Coun­tert­er­ror strat­egy re­set on ‘ad­her­ents’

The Washington Times Weekly - - Geopolitics - BY ELI LAKE

The Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion’s new coun­tert­er­ror­ism strat­egy, the first since the killing of Osama bin Laden in May, will fo­cus on would-be ter­ror­ists in the United States who are in­spired by al Qaeda’s “hate­ful ide­ol­ogy,” the pres­i­dent’s top ad­viser for home­land se­cu­rity and coun­tert­er­ror­ism said June 29.

“This is the first coun­tert­er­ror­ism strat­egy that fo­cuses on the abil­ity of al Qaeda and its net­work to in­spire peo­ple in the United States to at­tack us from within,” John Bren­nan said in an ad­dress at Johns Hop­kins Univer­sity’s School of Ad­vanced In­ter­na­tional Stud­ies.

Mr. Bren­nan noted that the strat­egy is the first to “des­ig­nate the home­land as a pri­mary area of em­pha­sis in our coun­tert­er­ror­ism ef­forts.”

In his speech, Mr. Bren­nan also said the ad­min­is­tra­tion will con­cen­trate on erad­i­cat­ing havens for al Qaeda af­fil­i­ates in North Africa, Ye­men, Iraq and So­ma­lia. He stressed that the United States would con­tinue to work with el­e­ments of Ye­men’s gov­ern­ment even as that regime ap­pears to be crum­bling.

The coun­tert­er­ror­ism strat­egy fo­cuses on a cat­e­gory of threat it calls “ad­her­ents.”

A strat­egy doc­u­ment re­leased to co­in­cide with Mr. Bren­nan’s speech de­fines ad­her­ents as “in­di­vid­u­als who have formed col­lab­o­ra­tive re­la­tion­ships with, act on be­half of, or are other­wise in­spired to take ac­tion in fur­ther­ance of the goals of [al Qaeda], the or­ga­ni­za­tion and the ide­ol­ogy, in­clud­ing by en­gag­ing in vi­o­lence, re­gard­less of whether such vi­o­lence is tar­geted at the United States, its cit­i­zens, or its in­ter­ests.”

Through web­sites, videos and au­dio­tapes, al Qaeda lead­ers have reached out to sym­pa­thetic Mus­lims in the United States, en­cour­ag­ing them to con­duct “lone-wolf” ter­ror­ist at­tacks to avenge the death of bin Laden in a U.S. raid in Pak­istan.

The ad­her­ents cat­e­gory would ap­ply to Army Maj. Nidal Ma­lik Hasan, who is ac­cused of killing 13 peo­ple and wound­ing 32 oth­ers in a 2009 shoot­ing spree at Fort Hood, Texas.

In­ves­ti­ga­tors have de­ter­mined that Maj. Hasan was in­spired by the rad­i­cal cleric An­war al-Awlaki, the U.S.Ye­meni cit­i­zen whose In­ter­net ser­mons urge lis­ten­ers to take up arms against the United States. But Maj. Hasan was not a for­mal mem­ber of al Qaeda or one of its af­fil­i­ates.

Iden­ti­fy­ing al Qaeda ad­her­ents as a core threat against the United States is a new ap­proach for the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion, which scram­bled to ex­plain gaps in home­land se­cu­rity that al­lowed the Fort Hood mas­sacre and a 2009 at­tack at a mil­i­tary re­cruit­ing sta­tion in Arkansas.

Mr. Bren­nan de­fined ad­her­ents as “in­di­vid­u­als, some­times with lit­tle or no di­rect phys­i­cal con­tact with al Qaeda, who have suc­cumbed to its hate­ful ide­ol­ogy and who have en­gaged in, or fa­cil­i­tated, ter­ror­ist ac­tiv­i­ties here in the United States.”

This strat­egy could pose legal is­sues for the United States, which tra­di­tion­ally has fo­cused coun­tert­er­ror­ism ef­forts on des­ig­nated peo­ple and or­ga­ni­za­tions.

Bruce Riedel, a for­mer CIA of­fi­cer and se­nior fel­low at the Brook­ings In­sti­tu­tion, de­scribed the ad­her­ents cat­e­gory as “a recog­ni­tion that it’s not just a small group of peo­ple who have the al Qaeda se­cret hand­shake” who pose a threat.

“One of the things [Mr. Bren­nan] said ex­plic­itly is that the Pak­istan Tal­iban is an af­fil­i­ate of al Qaeda,” Mr. Riedel said. “Well, Pak­istan Tal­iban is not un­der the pres­sure al Qaeda is un­der. It’s un­der very lit­tle pres­sure.”

Hina Shamsi, di­rec­tor of the na­tional se­cu­rity pro­ject at the Amer­i­can Civil Lib­er­ties Union, said: “The strat­egy pays lip ser­vice, as it should, to ad­her­ence to our val­ues and the rule of law. But there is a sig­nif­i­cant dif­fer­ence be­tween that rhetoric and the poli­cies the ad­min­is­tra­tion is ac­tu­ally fol­low­ing.”

Ms. Shamsi said her or­ga­ni­za­tion is still wor­ried about the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion’s “use of force out­side the con­fines of armed con­flict and overly ex­pan­sive de­ten­tion au­thor­ity and con­tin­ued de­fense of war­rant­less sur­veil­lance.”

In his speech, Mr. Bren­nan said a core part of the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s strat­egy against al Qaeda is “liv­ing our val­ues.” He pointed out that Pres­i­dent Obama, in his first days in of­fice, banned tor­ture and promised to close the de­ten­tion fa­cil­ity for terrorism sus­pects at U.S. Naval Base Guan­tanamo Bay, Cuba.

Mr. Bren­nan stressed that the fight against al Qaeda is not over. The killing of bin Laden and other key ji­hadist lead­ers “al­lows us for the first time to en­vi­sion the demise of al Qaeda’s core lead­er­ship in the com­ing years,” he said.

“It will take time, but make no mis­take: al Qaeda is in de­cline,” he added.

Mr. Bren­nan said al Qaeda’s new leader, Ay­man al-Zawahri, is “an aging doc­tor who lacks bin Laden’s charisma and per­haps the loy­alty and re­spect of many within al Qaeda.”

Some U.S. an­a­lysts have said the loy­alty oaths al Qaeda op­er­a­tives have taken over the years to bin Laden would not trans­fer to al-Zawahri.

Though Mr. Bren­nan said al Qaeda is in de­cline, he noted that a key part of the new strat­egy is to make the United States re­silient to cat­a­strophic ter­ror­ist at­tacks.

“A re­spon­si­ble, ef­fec­tive coun­tert­er­ror­ism strat­egy rec­og­nizes that no nation, no mat­ter how pow­er­ful, in­clud­ing a free and open so­ci­ety of 300 mil­lion Amer­i­cans, can pre­vent ev­ery sin­gle threat from ev­ery sin­gle in­di­vid­ual who wishes to do us harm,” he said.

“It’s not enough to sim­ply be pre­pared for at­tacks. We have to be re­silient and re­cover quickly should an at­tack oc­cur.”

The White House strat­egy doc­u­ment dis­cusses the idea of mak­ing key parts of the U.S. in­fra­struc­ture and land­marks “hard­ened tar­gets.” It also says the U.S. must demon­strate to al Qaeda that it can re­build quickly af­ter a cat­a­strophic at­tack.


Still work to do: John Bren­nan, the top pres­i­den­tial ad­viser on home­land se­cu­rity and coun­tert­er­ror­ism, stresses that the fight against al Qaeda is not over, de­spite the killing of ter­ror­ist mas­ter­mind Osama bin Laden.

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