Recent events in Times Square, over the skies of Detroit, at Ft. Hood, and the placement of an American citizen on a CIA hit list as a clear and present danger to American security because of his involvement in all three of these incidents, reveal that the danger of Islamist terrorism in the Homeland is far from over.
Yet almost nine years after the 9/11 attacks, our counter terrorism agencies were surprised by these incidents, and dismayed to find that three of the four incidents involved American citizens. In addition, most senior level counter terrorism officials are still stymied when asked to explain what radicalization is, how it occurs, and how the country might best protect itself from homegrown terrorists.
How can this be?
Insight into the reasons might well be explained by a report that was recently written by the head of Intelligence operations in Afghanistan.
THE FLYNN REPORT:
In January 2010, Major General Michael Flynn, the senior intelligence officer in Afghanistan, published a policy document entitled: Fixing Intel: A Blueprint for Making Intelligence Relevant in Afghanistan. This document reveals that the American intelligence efforts in Afghanistan are largely irrelevant, and bluntly states that:
“Eight years into the war in Afghanistan, the U.S. Intelligence community is only marginally relevant to the overall strategy. Having focused the overwhelming majority of its collection efforts and analytical brainpower on insurgent groups, the vast intelligence apparatus is unable to answer fundamental questions about the environment in which U.S. and allied forces operate and the people they seek to persuade”.
This document is not just another “paper”. It outlines changes that must occur throughout the intelligence hierarchy, and emphatically states that its contents must be considered as a directive by the top intelligence officer in Afghanistan.
General Flynn’s findings are predicated on the fact that an insurgency is fundamentally a competition for the support of the population; insurgents attempt through propaganda, subversion, and violence to de-legitimize the government in the eyes of the people, thereby gaining their support, while the government attempts to convince the population that its long-term interest lays in supporting existing government institutions.
The document acknowledges that targeting combatant networks is absolutely required and necessary, but states that “focusing only on the armed networks undercuts our ability to strike at the very heart of the insurgency by understanding and gaining the support of the people, and fails to advance the war strategy”.
The report emphasizes at length that simply focusing on the armed insurgent groups alone “…will not help U.S. and allied forces win in Afghanistan”, and concludes that there must be a concurrent effort by our intelligence agencies to acquire and provide knowledge about the population, the economy, the government, and other aspects of the dynamic environment…”
THE FLYNN REPORT IS RELEVANT TO U.S. DOMESTIC COUNTER TERRORISM POLICY
General Flynn’s revelations transcend the Afghan battlefield and are relevant to our domestic counter terrorism policies as well.
Resembling their counterparts in Afghanistan, our domestic law enforcement and intelligence agencies have focused primarily on the threat posed by small armed jihad groups.
While it is absolutely required and necessary for our counter terrorism forces to identify and neutralize all violent terrorists, the emphasis on pursuing only armed terrorists or known associates of active terrorist groups such as al Qaeda, to the exclusion of all else, adversely impacts on our ability to defeat the enemy in the homeland.
The reason is because what we face is an international Islamist political insurgency, staffed by individuals who, for the most part, do not commit violent acts but act as a huge international machine responsible for spreading the revolutionary ideology that constantly creates new jihadis, activists, and those who support them.
It is this movement and its ideology that radicalizes and indoctrinates Muslims, and it is vital that American counter terrorism understand these groups and this ideology. To date, they have not.
For many radicalized Muslims, the first criminal act that they commit is murder during their first jihad attack. Therefore, unless we alter our approach to include aggressive investigations of the movement’s political front organizations and elements, individuals such as Adam Gadhan (al Qaeda spokesman Azzam al Amriki), Anwar al Awlaki (the 9/11 Imam), John Walker Lindh (the American Taliban), Major Nidal Hassan (Ft. Hood massacre), Faisal Shahzad (Times Square Bomber), and other homegrown terrorists, will continue to be radicalized and inspired to violence, and we will be alerted to their presence only after they have participated in a violent act.
With the present counter terrorism mindset and system, we lack the ability to be pro-active in discovering the very people and organizations that create the individuals who form the tip of the iceberg.