Has Al-Qaida Been Reinvigorated?

In the lead story in today’s New York Times, senior terrorism correspondent Eric Schmitt — who recently wished me luck with my 9/11-launched novel “Hell City” — writes:

The attack on the United States mission in Benghazi, Libya, that killed Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens has set off a new debate here and across the Middle East about whether Al Qaeda has been reinvigorated amid the chaos of the Arab Spring or instead merely lives on as a kind of useful boogeyman, scapegoat or foil.

There’s a great debate going on in Washington and the Middle East over whether al-Qaida (I use the AP-style spelling) is operational or whether newer insurgent groups are simply deploying its terrifying brand. That’s kind of where the term al-Qaida 2.0 comes from.

One thing is certain: there is no shortage of entrenched, sophisticated insurgent groups, the Haqqani clan in the Af-Pak region being one of the most dangerous. They have been responsible for most of the attacks on embassies in the region and many attacks on our troupes. It’s possible they are behind the recent deadly bombing in Kabul, another protestation over the Youtube-posted film under the name of “Innocence of Muslims,” although so far a branch of the insurgent group Hezb-i-Islami has claimed responsibility.

Consider this: it was the Kabul bombing, taken together with the other attacks across some 40 cities in the Middle East and North Africa, that led the U.S-led coalition to curtail operations with Afghan security forces, the very core of what remains of our mission in Afghanistan. Talk about decimation. Man, what do we have left?

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So, the idea that organized, sophisticated insurgency, jihad, has somehow been defanged in the Middle East and beyond is simply nuts. The entire region is on fire and is coming apart at the seams.

Which brings me to the plot of “Hell City.” As the protagonist, counterterrorism commander Jack Oldham, believes: “Al-Qaida isn’t dead — yet!” What Jack believes is that we can’t go to sleep on the “new gen” al-Qaida as he and his comrades call it, which is why they track American-born insurgents and their connections to various groups in Af-Pak and Yemen. Among them, by the way, is a fictionalized version of the Haqqani tribe. Can the reconstituted Qaida pull off another “big one” in New York? Well, that’s what reading (click for Kindle page) is all about.

New Terrorist Group at Center of Thriller

A fictionalized version of the Haqqani tribe, a Pakistan-based organization the U.S. State Department just added to its list of terrorist groups, is at the center my thriller, “Hell City.”

The novel casts the group as part of a metastasizing al-Qaida that is bent on pulling off another “big one” in New York.

Fiction aside, the thriller is a wake-up call on the true threat of al-Qaida and its affiliates in the post-bin Laden world.

A Haqqani fighter.
Photograph: Ghaith Abdul-Ahad for the Guardian

Think organized crime. You cripple the New York Mafia and the Russians, the Jheri Curls (Dominican), the Latin Kings and other, fiercer groups, take over the town.

The Haqqanis are entrenched, widespread, connected and virulent. They’ve been behind many of the recent attacks on our troops and diplomats in the Af-Pak region.

Let’s face it. The guy on the subway figures al-Qaida is broken, and he can’t keep up with the parade of threats and new groups. So he turns off, goes to sleep.

To Jack Oldham, the protagonist of “Hell City,” sleep is the enemy. The vigilant commander on New York’s Joint Terrorism Task Force never forgot how the country went into hibernation soon after the first attack on the World Trade Center, in 1993.

The novel’s narrator makes the case:

But the city had come a long way. In her own rugged fashion, she had gone from Trade Center trauma to annoyed indifference, her alligator skin shielded against the seemingly endless terror alerts and aborted plots of the new-gen jihad of the day. The first attack on the towers rocked the city to its core, but it was soon seen as a botched plot by militants who couldn’t shoot straight. They were viewed through the short-range, next-quarter glasses of the West — What? A blind cleric operating out of some storefront mosque in Jersey? Boneheads with names so long they blurred comprehension. What’s this? The Three Stooges? You gotta be kidding me.

Now, with bin-Laden — and other al-Qaida leaders — dead, our country is lulled into thinking that all the insurgents can manage stateside is the one-off, the lone-wolf attack. The airline bomber over Detroit. The Times Square bomber.

But they’re not looking deeper into the landscape of insurgency. Yemen and other African nations have become hotbeds of development for insurgent groups. And then there are the Haqqanis. They’ve been operating with impunity, deep and wide and under the radar — for a generation.

Dems ‘Double’ Up on Racism

It would be comical if it weren’t sad, the transparent rationalization of Senator Harry Reid’s comments on the complexion of Barack Obama, the candidate.

I understand the president’s acceptance of the senator’s apology and his need to bar the White House door against a political tempest. But trying to explain away Reid’s choice of words as “inartful” does nothing more than put a ribbon on a rat.

Many influential African Americans have gone on the record in defense of Reid: CNN Political Analyst Roland Martin, PBS Editor and Senior Correspondent Gwen Ifill and John L. Jackson, Jr., author of Racial Paranoia. Furthermore, liberals galore – and I’m no conservative — are smugging up the joint. Case in point, Frank Rich, who writes in his Sunday column:

For all the hyperventilation in cable news land, this supposed racial brawl didn’t seem to generate any controversy whatsoever in what is known as the real world.

I suppose the “real world” would be rationalization nation, which, to me, is populated by hypocritical apologists.

Excuse me ladies and gentlemen, you’re focusing on trees: there’s a forest out there in them thar words. Shall I parse their highly charged meaning?

I’ll take a crack at it. Essentially, by saying Obama would work as a presidential candidate because he was light skinned and didn’t talk like those negroes (I exaggerate here to make a point) is racist pure and simple. You don’t have to be a linguist to read between these lines and their attendant implications. Turn the phrase around, and here’s what Reid is really saying: “I’m sure glad he doesn’t look real dark and talk, you know, real Negro.” Another words, this guy isn’t like those real dark black people who scare the pants off us white boys.

Exaggeration? If so, by how much. It’s all code, man, and we’ve all been around enough to know it. High-minded parsing can’t explain it away.

It’s a Democratic double standard, pure and simple. Maybe that’s why I became an independent long ago.

And, by the way, happy birthday, Martin Luther King.
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PR Artillery Needed in Obama’s War Room

The elephants in President Obama’s war room are so faint on the media radar-screen as to be nonexistent. What pachyderms, you say?

How about, while the Republicans hammer the press on Barry’s warrior meter — including the Christmas Day debacle and his battle terminology – the administration has failed to remind the public that it helped take out some 30 al-Qaeda leaders in Yemen just weeks before Abdulmutallab took a bathroom break over Detroit.

Not to mention the dozens of successful drone hits in the outlaw hills of the ‘stans during the president’s scant time in office. According the Washington policy group The New America Foundation, as reported in the New York Times:

More C.I.A. drone attacks have been conducted under President Obama than under President George W. Bush. The political consensus in support of the drone program, its antiseptic, high-tech appeal and its secrecy have obscured just how radical it is. For the first time in history, a civilian intelligence agency is using robots to carry out a military mission, selecting people for killing in a country where the United States is not officially at war.

Obama’s stealthy war strategy keeps the left in the dark, and opens him to jabs from the right.

Furthermore, the president should court the moderate Muslim community, which is beginning to get ink stateside, albeit buried in the noise of political skirmishes, airport jitters and bloated bank bonuses.

As Tom Friedman revealed a week ago, the battle against terrorism requires meaningful participation from moderate Muslims.

…no laws or walls we put up will ever be sufficient to protect us unless the Arab and Muslim societies from whence these suicide bombers emerge erect political, religious and moral restraints as well — starting by shaming suicide bombers and naming their actions “murder,” not “martyrdom.”

I keep saying: It takes a village. The father (of Abdulmutallab), Alhaji Umaru Mutallab, saw himself as part of a global community, based on shared values, and that is why he rang the alarm bell. Bless him for that. Unless more Muslim parents, spiritual leaders, political leaders — the village — are ready to publicly denounce suicide bombing against innocent civilians — theirs and ours — this behavior will not stop.

In fact, national newscasts included American-flag-waving Muslims speaking out against terrorism outside the courthouse during Abdulmutallab’s arraignment.

Obama should meet with prominent Muslim groups asking for their help in taking back their proud religion and way of life. He should take to the podium and call for the heads of Saudi Arabia, Jordon and other moderate Middle East states to speak out and take a leadership role.

If I were his PR man, that’s what I’d tell him.

Allen Shadow (aka Allen Kovler) is a veteran PR man, accredited by the Public Relations Society of America.
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9/11 Redux: Intelligence Fails to I.D. Plot

Blame it on bureaucracy. Blame it on inter-agency culture wars. No matter, the ball dropping in the Flight 253 case is eerily similar to intelligence failures leading up to the Sept. 11 attacks.

Flight 253 on the ground in Detroit.

This unfolding story is chilling. As reported in this today’s New York Times, the National Security Agency picked chatter from Al Qaeda leaders in Yemen outlining a terrorist attack involving a Nigerian man. But various intelligence agencies failed to put the pieces together and thwart Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab’s aerial act over the skies of Detroit.

Furthermore, agents at National Counterterrorism Center in Washington didn’t connect those National Security Agency dots, when Abdulmutallab’s prominent banker father, Alhaji Umaru Mutallab, made urgent appeals to U.S. State Department officials and the C.I.A. regarding his son’s radical intentions. According to the Times:

A family cousin quoted the father as warning officials from the State Department and the Central Intelligence Agency in Nigeria: “Look at the texts he’s sending. He’s a security threat.”

The cousin said: “They promised to look into it. They didn’t take him seriously.”

The new details help fill in the portrait of an intelligence breakdown in the months before Mr. Abdulmutallab boarded a plane in Amsterdam with the intent of blowing it up before landing in Detroit.

In some ways, the portrait bears a striking resemblance to the failures before the Sept. 11 attacks, despite the billions of dollars spent over the last eight years to improve the intelligence flow and secret communications across the United States’ national security apparatus.

Unfortunately, these calamitous events have produced mostly political finger-pointing and posturing. And officials have rushed to save face by burdening innocent air travelers with a series of ridiculous security measures. It’s like closing the airport door after the bomber is out. The solution is simple: make the inter-agency intelligence system work. In fact, start by search any of the 550,000 on the broader watch list when they show up at an airport. Isn’t that better than overburdening tens of millions daily.

The Times’ Scott Shane did an analysis of these events as well, comparing the current events with those of Sept. 11:

The finger-pointing began in earnest on Wednesday over who in the alphabet soup of American security agencies knew what and when about the Nigerian man charged with trying to blow up an airliner.

But the harshest spotlight fell on the very agency created to make sure intelligence dots were always connected: the National Counterterrorism Center. The crown jewel of intelligence reform after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, the center was the hub whose mission was to unite every scrap of data on threats and suspects, to make sure an extremist like Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the would-be bomber, would never penetrate the United States’ defenses.

“It’s totally frustrating,” said Thomas H. Kean, chairman of the national Sept. 11 commission. “It’s almost like the words being used to describe what went wrong are exactly the same.”

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Homeland Security Homer Simpson Style

Here’s today’s terrorist watch-list quiz:

Create a “red flag” by combining any two of the following items regarding a potential terror suspect:

  • has no luggage
  • buys one-way ticket
  • pays cash for ticket
  • visa recently denied by Britain
  • prominent father reports son as potential terrorist to U.S. State Department
  • history traveling to Yemen

D’oh, and we have a winnah! It’s Homer Simpson. It’s also 99 percent of the American public and several classes of orangutans.

Yet the genius bureaucrats who clog up the works of our homeland security system all failed. The biggest loser: Janet Napolitano. She’s the master proctor for this exam, and she failed to even know how to grade it. As she told the Sunday morning talk circuit: “the system worked.” Her Monday morning backpedaling didn’t fill the bill either, and it took her boss’ eventual appearance at the podium to at least set the record straight, terming the homeland security affair a “systemic failure.”

For more coverage, check the following New York Times pieces: “Early Signs…” on today’s front page; today’s editorial on the subject; Clark Kent (no, not Superman) Ervin on the Op-Ed page; and, for laughs, master lampoonist Maureen Dowd who invokes cartoon logic to give perspective to these confounding events:

Were we clever and inventive enough to protect ourselves from the new breed of Flintstones-hardy yet Facebook-savvy terrorists?

If we can’t catch a Nigerian with a powerful explosive powder in his oddly feminine-looking underpants and a syringe full of acid, a man whose own father had alerted the U.S. Embassy in Nigeria, a traveler whose ticket was paid for in cash and who didn’t check bags, whose visa renewal had been denied by the British, who had studied Arabic in Al Qaeda sanctuary Yemen, whose name was on a counterterrorism watch list, who can we catch?

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Turning the ‘Tide’ on Terrorism and Stupidity

The so called Tide list of some 550,000 wasn’t enough to detain — let alone stop — suspected terrorist Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab from boarding Flight 253 on Christmas Day as reported in the New York Times. The tip from his prominent banker father to U.S. Embassy officials wasn’t enough. And, as Britain’s Sunday Times reported, having his UK visa request refused this past May wasn’t enough either. Well, enough is enough.

The confounding practices surrounding information-sharing in the Abdulmutallab case are reminiscent of the ominous events leading up to the Sept. 11 attacks, when tips and red flags were bound in red tape.

To his credit, President Obama has called for an investigation of current practices regarding such lists as Terrorist Identities Datamart Environment (Tide), Terrorist Screening Data Base, no-fly, and selectee. To his discredit, the President has yet to step up to the podium to quell fears and set the record straight on mistakes behind the Flight 253 incident.

Certainly, the Sunday morning talk-show comments of Janet Napolitano and Robert Gibbs were laughable, and gave the impression of an administration that just doesn’t get it. Napolitano actually said, “the system worked.” It’s an insult to Americans’ intelligence that makes the administration look stupid, if not out of touch.

Rumors swirl that Obama will find a podium today or tomorrow. That would be smart, but regaining our “intelligence” is going to be an uphill slog following this Keystone Cops affair.
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