WEST PALM BEACH, Fl, September 14, 2012 - Quite simply, the United States is losing the war on terror. The attacks against US embassies in Libya, Egypt, Yemen and elsewhere tragically demonstrate that the United States has failed to bolster our intelligence corps sufficiently to fight the terrorist threat.
While killing Osama bin Laden was an undeniable victory, it was akin to winning a single battle in a very long war. Although it eliminated bin Laden, it may have fractured the al Qaeda organization and lead to multiple al Qaeda affiliates operating independently under the al Qaeda banner.
Moreover, the highly public crowing of the operation after the fact likely cost us valuable intelligence. Not only did we lose access to any information bin Laden himself had – although, admittedly, we may not have obtained information from bin Laden even if he was alive – we also lost access to other potential sources.
When we publicly announced the successful operation against bin Laden, all sources and potential sources went immediately to ground. This likely required US intelligence officers to start from scratch in terms of recruiting sources and gathering information against al Qaeda.
Terrorism is not a traditional war and we cannot defeat it through the use of traditional weapons. We cannot negotiate an end to terrorism with diplomacy. Drone attacks target individual terrorist leaders but do not eradicate the terrorist threat. There is no shortage of leaders and want-to-be leaders in the jihadist movement. Like the mythological hydra, cut off one head and two grow in its place.
Intelligence is the best, the only, way to defeat the terrorists. To tackle the terrorist threat, we need all the weapons in our intelligence arsenal. That starts with intelligence requirements from the entire community that are well-focused and well-targeted. It means funding and a mandate to succeed. It means strong collection. We need human intelligence, which comes from case officers recruiting sources on the ground to give us information. We need electronic information, including telephone intercepts and static listening devices. We need overhead photography. We also need open source information such as web sites, facebook pages and other publicly available information. We need analysis, putting the pieces together. And we need decision makers who trust the intelligence services and listen to what they are saying.
Libya’s Deputy Interior Minister, Wanis al Sharef, now says the attack against the US consulate in Benghazi was not an impromptu demonstration against a US film but a well planned, sophisticated two-prong attack. He opined that an infiltrator inside the Libyan security forces may have provided jihadists information on the location of the safe house where Ambassador David Stevens and other consular officers were staying.
Al Qaeda militants used social media statements about the video mocking the prophet Mohammed to stir anti-American emotions in the public and urge them to protests outside the embassy.
US intelligence services, obviously, lacked information on the attack. We lacked the sources to provide us with information on plans and intentions.
It was an intelligence failure that cost people their lives.
The success and high profile of these attacks will likely embolden jihadists to attack other facilities overseas. The terrorists likely targeted Benghazi because it was a loosely-guarded US facility with reports saying that guards were only armed with radios. Perhaps the next attacks will be against commercial targets, also lightly guarded, or even diplomatic dependants, schools or other “soft” targets.
The success of these attacks will also create fertile recruiting ground for terrorists, as will any retaliation by the United States.
Terrorists do not play by the same rules as states or Western organizations. Instead, they will try to make the largest impact, even if it means targeting civilians as they did in the World Trade Center.
The issue now is how to improve our intelligence capabilities. Intelligence is the only real protection we have against the terrorist threat, and we currently are failing in that endeavor.
In order to understand terrorist plans and intentions, we must increase resources to our US intelligence community. This includes more funding and more resources for the entire intelligence cycle – collection, analysis, and dissemination. We must particularly emphasize support for those intelligence officers charged with countering the terrorist target.
We must have good, solid intelligence and we must have policy makers who trust that intelligence.
Without good intelligence, we are operating blindly in hostile territory. Lack of intelligence will continue to make us vulnerable to attacks like those on September 12 that killed a US ambassador and other diplomats, wounded others, and put US interests at jeopardy.
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