter for others to identify pseudononymous people in a book, including the author.
(Could she have used a pen name instead?)
The book chronicles her career as an undercover private and “amateur”
investigator for a number of years, extending at least as far back as the
Persian Gulf War. Her technique was to scour public records and public
information sources (including the Internet and the infamous Google once
these came along) and then connect the dots. She spends a lot of attention in
the latter part of the book to the inability of government agencies to
communicate, and makes the case that a well motivated individual is often
better at putting pieces together and publishing the revelations than is a
bureaucracy that works through a chain of command.
In one major way her history is similar to mine, at a certain
psychological level. A traumatic event in adolescence motivates a furious
self-driven effort to hunt down the demons much later in life. In the early
chapters, she relates her childhood growing up as a Jew in the coastal Shiite
area of Iraq.
She lived in a world of large families and semi-arranged marriages, where
family reputation as a group mattered a lot. Israel
executed the 1967 war, and Saddam Hussein took over in 1968, and soon her
father was apprehended and public executed, while she and the other kids were
taken out of their home and force to live in poverty. They escaped through
the Kurdish area into Iran
and then emigrated to Israel.
She would serve in the military. She would operate a garment business, and
appeal to orthodox families that had large numbers of children. In time she
would move to New York. She
would go to work for a non-profit, and find the opportunity to launch her own
Actually, it is very difficult to do what you want publicly when working
publicly for someone else, but she threaded her way. Since she had learned
Arabic, she could infiltrate Muslim events, as a major event in Chicago
in 1999. She reports seeing a stage play glorifying the preparation of a
suicide bomber. Radical Islamist
ideology is uncompromising, and the total intolerance of the existence of
Israel relates in some part to the fact that Israel took land away from
individual Palestinians at various times for settlement—a source of personal
shame to Palestinians that in their minds justifies suicidal ideology. In her undercover work, she came across
appeals to “adopt” orphans of Palestinian suicide bombers, a curious and
warped variation of family values.
She does provide her own account of the history of Osama bin Laden, and
particularly the origin of Al Qaeda as “the base,” a network that all jihadists would pass through in proving that they had
“paid their dues” as potential martyrs.
She spends a lot of space tracing the details of the money laundering (one
can call it that) of the network of Islamic “charities”), many of which are
operated covertly by Saudis under the ideology of Sunni Wahhabism.
Much of the activity was focused on an entity called SAAR
that operated out of Grove Street
in a northern Virginia suburb.
The terrorist threat, because it can take advantage of our openness and First
Amendment and due process protections and of an “objectivist” view of the
law, is very insidious, and by its nature forces people back into thinking
tribally and of others who are different as “enemies.” The laundering is so complicated that one
can work for a charity of organization, support one’s family and believe that
one is doing good when one is actually supporting
violence. Her work certainly shows the dark side of institutionalism (a
concept that I remember well from high school civics and government class).
What is amazing, then, is that she could pursue her chosen “career” with such
determination given that she is a mother of a family of her own--but she did have
a lot of organizational and governmental support, however unstable. (I have
had much less, and I have not procreated the obligations that could guarantee
my own personal restraint.)
On July 19, 2007
NBC Today reported a Montana
judge and mother, knowledgeable of Arabic and Urdu or Farsi and who, on her
own, enters terrorist message boards and chat rooms and get information on
the location of Al Qaeda units in Pakistan
This is a kind of “To Catch a Terrorist” operation. Is Chris Hansen nect?
Ron Suskind. The One Percent Doctrine: Deep Inside America’s Pursuit of its Enemies Since 9/11.
New York: Simon & Schuster,
2006. ISBN 0-7432-7109-2. This is also called the Cheney Doctrine.
“If there’s a one percent chance that
Pakistani scientists are helping Al Qaeda build or develop a nuclear weapon,
we have to treat it as a certainty in terms of our response.” (p. 62)
So Cheney said, and it seems, according to the arcane and detailed narratives
in this book, that Cheney makes a lot of these determinations on his
own. Right after 9/11, the
administration reinterpreted a lot of criminal procedure in its favor in
order to justify all kinds of surveillance, sending “national security letters”
to justify sweeps on weak pretexts. I guess this is understandable. There is
a lot of discussion of how the government has tried to mine the data from
emails, search engines, cell phone calls, and most of all financial
transactions. First Data, which has a parental relationship with Western
Union, is involved. Western Union is
popular in the Middle East for moving money around, as
financial networks are (surprisingly) not always as sophisticated, that there
are all the family-based loans trying to get around Islamic usury laws. Western
Union, by the way, is also an important conduit in overnight
debt collection. The company was a major customer of Univac in the 1970s when
Univac was trying to compete with IBM in
the mainframe area (I worked for Univac 1972-1974).
Around 2004, Al Qaeda began using physical couriers much more, as its cell
phone calls and emails were getting traced. But they still used websites to
retrieve publicly available information on all kinds of dangerous devices,
and it would seem possible for them to use websites to transmit instructions.
Law enforcement could, however, troll the Internet and chatrooms
(in “Dateline” style) and impersonate contacts the way it catches predators.
In fact, the NSA and CIA were picking up
chatter about possible attacks on a variety of very soft targets used by
ordinary Americans, and this talk would lead to intensified interrogation
The book traces the arrests of several major figures, and then ventures
off into the Iraq
war. The administration claimed to have evidence that Saddam was trafficking
in yellowcake and WMDs. It apparently did have
evidence of weaponized anthrax in southern Afghanistan,
but never proved that this had any connection to Iraq.
And all of this leads to the sensational reports in Time (in the excerpt from
this book printed in late June 2006) about plans for a hydrogen cyanide
attack on the NYC subway systems in February 2003, mixed and controlled
remotely by a device called a mubtakkar. They were
found on computer disks, and apparently details were supplied by a
pseudonymous character named Ali.