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 March 23, 2005
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HTMW Headlines | Counter-Terrorism Operations News


Hot Topics on Counter-Terrorism Operations
DIY cruise missiles?

COUNTER-TERRORISM: The Syrian-Yemen Anti-Terror Axis

March 23, 2005: Many Moslem countries that once tolerated, or even supported, Islamic terrorism, have changed their minds. Sort of. It’s a complicated situation. Take, for example, Syria and Yemen. Both nations have long been the home of many Islamic terrorists. For Syria, it was state policy. Islamic terrorists who hurt Syria’s enemies, and did not attack Syria, were welcome to set up shop, openly or covertly, in Syria. But the American invasion of Iraq fired up Islamic radicals, especially the ones in Syria, to such an extent that the government feared for its own existence. Thus the recent willingness by Syria to cooperate in cracking down on Islamic terrorism.

Islamic conservatism, and radicalism, have long been popular in Yemen. The bin Laden clan is Yemeni, and Osama bin Laden still has some family there. In the late 1990s, the government, worried about Islamic radicals getting out of hand, and under pressure from the United States, shut down al Qaeda, and other Islamic radical organizations. But many Islamic radicals simply went underground. The Yemeni government has never been able to control the Yemeni tribes, and the tribes are the most enthusiastic about Islamic radicalism. If the tribes give Islamic radicals sanctuary, and this happened often, there was little the government could do about it.

Syria and Yemen have even been exchanging information on Islamic terrorism, as their two countries were often seen as convenient hiding places for Islamic radicals. There are still factions in Syria that can “protect” pet radicals. Up to a point. The same with the pro-terrorist tribes in Yemen. So both Syria and Yemen try to keep track of terrorists that move back and forth between the two countries. There have apparently been some prisoner swaps as well. The United States wants more access to this information, and some of the imprisoned terrorists, but that has proved difficult to accomplish. You can still trade favors with Islamic terrorists. A little protection here gives you a little immunity-from-attack there. It’s a dangerous game, and Syria and Yemen are cooperating with each other in an attempt to increase their survival odds. 

March 22, 2005: The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) initially sought to identify all the vulnerabilities to terrorism in the United States. Month by month, the list grew longer. It quickly became apparent that there would never be sufficient resources to defend against all these potential threats. So, over the past few months, more effort has been devoted to figuring out how to use, most effectively, what is available, to deal with the most likely threats. To that end, it has been discovered that the biggest problem is not resources, but communication. In other words, the problem is not hardware, it’s software. For example, a close examination of why there have been no more al Qaeda attacks in the United States during the past three years revealed that the main reason was the effective use of existing resources, especially local resources. 

At airports, it wasn’t seizing toenail clippers from passengers that was keeping terrorists off aircraft, but the sure knowledge that nearly everyone on the flight would immediately come after you if you tried to take over another aircraft. There have been several incidents where suspected terrorists were promptly smothered by other passengers, and one case where a real terrorist was stopped from setting off a bomb by spontaneous and energetic action by other passengers. On the ground, local police were quick to use existing informant networks to seek out terrorist suspects. New informant networks were developed in Arab-American communities. Within months after September 11, 2001, it became much more difficult for al Qaeda to operate in the United States. 

All of this took place before DHS even existed. So the question now is, what can DHS do to capitalize on counter-terrorism efforts that work, and might be made to work better.  The focus on technology as a solution has become an obvious blind alley. The real problems, the obstacles to providing effective homeland “protection” are essentially software issues. First responders are not well aligned with each other, federal agencies are not well aligned with state agencies, and the armed forces are not well aligned with anyone (and not all that enthusiastic about the mission). Many of these groups can do a good job by themselves, but if DHS wants to take protection to a new level, it needs to get everyone communicating with each other. This has proven very difficult to do. Many of these bureaucracies equate communication with subordination. No one wants to become part of someone else’s empire. The FBI has long had those kind of problems with state and local law enforcement agencies. Communication is more than exchanging phone numbers. Details like who must do what for who when there is a terrorism problem, have to be carefully worked out in advance. This sort of thing has been very difficult to do in the past. Just ask the FBI. More futile and expensive efforts, to develop hardware tools that vanquish terrorists, no doubt appear an easier path to pursue than getting everyone to communicate and cooperate.

March 16, 2005: American and British warships in the Persian Gulf have, so far this year, seized 14 small ships (wooden dhows), and 125 people on these ships, for suspected terrorist activity. Many of the boats were found carrying weapons, cash and documents indicating terrorist activities. The Arab nations along the west coast of the Persian Gulf have been increasingly successful at preventing al Qaeda terrorist attacks in their countries. Saudi Arabia, where many of the organizers, money, and troops, for al Qaeda come from, has seen terrorist operations declining in the last year. In the last two years, some 500 people (police, civilians, terrorists) have been killed or wounded in Saudi Arabia as a result of al Qaeda attacks, or police operations against the terrorists. Because Islamic conservatism is popular in all the Arab Gulf states, there are potential al Qaeda members everywhere. But except for a few violent encounters in Kuwait, most of the other Gulf states have just quietly arrested the known terrorist wannabes. The presence of non-Moslem troops in Iraq, and Iraqi Sunni Arabs willing to provide help in carrying out attacks, has drawn hundreds, if not thousands, of Gulf Arabs north. Local police and border guards have made it increasingly difficult to just drive north, and into Iraq. So many aspiring terrorists have taken to the sea, employing the many seagoing smugglers that work the Gulf waters. While the smugglers have been eluding naval patrols for thousands of years, they have never encountered anything as formidable as the American and British warships. Using radar, other sensors, helicopters and UAVs, the warships have made it extremely difficult for the smugglers to get people, and stuff, into Iraq. As a result, the smugglers have raised their fees. The evidence collected from the seized ships indicates that the terrorists, at least some of them, are running short of money, weapons and people. 

March 15, 2005: Russian secret service operatives will undergo training at a FBI training facility on US territory; as another form of cooperation between Russian and American security services. Special agents of Federal Security Service (FSB) participate in operations and investigations with FBI. At a recent meeting in the Russian city Novosibirsk, top officials of secret services discussed current terrorism issues and called for greater cooperation among intelligence agencies. The conference was attended by 75 delegations from 50 countries, including highest officials from North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO), European Union (EU), Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Shanghai Cooperation Organization, as well as officials from the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and the FBI. The Israeli secret intelligence service MOSSAD was also present. Russian FSB calls for creating a common terrorist database which would contain list of terrorist organizations and personalities, as well as the channels of financing for terrorist activities. Also highlighted as the importance of sharing Intel on terrorist activities. According to the majority of conference participants, terrorism is widely spread today and is a stable contemporary factor. It was noted the success of efforts by intelligence services at the Olympics 2004 in Greece and plans for similar efforts  during Winter Olympics in Italy and the ASEAN forum in South Korea in autumn 2005, as well.

March 14, 2005: Although Yemen has openly, and actively, aided the United States in the war on terror, many Yemenis are fans of Osama bin Laden (whose father came from Yemen) and al Qaeda. There are many al Qaeda sympathizers in the Yemeni military and government as well. These sympathizers have been discreetly aiding Iraqi Baath Party officials who have fled Iraq, and now Syria. There has also been some active, but covert, support for the terrorists operating in Iraq. Cracking down on this is not easy, even with FBI and CIA agents stationed in Yemen. The problem is that the Yemeni government is a jumble of tribal and family relationships. Even if you know an official is helping terrorists, you can’t go after him if he is well connected. Unless, of course, such support for Islamic terrorists becomes public, thus embarrassing the culprit, and making him vulnerable to removal from office, or worse. There’s also a lot of corruption in the government as well, so it’s often the case that you can’t step on a terrorist supporter because you are doing business with him on some dirty deal. This has been going on since (and before) September 11, 2001, and it’s been driving American officials in Yemen nuts. But these things are typical of the Middle East (and many other parts of the world.) Family relationships, and making a buck are more important than what a bunch of foreigners think. The United States has tried to use money to deal with the problem, but it’s often difficult to figure out how best to deploy the bribes. And some of the hard core Islamic radicals are on a Mission from God, and thus difficult to reach with mere cash.

March 11, 2005: The roots of Islamic terrorism are found in religious leaders, who proclaim terrorism in the name of God to be a good and worthy thing. Some Islamic nations are getting down in the trenches and fighting this sort of thing at the source. In Jordan, the king has backed a counter-attack by Islamic scholars who disagree with the Islamic radicals interpretation of the Koran. Most Islamic scholars do not agree with the scriptural interpretations of radical Islam, but have been ignored, or terrorized into silence. The media, of course, finds the bloodthirsty version of Islam more appealing. If it bleeds, it leads, and all that. 

In Jordan, the kings backing of increasingly vocal mainstream Islamic scholars has prevented Islamic radicals from terrorizing their clerical critics, and made Islamic radicalism less appealing. There’s also fear that this will cause the Islamic radicals to go underground. But many of the more violent Islamic radicals have long been operating in the shadows. What the king of Jordan wants to do is get the Islamic radicals out of the schools and pulpits. This takes muscle, and the king is providing it. As a result, the Islamic radicals get a smaller audience, and fewer recruits.

Yemen, where the bin Laden family came from originally, is also cracking down on Islamic radical preachers and teachers. The government has identified over 4,000 schools in the country that are run by unauthorized groups, or foreigners. There is a crackdown on this, even though the government provides no alternative form of public education. Saudi Arabian religious charities have long used money, to build and staff religious schools, as a major form of spreading the conservative Wahabi form of Islam. Most, but not all, Islamic radicals trace their roots back to Wahhabism. Yemen, and other Moslem countries, don’t mind Saudi charities coming in and building mosques and schools. They do, increasingly, mind the Saudi groups supply Islamic radicals as preachers and teachers. 

Pakistan, Indonesia and several African countries have also started to monitor and regulate what is taught in the schools sponsored by Saudi religious charities, or other Islamic radical groups. This is popular with parents, who don’t like seeing their kids turned into terrorists, or little religious tyrants who criticize their elders poor religious habits. In Jordan, and all the other nations, the Islamic moderates have the support of most of the population. Now that support is being mobilized to stop the Islamic radicals. The fact that most terrorists operating today are Islamic terrorists is not something most Moslems are proud of, or sympathetic with.

March 9, 2005: The war on terror is often a police operation. This means that you soon find that you have a list of “the usual suspects.” One of the strangest of those is the Cambodian merchant marine. For example, the mysterious freighter that took on an unknown load in North Korea recently, and is bound for an uncertain destination, seems to have a Cambodian registry. Cambodia only has 211 vessels registered that are 1000 tons (GRT) or larger. One would think that keeping track of
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The Latest Comment On This Topic:
From: eu4ea 3/1/2005 1:41:08 PM
Subject: RE:DIY cruise missiles?
Indeed, that's the idea; GPS for primary navigation, and inertial navigation as a back-up in case the signal is jammed/obscured/unavailable. Also, that scenario assumes it's the US being attacked - it could be Israel, Saudia, the Russians, even Indians, Australians, Europeans or Pakistanis. It would be impractical to give all those folks GPS-blocking capabilities. Besides, the Europeans are putting up Galileo, a GPS-like system that would work great even as primary guidance, with GPS and inertial guidance as back-ups.
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