According to a Foreign Policy In Focus task force report, "Terrorism: A Secure America in a Secure World," the Bush administration has created a more vulnerable nation by weakening global alliances. The report suggests that despite the creation of the 9/11 Commission, improved airline and border security, arrests and disrupting planned attacks, there is a need for a national and international legal infrastructure and cooperative policies for "an effective global effort to combat terrorism." FPIF is a joint project of the Interhemispheric Resource Center and the Institute for Policy Studies.
John Gershman, co-director of FPIF for the Interhemispheric Resource Center and author of the report and James Carafano, senior fellow of Defense and Homeland Security at The Heritage Foundation, will be online Wednesday, Sept. 15, at 2 p.m. ET to discuss and debate the administration's homeland security and counterterrorism efforts.
A transcript follows.
Editor's Note: Washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Live Online discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions.
John Gershman: Hi everyone. Just like to introduce myself. I'm John Gershman, Co-Director of Foreign Policy in Focus and an adjunct professor at NYU's Wagner School for Public Service.
I'd be interested in your opinions of why so many intelligence agencies, not just US, were so wrong about the WMDs in Iraq?
Considering the results some one must have said there weren't any. All the reports were apparently either outdated or imaginary.
I'd also be interested in any info you have on the suspicious lady crossing the border from Texas a month ago, and the recent mysterious explosion in North Korea.
Thanks very much.
John Gershman: That's an excellent question. Part of the issue appears to be that no one had good sources of human intelligence that did not also have some sort of a political agenda (ie, the exiles around Chalabi), and so the process of intelligence gathering had to be assembled from disparate fragments of information. At the same time, without the ability to disprove claims from the Iraqi exiles close to the Iraqi National Congress, being cautious might lead one to take the worst case scenario.
Nevertheless, some agencies in the US (notably the State Deapartment's intelligence bureau) and Australia (at least) were very critical of the intelligence claiming that Iraq had caches of WMD, but many of these qualifications and questions were eliminated from publicly released assessments. So it's not fair to say that all intelligence agencies shared the same exact view.
One issue, at least in the case of Australian and UK intelligence, which have done useful reports on the problems, was the excessive reliance by some of their people on particualr sources from the U.S. which were not questioned. Those sources turned out to be the largely unconfirmable reports from the INC.
This all highlights the real cost of not allowing the inspections to continue..
I'm not sure about the suspicious lady from Texas, nor do I know anything other than what's been published about the explosion in North Korea, which at thios point at least, suggests it was not a nuclear explosion, but beyond that remains unclear.
The worst thing any nation can do for its national security is depend on other nations for protection. My nation learned that in 1938. What nations agree to do in treaties and actually do when confronting an agressor are usually two very different things
John Gershman: While I would agree that no country should depend entirely for its security on other countries, there is a question of degree. Certainly NATO was a useful alliance for security in Europe it seems to me.
An Admiral in Old Lyme, Ct. has been quoted in the press as stating we spend more in two days on the war in Iraq than we did all last year on security our ports. While that is nice rhetoric, isn't there also a lot of truth to that? If we are fighting a war in Iraq to make us safe from terrorists, wouldn't it have been a better priority to have instead invest those resources elsehwere: greater intelligence, and, importantly, better securing our ports, not only from terrorists, but also from smugglers and illegal drugs importers?
John Gershman: I'm not sure about the Admiral but I know that Stephen Flynn, a retired Coast Guard officer and an author of a recent book on Homeland Security and a number of other pieces which gives roughly this figure..
I think your supposition is basically accurate, that Iraq has been a major diversion of resources away from critical homeland security expenditures, as well from reconstruction in Afghanistan, let alone the broader political costs of the war.
James Carafano: This is a criticism you here a lot and it makes little sense from a strategic standpoint. This would be like saying during World War II, "every cent spent in the war against Germany is a dollar wasted in the war against Japan."
Strategy is about making hard choices and setting priorities. There are infinite number of homeland security needs and anyone can make a case on why spending money on their priority makes sense. You have to ask the question of where are you going to get the biggest bang for the buck and what will make the nation safer "over the long term."
Debating spending on Iraq at this point also makes little sense. Having occupied the country we now have a legal and moral obligation to fufill our responsibilities as occuppying power. Spending on Iraq now is not optional.
John Gershman: The report A Secure America in a Secure World is available on our website (www.fpif.org) is the product of a task force of 24 people including former Reagan administration officials as well as academics and policy analysts. It offers a critique of the Bush administration's approach to the "war on terror" and offers an alternative framework for U.S. policy in combatting terrorism.
St. Louis Park, Minn.:
Has the Iraq War helped al Qaeda
John Gershman: It's not clear that the Iraq War has enabled al Qaeda to regroup, since a fair amount of al Qaeda forces remain in Afghanistan and northwestern Pakistan.
But the Iraq War has been an important recruiting tool for al Qaeda, according to the UK-Based International Institute for Strategic Studies, and it has been a powerful symbol for al Qaeda to use in arguing that the U.S. has embarked on a war against Islam. It's also provided a new front for
John Gershman: military operations, although al Qaeda-linked forces do not appear to represent the largest contingents of the forces engaged in fighting the U.S. and coalition forces in Iraq.
I have recently seen stories that highlight a couple of trends that I would like you to comment on.
1. The terrorism trials have been disclosed to be so flawed with procedural and prosecutorial abuse that the convictions are now being overturned and Justice Dept. lawyers are being investigated.
2. The facts on the ground in Iraq indicate that virulent anti-US sentiment has spread far and wide from the al-Qaida/Afghanistan pre-9/11.
Are these trends indicators of failed policies or bad implementation?
What can be done to turn things around and get quality convictions and reduce anti-US feeling that provides recruiting opportunities for terrorists?
John Gershman: 1. Some of the terrorism trials do appear to have many problems linked to them, including even Attorney Generasl Ashcroft violating gag orders from judges. This is a major concern as the Bush administration seeks to increase some of the limits on civil liberties associated with the USA PATRIOT Act in the so-called PATRIOT Act II. And Amnesty International has a new rpeort out detailing a large surge in racial profiling in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks.
2. Yes, the polls suggest a dramatic increase in U.S. sentiment and al Qaeda using the Iraq War as a recruiting tool.
I think the former issue of the trials reflects poor implementation -- some trails have proceeded in a strightforward fashion, but there does appear to be some combination of pressure from the tope of the DOJ and some prosecutors engaged in misconduct. But there have been succesful trials in the past -- Ramzi Yousef, Timothy McVeigh, the Blind Sheik, etc. indicating that federal prsoecutors can bring terrorist to justice without violating civil liberties and the law.
I think the second question indicates an issue of flawed policies -- first framing the efforts against terrorism as a war, and then focusing in on Iraq as the main front in that war. That has led to an inadequate response to the situation in Afghanistan (the first front), a ballooning military budget, and weakened the basis for popular support that the US had in the aftermath of 9/11.
There are alot of nations who do not want to participate in the US led war on terrorism until, like Russia, they're hit by evil terrorists. Then, for their political leaders to survive, they must fight back.
James Carafano: In fact, it is not a U.S. war on terrorism. Transnational terrorism is a threat shared by many nations, whether their leaders wish to publically acknowledge it or not. In fact, I think it is wrong to paint a picture of the United States as isolated and alone on this issue. While some countries disagree with U.S. foreign policies, few feel sanguine about the threat of transnational terrorism and are working to counter these threats in their own countries and cooperating with the United States in areas of mutual interest. For example, the entire European Union has signed on in support of the Container Security Initiative, a U.S.-led effort to prevent terrorists from using international shipping containers to transport weapons, people, and other illicit items.
Whereas Russia's President Putin has taken some criticism for his policies regarding Chechnya which have increased the threat of terrorism, this attitude in the US regarding Iraq has not met with much acceptance.
Do you think that Iraq is destined to be the breading ground of tomorrow's terrorists? Are there any changes in mid-east foreign policy that could alleviate the hostilities towards the US, or will the US be forevermore locked in a battle against the current and future axis' of evil?
John Gershman: It's not clear to me that Iraq will necessarily be a breeding ground for tomorrow's terrorists (if by that we mean al Qaeda). First, most Iraqis are Shi'a and are not attracted to al Qaeda's Sunni-dominated movement and its theology. Second, it's not clear that despite the bloody attacks as of late that most Iraqis actually support the al Mahdi army of al Sadr, the former Baathists, or Zarqawi, the alleged al Qaeda-linked Jordanian operating in Iraq. Many Iraqis would like an end to the occupation, but it's by no means clear they endrose the politics of the insurgents. I think Iraq is more valuable as a recruting tool to Al Qaeda and similar groups elsewhere, as a symbol, more than a crucible of terror per se.
Much in the same way that the OSS trained and supported Ho Chi Minh, we seem to have trained and supported Ossama bin Laden. Further Bush's preemptive attack strategy and the quagmire in Iraq appears to be creating insurgents much the same way we created Viet Cong. While there are many differences, why can't our leaders see these broad similarities and take appropriate action?
John Gershman: There's no evidence that the US directly trained and supported bin Laden (see Steve Coll's book Ghost Wars for probably the best description of the U.S. role in Afghanistan in the 1980s and 1990s)
But the U.S. did help create the enabling conditions, along with its allies Saudi Arabia and Paksitan, for bin Laden to emerge and to consolidate some power.
The parallels to Vietnam in Iraq are useful in this vein -- we don't wat to overblow them, but there are some eerie similarities.. chief among them the arrogance of U.S. policy that seems itself able to remake the world
Bob, New York, N.Y.:
The Bush administration seems to be purusing two contrary policies simultaneously, the first being the security driven "war on terrorism" that in many ways requires alliances with non-democratic regimes such as Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Uzbekistan and others. The second policy is centered around the concept of "Democracy Promotion" in Afghanistan,Iraq and the "Greater Middle East". Can these policies co-exist, or do they undermine American credibily and solicit charges of hypocrisy?
James Carafano: Well, this is certainly not a new challenge. We partnered with the Soviet Union during World War II (and Stalin killed more innocents than Hitler). During the Cold War, the United States was often faced with the prospects of having to cooperate with regimes that were less than democratic.
So I think the point is, "these challenges are a normal part of international relations, not a problem unique to the Global War on Terrorism." The acme of good government and foreign policy is to press both agendas and achieve results.
South Africa and South Korea were both "Cold War allies" with poor records on democracy, today they are friendly nations and democratic and free market success stories...so it is not impossible.
California St., NW Washington, D.C.:
I am seriously concerned about the notion promoted by the current administration about how much safer from terrorism we are here in the US under their watch. My brother works for the Dept of Immigration (now called Immigration and Customs Enforcement) for a major northeast city. I hear many many horror stories from within the agency (incompetence, to downright stupidity) to the sieve that are our Mexican and Canadian borders. Why is no one stepping forward to publically declare how safe we are NOT?? We really are just sitting ducks and it is truly only a matter of time before we are hit again--and hit hard and neither Bush nor Kerry can stop it. Comments?
John Gershman: I think you raise a valuable concern. But we also need to keep in mind that while they can do a lot of harm and damaga, the numbers of people actually trying to kill us are small, and we don't want to create a fortress America. The issue is in part how we balance the risks and benefits of living in an relatively free and democratic society and have commerce and tourism and exchange with the rest of the world, and also have a certain level of a risk of attack.
Absolute security is a chimera, and we don't want to imagine it's possible.
Having said that, there is major underfunding for some critical agencies (like Border and Customs and the Coast Guard), and we need to create smart borders in ways that don't undermine our ability to be part of the world in terms of travel and trade.. this also requires resources..
I don't doubt that Immigration, like any large bureaucracy has problems, and that is why I would argue that political attention and resources need to be addressed to those most serious threats -- homeland and border security, and not to fighting a war in Iraq.
Los Angeles, Calif.:
Hello and thanks for taking my question.
I'd like to know what you think the
chances are of a terrorist attack inside the
United State in the next year.
My reading is that the Al Queda threat
inside the United States is small now and
that there are no active plots inside the
U.S. While I think we can expect
continuing terrorism in other parts of the
world in the near future, and possible
attacks in the US in the middle and long
term. My reading of the current data is that
an attack here in the near term is very
John Gershman: I think the chances that an attack would be attempted within the next year (or do you mean by the end of the year?) are pretty high -- whether it would be successful or not is another story.
But in general I accept the basic assumption that there will be an effort to go after "softer" targets abroad, as there has certianly been an increase in anti- and cpunter-terrorist efforts in the U.S. We also have to remember that there are other groups besides al Qaeda (even if they share some of al Qaeda's philosophy) that have used violence, such as Jemaah Islamiah in Indonesia and others where the main targets are Westerners because they are seen as supporters of an infidel regime, or having been guilty of attacks against the people these groups claim to represent (such as resentment against Australia for its support of the East Timorese after the referendum)--so there are also other targets besides the U.S.
Do you feel that the cooperation between Canada, the US and Mexico in matters of security is working well? If it isn't, what areas need to be improved and by whom?
James Carafano: Cooperation with Canada on defense issues, like air security and missile defense, has been first-rate.
Both the United States and Canada are also committed to having a border that allows for the free and dependable transit of goods, services, people, and ideas and provides for better security -- dual priorities that are equally important. The best answer to securing the U.S.-Canadian border is to keep bad people out of the United States and Canada...so a great deal of strengthening the U.S. border will be about improving the security of those entering and transiting Canada.
U.S.-Mexico cooperation is a very mixed bag. On the defense side, cooperation has never been very good. There has been some improvements in the maritime area, much less cooperation on air security issues.
There has been some improvement on cooperation on border security. One important program to watch is how the US-Visit initiative (which requires recording visa holders that enter and leave the country) is implemented and affects travel and trade on the Southern land border...getting this program right is very important.
One thing I think is changing. I thinking there is a growing recognition in Canada and Mexico that "U.S. security is Canadian and Mexican security." Our economies are inextricably linked. Terrorist attacks that affect the United States will have a significant impact on our neighbors as well. So there is, I think, a grudging and growing recognition that we are all in this together.
Still, we are a long way from where we should be.
John Gershman: I'd like to respond to Jim Carafano's answer to our participant from Oslo, Norway above. I think that Jim is right that there is a lot of concern about transnational terrorism, and that many countries have joined aspects of policies and programs like the Container Security Initiative. This contrasts starkly with the perspective on the U.S. war in Iraq, which was framed as part of the war on terrorism, and thereby reduced opportunities for greater focus and cooperation aimed at transnational terrorism..
Since our "global alliances" didn't do anything to stop 9/11 from happening, and might have even helped in it being carried out, why would "weakening" them have any impact at all on homeland security?
James Carafano: Alliances are neither intrinsically good nor bad. They are good--if they serve your interests and bad if they don't. And they can be good for some needs and bad others. There is no simple answerthat applies in all cases.
Personally, I think in terms of the war on terror in areas like intelligence sharing and counterterrorism operations most of the important work is going to be done a bilateral basis (i.e. between two countries), since these are very complicated and sensitive matters best worked out by mutually agreement for mutual advantage. On the other hand, security issues, like trade and travel, need to be worked out in multinational forums.
John Gershman: I'd also like to respond to Jim's take on the questioner from Lyme, CT on homeland security spending and Iraq. It seems there are two questions, one about the decision to go into Iraq and the other now that we are there:
Does Jim agree that going into Iraq was a poor strategic choice in the context of the how he describes strategies (prioritizing among
John Gershman: needs, making hard choices). Was that not in fact a poor strategic choice?
In terms of our responsibilities as occupiers, I would agree that we have an international obligation as an occupying power, but how that obligation is actually met does not necessarily involve large numbers of U.S. troops being there. It also means making choices between large tax cuts and homeland security, and a large Pentagon budget some of which may have nothing much to do with terrorism (or any other plausible security threat) that could also be trimmed. Our immediate favorite is missile defense, but that could just be a start..
San Diego, Calif.:
I am interested in your take on the idea of suspending human rights in order to combat terrorism. Whether it's Gitmo or the Patriot Act, or more recently Vladimir Putin talking about curtailing freedoms in Russian states, will the U.S. strategy to combat terror affect the ways that other democracies promote freedom? Have we set a tone that says fighting terrorists is more important than fighting for freedom?
James Carafano: Every time in U.S. history where we have traded civil liberties for more security the pain has not been worth the gain. We simply have to have both.
How severe a problem is the lack of Arabic speakers in the CIA and elsewhere in the US intelligence community? I read Douglas Feith viewed proficiency in Arabic as grounds for excluding people from his Office of Special Plans, and that proficiency in Arabic and familiarity with Arab and Islamic cultures is not conducive for a career in the State Dept and CIA (fear of "going native" and not appreciating the Israeli view).
James Carafano: An ancient Chinese philosopher said, and I paraphrase, he who knows his enemy will win some battles, he who knows himself will win some battles, he who knows both the enemy and himself will win all his battles. I think that is about right.
Yes, knowing the language and culture of the regions you are involved is very important....and, as the 9/11 Commission point out, we have not devoted sufficient effort to building up the human resources we need.
Ellicott City, Md.:
How does the government label terrrorist acts in the US. For instance statements about there being no terrorist acts in the US since 9/11 when the Anthrax scare happened after that. What of domestic terrorism such as abortion clinic bombings, will those now be viewed differently?
John Gershman: The U.S. government does keep track of terrorist acts in the U.S., and the FBI published an annual report (although the latest I could find on the website went to 2001)..
To date pro-choice groups have been unable to get the DoJ to label abortion clinic bombings as terrorism as far as I know, although they did label a series of mailings to abortion clinics claiming to have anthrax in them in late 2001 as a terrorist attack and the perpetrator was arrested in December 2001..
The FBI has seemed most focused as of late on increased animal rights and environmental attacks on property, (in terms of non-international terrorism) as opposed to right wing, especially Christian fundamnetalist-linked right wing attacks on reproductive health providers or clinics
Given the findings of the 911 commission and
imformation available from our border patrol, exactly
what will it take to get the Federal government to control
our borders? A nuked city?
James Carafano: I think part of the problem is that we think of the issue of border security too narrowly. What protects your house against burglars? The locks on the door? Your dog? The police? Your neighbors? In fact, they all contribute
and some are more important than others. Similarly, border security is not about the border patrol, but all the components of homeland security that contribute to keeping bad things from crossing the border. So the answer is not just hiring a thousand border guards...which by the way still would not solve the problem, but developing a comprehensive security program that gives us the biggest bang for the buck.
Russia, Great Britain, Israel, and the United States all have the same enemy in radical Islam. Do you think these countries should join forces in their fight rather than criticizing each others counter-terrorism efforts?
John Gershman: I think in many ways these countries do cooperate. The Bush administration has criticized, as have most other countries, the Israeli use of selective assassination as an approach; the U.S. has supported Sharon's effort to build the wall in the face of widespread international opposition (inclduing the UK) and a finding from the International Court of Justice.
The US has only sotto voce criticized Putin's policies in Chechnya..
In my view there are many points to criticize in the policies of each
I have wondered if the U.S.'s failure to capture bin Laden has come from our fear of what might result if were to try to catch him and then fail. So rather than our taking our eye off the ball in Tora Bora, so as to go to Iraq, I have wondered if we fell short there because of our fear of failure.
I am may be guilty of being unrealistic here, but it seems to me that if we have knowledge of bin Laden being in a fairly restricted area (border of Pakistan and Afghanistan) and we wished to capture him, we could do that.
Given that my assumptions are correct (and please advise if they are not), is there a downside to capturing bin Laden?
James Carafano: No, I think capturing UBL is important. This is a movement that is very leadership dependent.
On the other hand, getting UBL or other top leaders is not a silver bullet. We can't realistically expect to eliminate all terrorism, forever. But, I think we can dismantle major transnational terrorist networks and I think getting the leadership will contribute greaty to that.
Can you explain to me how the policy at both parties' conventions this summer of preempting any potential protest by arresting everyone in sight at the first ripple of movement has contributed to our homeland security?
John Gershman: Yes, this was a troubling development, one foreshadowed at the Miami meeting of the FTAA last year.. it seems that there has been a decision made that expressions of popular opposition that might become out of control need to be shut down -- in my view it's time to change tactics and strategies and not to feed into the policing.. while the Republican convention was happening we should have been building houses in the Bronx -- 100,000 people building houses would have been a nice photo op
John Gershman: I'd like to thank everyone and my colleague Jim Carafano for participating in this discussion..
Best wishes to all, and if you'd like to read the report it's at www.fpif.org
James Carafano: Thank you for the opportunity to speak on this important topic.