“Sometimes controversial, often provocative, always informative and insightful.” Bernard Lewis, author of What Went Wrong?, The Middle East, and The Arabs in History
The War Against the Terror Masters: Why It Happened. Where We Are Now. How We'll Win.by Michael A. Ledeen
The War Against the Terror Masters is a must-read guide to the terrorist crisis. Michael A. Ledeen explains in startling detail how and why the United States was so unprepared for the September 11th catastrophe; the nature of the terror network we are fighting--including the state sponsors of that network; the role of radical Islam; and the enemy/i>
The War Against the Terror Masters is a must-read guide to the terrorist crisis. Michael A. Ledeen explains in startling detail how and why the United States was so unprepared for the September 11th catastrophe; the nature of the terror network we are fighting--including the state sponsors of that network; the role of radical Islam; and the enemy collaboration of some of our traditional Middle Eastern "allies";--and, most convincingly, what we must do to win the war.
The War Against the Terror Masters examines the two sides of the war: the rise of the international terror network, and the past and current efforts of our intelligence services to destroy the terror masters in the U.S. and overseas. Ledeen's new book also visits every country in the Near East and describes the terrorist cancers in each. Among many revelations that will attract wide attention: *How the terror network survived the loss of its main sponsor, the Soviet Union. *How the FBI learned from a KGB defector--twenty years before Osama's bin Laden's murderous assault--of the existance of Arab terrorist sleeper networks inside the United States. *How moralistic guidelines straight-jacketed the FBI from even collecting a file of newspaper clippings on known terror groups operating in America. *How the internal culture of the CIA, and severe limitations on its ability to operate, blinded us to the growth of terror networks. And much more.
“Sometimes controversial, often provocative, always informative and insightful.” Bernard Lewis, author of What Went Wrong?, The Middle East, and The Arabs in History
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Read an Excerpt
War Against the Terror Masters
THE RISE OF THE TERROR NETWORK
When the sacred months are over, slay the idolaters wherever you find them. Arrest them, besiege them and lie in ambush for them.
The murder of man by man is as old as the human race, but the sort of terrorist that attacked the United States on September 11, 2001, is rather new. The concept itself was born during the French Revolution, whose bloodiest phase was known as "The Terror." This led straight to the notion of a "reign of terror," and by the second half of the nineteenth century there were "terrorist" organizations and actors. The most famous of these were Russian, aimed at theoverthrow of the czar and the creation of a freer polity, and similar groups came into being all over the world, including anarchists in both the New and Old Worlds, and nationalists and separatists in Central Europe, India, Ireland, and Armenia.
Walter Laqueur, who has long been one of the most astute analysts of terror, credits an obscure German radical democrat, Karl Heinzen, as "the first to produce a full-fledged doctrine of modern terrorism."1 His magnum opus appeared just one year before the midpoint of the nineteenth century, and laid out the now-familiar strategy of using the mass murder of innocent civilians to achieve political objectives by frightening the rulers into making concessions they would otherwise have rejected. Heinzen even anticipated our contemporary anxiety by praising the destructive power of his day's weapons of mass destruction (bombs, mines, and missiles), and happily predicted great political gains following the murder of 100,000 people in a national capital.
The terrorist movements of the nineteenth century were generally short lived and unsuccessfuloften spectacularly soa pattern that held well into the twentieth century. With the notable exceptions of Zionist terrorism against the British in Palestine (which contributed to the creation of the state of Israel), Palestinian terrorism against Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, and the West (which contributed to thewidespread acceptance of the legitimacy of a Palestinian state) and the terrorist campaign of the African National Congress against the apartheid regime in South Africa (which contributed to the victory of "one man, one vote" for all races), terrorists usually made things worse for their announced causes. From Che Guevara in Bolivia in the 1960s to the record levels of murder in Turkey in the 1970s and 1980s, the terrorists generally provoked massive repression rather than the advance of their political objectives. The most tragic example of the terrorists' destructive effect was the Uruguayan Tupamaros, a briefly successful terrorist group that utterly ruined an otherwise civilized and prosperous South American country in the 1960s:
... the only result of their campaign was the destruction of freedom in a country which, alone in Latin America, had had an unbroken democratic tradition of many decades and which had been the first Latin American welfare state ... The Tupamaros' campaign resulted in the emergence of a right-wing military dictatorship; in destroying the democratic system, they also destroyed their own movement. By the 1970s they and their sympathizers were reduced to bitter protests in exile against the crimes of a repressive regimewhich, but for their own action, would not have come into existence .2
In like manner, the celebrated terrorists of the 1970s and 1980sfrom the Palestine Liberation Organization and its various allies to the German Baader-Meinhof Gang, the Italian Red Brigades, the Irish Republican Army, several Turkish groups and the Spanish ETA in Europe, the Symbionese Liberation Army and the Weathermen in the United States, the Shining Path, Tupamaros, Montaneros, FARC, and others in Latin Americasuffered defeat after defeat, even though they had significant support from the Soviet Union and its satellites. The targeted countries fought back, invariably restricting civil liberties, increasing police powers, and expanding surveillance. The citizens of these unfortunate countries generally accepted the loss of freedom as an acceptable price for better security, and the terrorists lost whatever popular support they had once had. Even the Palestinians were defeated in the Lebanese War of 1982, driven into temporary exile in Tunisia, and paradoxically rescued by their Israeli and American archenemies. Nonetheless, terrorism continued to plague the West.
Americans, American airliners, and American allies were prime targets from the very beginning. The first hijacking of an American commercial aircraftwas carried out by a Puerto Rican activist in May 1961. He forced the plane to land in Cuba and was granted asylum. Seven years later the U.S. ambassador to Guatemala was assassinated in Guatemala City, and within months our ambassador to Brazil was kidnapped by Marxist terrorists. In March 1973, under direct orders from PLO leader Yasser Arafat, U.S. ambassador to Sudan Cleo Noel and others were assassinated inside the Saudi embassy.
The Iran hostage crisis, which began in November 1979, set a new standard, as U.S. diplomats were held by the Khomeini regime until January 20, 1981. Iranian-backed terrorists kidnapped American military and intelligence officers and religious leaders in Lebanon in the mid-1980s, killing some and blackmailing the American government for the release of others. American military installations and other sites frequented by our military personnel were bombed in Germany (Air Force base in Rammstein in August 1981, a discotheque in West Berlin in April 1986), Lebanon (Marine barracks in Beirut, October 1983), Spain (an Air Force base in Torrejon in April 1984 and a servicemen's bar in Barcelona, December 1987), Greece (a bus outside Athens in April 1987), Italy (a USO club in Naples in April 1988) and Saudi Arabia (a military compound in Riyadh in 1995, and the Khobar Towers military housing facility in June 1996).
The biggest and most vulnerable American targets were diplomats and diplomatic facilities, beginning with the Iranian hostage crisis, in which the U.S. embassy in Tehran was assaulted and occupied. Four years later the American embassy in Beirut was bombed by Iranian-backed suicide terrorists. Sixty-three people were killed (including Robert Ames, the CIA's Middle East director) and over a hundred others were wounded. The U.S. embassy in Lima, Peru, was bombed in January 1990, and Iraqi agents placed bombs at a USIS library and at the ambassador's residence in Manila, Philippines, in January 1991. Two American diplomats were gunned down in Karachi, Pakistan in March 1995, the U.S. embassy in Moscow was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade in September of the same year, and the Athens embassy was hit by a rocket in February 1996. The most devastating attack was the simultaneous terrorist bombings of U.S. embassies in Nairobi, Kenya and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, in August 1998, in which hundreds of American diplomats and private citizens, local employees, and innocent bystanders were killed. Prior to September 11, this was bin Laden's most effective blow against the United States. In October 2000, the U.S. Navy ship Cole was bombed by suicide terrorists in a rubber dinghy. Seventeen sailors were killed and thirty-nine others injured.
American commercial airliners were also attacked, most notably the bombing of TWA Flight 840 onfinal approach into Athens Airport in March 1986, and the total destruction of Pan Am 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, in December 1988, which killed all 259 persons on board. In early 2001, a Libyan terrorist was convicted of the act.
Americans were also attacked on the seas, as in the Achille Lauro hijacking in October 1985 by PLO terrorists. They segregated the Americans from the rest of the passengers, and then murdered an elderly American Jewish paraplegic by pushing him overboard in his wheelchair.
Terrorist attacks on the American homeland were an old story well before September 11. In late January 1975, Puerto Rican separatists bombed Fraunces Tavern in lower Manhattan. Four patrons were killed and another sixty were injured. Two days later, the Weather Underground claimed responsibility for a bomb set off in a bathroom in the State Department. An exiled Chilean diplomat was killed by a car bomb in September 1976 in Washington, D.C. The World Trade Center was bombed by Islamic fundamentalists in February 1993, killing six and wounding a thousand others, and a follow-on plot to bomb the United Nations building and other targets in New York City was foiled shortly thereafter. In February 1997, a Palestinian terrorist shot several tourists on an observation deck of the Empire State Building before killing himself.
American allies were also singled out. Spain, Germany,and Italy were rocked by domestic groups as well as by foreign terrorists, and there were several terrorist bombings in France as well. Great Britain was on a state of constant alert against Irish separatist terrorists, and the prime minister of Sweden was assassinated while walking in Stockholm. Several South Korean ministers and their aides were blown up by North Korean terrorists in Bangkok, and two Indian prime ministers were killed by suicide terrorists.
Terrorism briefly subsided after the fall of the Soviet Empire, because the Soviets had long been the leading sponsors of international terrorism, and the terrorists were significantly weaker without Soviet support. Virtually all the major terrorist organizations, whether in Africa, South America, Western Europe, or the Middle East, received money and weapons directly from Soviet and Central and Eastern European intelligence and military services from the 1960s through the 1980s.3 These could be and were replaced; the market for weapons is wide open. Money was extorted from vulnerable Middle Eastern governments (particularly those, like Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States, that were extremely wealthy, feeble, and either sympathetic to the terrorists' cause or invitingly weak-willed) and was earned both legally (the great global boom of the nineties was accessible to anyone with some venture capital) and illegally (poppy seeds grow in the Middle East, anddrug trafficking produces huge profits). Even without the Soviet Union, the terrorists acquired enough wealth and weaponry to do significant damage.
But a terrorist organization requires more than money and guns. You have to be able to get to your target, and unless you intend to die in the attack you will want an escape route to a safe haven once the operation is over. In practice, logistics and secure facilities were harder to come by than were finances and armaments, and by and large they had come, either directly or indirectly, from the Soviet Empire. The Soviets provided diplomatic "pouches" to secretly move lethal matériel, Soviet intelligence services gave the terrorists false passports and other travel documents of high quality, and Soviet territory was available for military training, indoctrination, and hiding.4 These indispensable services could not be readily obtained by a handful of terrorists, no matter how skilled and dedicated they might be, and no matter how much money they might have. They could only come from states, of which the USSR was the most important. The radical regimes of Syria, Iran, Iraq, South Yemen, and Libya did the same. After the defeat of the Soviet Empire, the others would have to take up the slack.
Six states provided the vital wherewithal for the Islamic terror network we now combat: Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Libya, Syria, and Sudan. Of these, Iranwas the most important. It was the biggestsixty million people at the time, now close to seventy millionand the richest, and it had a long national tradition of military skill and strategic deception.
The Iranian Model
Iran is the mother of modern Islamic terrorism. It was part of the fevered vision of the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the Shi'ite leader who overthrew the shah in the autumn of 1979. Khomeini was in league with Arab terrorists from the start, forging a military alliance with the PLO and other Palestinian terrorist groups by 1972 at the latest. Thousands of Iranian fighters were trained in the lethal arts by Fatah experts in the PLO's camps in Lebanon, where they also received active assistance from the Syrian regime. Others were trained in camps run by the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine inside the tiny Marxist enclave in South Yemen. In that remote hell-hole, Iranians received training from the very best: East German intelligence officers and Cuban terrorist experts.
Before his seizure of power, Khomeini used these terrorists both to attack the shah's regime and to kill off any challengers to his own claim to absolute religious authority. After the revolution of 1979 theseskilled killers constituted the hard core of the Pas-daran, the Islamic Revolutionary Guards. The mad vision that we now associate with Osama bin Ladenrage against the desecration of Islamic soil by the presence of unbelievers, the violent expansion of fundamentalist Islam throughout the Middle East, and a global holy war against the infidels outside the Islamic worldwas elaborated more than a decade earlier by Khomeini and institutionalized in the Islamic Republic of Iran. Aside from the traditional differences between Sunnis and Shi'ites, bin Laden's doctrines are virtually identical to Khomeini's. Both preach unbridled hatred of America, the Jews, and anything that represents the modern secular state; and both demand the creation of a fundamentalist theocracy throughout the Islamic world. Like Khomeini, bin Laden wants to reestablish the ancient caliphate, where the ruler of the nation was simultaneously the authoritative guide to the faithful.
Khomeini's indictment of the shah was not, as many believe (even including former president Clinton and his secretary of state, Madeleine Albright) that the Iranian government was excessively repressive and intolerant. It was precisely the opposite. According to Khomeini, Iran had become too modern, too tolerantespecially of women and of other religious faithsand too self-indulgent. The shah had westernized Iran, and in so doing had underminedthe power of the mullahsthe religious authorities. The shah had corrupted morality by ending the strict separation of the sexes. He permitted women teachers in boys' schools, and men in girls' schools, "the moral wrongness of which is clear to all."5 Khomeini raged against the elevation of women to important posts in government and society, and promised to send them to the lower status they were assigned by the faith.6
This was only the beginning of Khomeini's indictment of the shah's moral corruption. In the shah's Iran, crimes were judged by lay persons instead of by religious courts. " ... Jews, Christians, and enemies of Islam and of the Muslims ... interfere in the affairs of Muslims," and the lay people were far too lenient: "We want a ruler who would cut off the hand of his own son if he steals, and flog and stone his near relative if he fornicates."
Just as bin Laden condemns Saudi Arabia for permitting the presence of infidel American soldiers on her holy land, so Khomeini condemned the shah for his strategic relationship with Israel, which he viewed as a violation of Islamic principles. "What is this ... association between the shah and Israel ... is the shah a Jew?" And Khomeini linked Israel and America so intimately that there was virtually no distinction between the two, just as bin Laden does. Israel and America are simply two points of evil along a vast satanic continuum:
It is America which supports Israel and its well-wishers; it is America which gives Israel the power to turn Muslim Arabs into vagrants; it is America which directly or indirectly imposes its agents on the nation of Iran; it is America which considers Islam and the glorious Koran a source of harm to itself and wishes to remove both from its path.
Khomeini was a true revolutionary. No leading Shi'ite had ever called for the overthrow of a legitimate secular leader and his replacement by a religious one. The Shi'ites believe that one of their medieval leadersthe "missing" or Twelfth Imamwill some day return to exercise both religious and political power. Until that messianic day, according to traditional practice, temporal rulers could be tolerated and even supported, so long as they did not try to claim religious power and left the mullahs and ayatollahs free to guide the faithful in the ways of Allah. Khomeini was the first to claim that one man could wield both political and religious power even before the return of the Twelfth Imam.
Moreover, Khomeini was revolutionary in another way: He insisted that the time had come for radical Shi'ism to dominate Islam everywhere. He proclaimed that, since his vision of Islam was the only true version, all Muslims should follow it. He foresaw the restoration of Muhammed's empire under Shi'iteleadership. First Iran, then the rest of the Islamic world. Shi'ites had long been a minority of the Islamic faithfulthe Sunnis were many times more numerousbut once the Islamic Republic was established, it would become the inspiration for all believers, transcending all national boundaries. This last was quite in keeping with Muslim tradition, which viewed the community of believersthe "Muslim Nation"as the fundamental unit. National boundaries were simply lines on a map.
Like bin Laden, Khomeini was an utterly ruthless man, yet pragmatic to the point of cynicism. He might intone against those who disagreed with his theology, and he did not hesitate to have discordant mullahs and ayatollahs assassinated, but he blithely allied himself with anyone who could advance his cause: from Sunni terrorists like Arafat to Marxist unbelievers like the leaders of the PFLP, and even deviants from Islamic tradition like Hafez al-Assad. This last was a member of the Alawites, a small sect of roughly two million that Fouad Ajami terms "the bearers of an esoteric faith which Muslims, both Sunni and Shi'ite, put beyond the pale of Islam."7 Assad thus came from a tiny minority within a vast sea of Sunnis, and although he was not a particularly observant Muslim, his family background automatically provoked suspicion and enmity. So did his politics, which were secular to the core. His constitutionfor Syria did not require the leader to be a Muslim and the oath of office of his Ba'ath Party did not mention Allah even once. Many Syriansboth Sunni and Shi'iteaccused Assad of the shah's great crime of having abandoned Islam in favor of secular values.
Khomeini came to Assad's rescue by ordering the imam Moussa Sadr, a celebrated Shi'ite holy man, to support the Ba'ath regime and the Alawites by proclaiming the Alawites legitimate members of the Shi'ite faith. The same was done by the Shi'ite mufti of Tripoli, another Khomeini confederate, Ali Mansur. This vigorous support legitimized Assad in the eyes of many Muslims and helped to stabilize his dictatorship. Assad returned the favor by helping Khomeini train his terrorists in Lebanon, and by giving Khomeini's friends and allies Syrian passports to avoid surveillance and capture by the Iranian intelligence service.
As Martin Kramer neatly summed it up, "Hafez al-Assad needed quick religious legitimacy; the Shi'ites of Lebanon ... needed a powerful patron. Interests busily converged from every direction."8 And those converging interests were quite durable; once in power, Khomeini created one of the most dangerous international terrorist groupsHizbollahand Assad supported it with many of the same favors.
The ease with which Khomeini formed opportunistic alliances shows something of enormous importance:that even the most fanatical believers may be capable of startling tactical flexibility. Any means are suitable in pursuit of a holy cause, and even the strictest rules of Islamic law can be suspended when circumstances require. One of today's most misleading conventional generalizations about the Islamic world is the suggestion that members of different sects or traditions cannot work together in a common enterprise. It has often been saideven by experienced senior analysts in the American government who should know betterthat Sunni and Shi'ite are so profoundly divided that no knowledgeable person could believe that Al Qaeda unites both under a common umbrella. But Al Qaeda does, just as Khomeini did. David Wurmser has provided a clear-eyed picture of the terrorist super-network that operates through Al Qaeda:
For Syria, the ... network had the virtue of absorbing and channeling Sunni fundamentalist fervor. Energies that might have been turned against the regime were directed instead against American targets and into Saudi politics. Within the terror network, Shi'ite and Sunniwho otherwise would never have countenanced working togethercould join forces, as could secular Palestinians and Islamic extremists ...
For Iraq, the network offered a way to defeat America. It would be a grave mistake to imagine that Saddam's animus against Saudi Arabia or his secular disposition would prevent him from working with the Wahhabi religious establishment ... . Sure enough ... Saddam's regime has lately encouraged the rise, in Iraq's northern safe haven, of Salafism, a puritanical sect tied to Wahhabism that hitherto had been alien to Iraq ... one of these Salafi movements ... turns out to be a front for bin Laden.9
Furthermore, fundamentalist Muslims like Khomeini and bin Laden have a distinctly modern side to them, despite their well-known hatred of the corruption and sinfulness of the modern world. They may be archreactionaries, but they embrace and master advanced technology when it serves their purposes. Khomeini flooded Iran with audio cassettes of his revolutionary sermons, a brilliant technique of mass manipulation that caught the shah's regime by surprise. Bin Laden's skilled use of satellite phones, videotapes, and the Internet is of a piece with Khomeini's exploitation of the best available Western technology in the 1970s. While it may seem in conflict with his calls to impose medieval religious law on modern societies, the high-tech side of Osama binLaden is part of the Khomeini model. Had you gone to the short-lived Al Qaeda website10 you would have found poems by bin Laden, and a competent bit of strategic analysis written by one of bin Laden's top advisers entitled "Fourth-Generation Wars," citing articles by American military and academic counterterrorist authorities.
The willingness of the most radical Islamic fundamentalists to employ the most advanced technology from the infidel West fits neatly with the traditional Islamic division of the world into two parts: the realm of the believers and that of the infidels. Religious rules can be waived for the faithful fighting in the infidels' countries if it is necessary to further the mission of converting, dominating or killing the enemies of Islam. So, for example, some of the September 11 terrorists apparently frequented strip clubs and bars in their Florida neighborhood, which prompted some to suggest they were not "good Muslims." But this was entirely acceptable. It was a tactical deception that was designed to deceive us about their true identities, and thereby contribute to the success of their jihad. It is not only permitted, it's profoundly satisfying to hoist your enemy by his own petard.
The division of the world into believers and unbelievers, the sacred and the profane, is fundamental to Islam and will, in the minds of the believers, last to the end of time:
When the trumpet of the Last Judgment sounds, the dead all rise from their graves and rush to the Field of Judgment "like men rallying to a Standard." There they take up their station before God, in two mighty crowds separated from each other, the faithful on one side and the unbelieving on the other; and each individual is judged by God.11
The world itself, and all mankind, are divided into the sacred and the profane, the believers and the infidels. The believers are commanded to impose Islam on the unbelievers, and both the division and the conflict are permanent, at least in this world. " ... The faithful and the unbelieving are fated to be separate forever and to fight each other. The War of Religion is a sacred duty ..."
Elias Canetti, one of the great thinkers of the last century, defined Islam as a "religion of war," and while that does not mean that all Muslims feel obliged to wage war against all unbelievers, it is certainly a very strong leitmotif running through Muslim theology. Just before the historic Rabin-Arafat handshake at the White House, one of President Clinton's speechwriters telephoned the greatest Western expert on Islam, Professor Bernard Lewis of Princeton. Could Professor Lewis kindly provide a goodquotation from the Koran praising peace and the peacemakers? Professor Lewis promptly obliged.
"Oh, no, we can't use that one," the speechwriter explained. "We already used that quotation the last time. We need a different one." Alas, said Lewis, that was the only such quote he knew of in the entire Koran.
Khomeini's version of Islam was unquestionably bloodthirsty, and both he and his followers spoke of it constantly. He even created a "fountain of blood" in central Tehran, where red water, symbolizing the blood of martyrs who fell in the struggle against the shah and the war with Iraq, cascaded into the pool below. Here, again, Khomeini was a trailblazer, for Iranian terrorist groupsnotably Hizbollah and Islamic Jihadraised the recruitment and training of suicide attackers to assembly-line proportions.
As Iraq invaded Iran shortly after the revolution, the early years of the Khomeini regime produced hundreds of thousands of fatalities on the battlefield, and a cult of martyrdom developed in order to enlist young men who would very likely be killed in short order. Stories circulated throughout Iran according to which new recruits were sent into battle without weapons, assured that by the time they came under fire there would be an abundance of available guns in the clutches of their dead predecessors. Few volunteer for such experiences without either compulsionor substantial reward, and all the martyrs-to-be were promised instant transfer to paradise, with its legendary pleasuresincluding the seventy-two dark-eyed perpetual virgins, waiting for youfor all eternity.
The cult of martyrdom permeated Iran's religious institutions, where young Muslims came from throughout the Islamic world to study. Most of them arrived with a high quotient of revolutionary zeal and were easy prey for mullahs working with the intelligence services. Ever the masters of deception, the Iranians took care to select foreigners, and they preferred young men from Sunni countries like Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Algeria, and Tunisia. Tens of thousands of terrorists, 12 including members of Al Qaeda, came out of the seminaries of Qom, Tabriz, and Isfahan. Besotted with their faith and fully prepared to give their lives in a holy struggle against Islam's enemies, these young men were sent to training camps where instructors from as far away as North Korea and Yugoslavia taught them the martial arts. There were special courses in throat slitting and killing with small blades, including carpet or cardboard cutters of the sort used by the September 11 terrorists, a highly prized form of killing because it is both silent and satisfying. These techniques were part of a special course for Arabic-speaking recruits. Some of the graduates becamepart of elite assassination squads (for example, the killers of former prime minister Shahpour Bakhtiar in Paris), others simply enlisted in the ranks of the terrorist armies, but all were thoroughly prepared, both physically and psychologically.
The same assembly linefrom local mosque to theological school to terrorist training campfunctions today on a global scale. The radical mosques and theological schools are no longer limited to Iran and are not even predominantly Shi'ite (most are Wahhabi, which is to say Saudi). They stretch from the Middle East across Europe and the Atlantic to New York, Detroit, and California, across the Pacific to Indonesia, the Philippines, and Singapore into the western hinterland of the People's Republic of China, and finally across Central Asia back to the source. The mosques distribute recruiting materialsboth printed and electronicto the faithful, looking for those with a craving for infidel blood. A video cassette used for this purpose in England was recently described in the London Observer: "One video called 'The Mirror of the Jihad' showed Taliban forces in Afghanistan decapitating Northern Alliance soldiers with knives. It was distributed by an Islamic organization based in Paddington, London." Other such materials were found at the Finnsbury Park Mosque in north London, where Zacarias Moussaoui, the accused "twentieth hijacker" of September 11, andRichard Reid, the accused "sneaker bomber," once prayed.
Look at it as a triumph of globalization: Khomeini was the Henry Ford of Islamic terrorism. He invented the manufacturing technology, and the assembly line was copied everywhere. By the second generation, groups like Al Qaeda found they could recruit with brochures and videos, and then do at least some degree of paramilitary training with user-friendly manuals. They even produced encyclopedias, of the sort captured from Al Qaeda fighters in Afghanistan by the Northern Alliance a couple of years before we enlisted them in the war against terror. It was called The Encyclopedia of the Afghan Jihad, and ran to thousands of pages, beginning with a volume on "Explosives," and continuing on through "Weapons" and the other nuts and bolts of the terrorist profession.
The Encyclopedia of the Afghan Jihad came in various forms, from abridged books to full-length CD-ROMs, and all were circulated widely. It may not have contained the most advanced lethal technology, but it was good enough for their purposes:
My expert did not want to be in the kitchen when someone tried to make homemade nitroglycerin per the Explosives instructions. But if the process didn't kill its maker, theresulting ingredients would certainly explode with great force ... 13
Terrorism is a labor-intensive business. But with an unending supply of cheap manpower, the terror masters didn't have to worry excessively about occasional accidents. But there was a hidden message in the very existence of the Encyclopedia. Al Qaeda was not content to limit itself to those people they could personally recruit and train, one by one; they were aiming to create a mass movement. They were trying to inspire Muslims everywhere to take up the cause of jihad, make their own weapons, and kill all infidels, including us.
The Encyclopedia was attempting to diminish, if not eliminate, the master-pupil tutelage that forced terrorists and would-be terrorists to gather together in one spot for prolonged study. The volumes were a portable university for the common militant. Its ultimate aim was to democratize terrorism. 14
When the full history of the terror network is written, we will be surprised at the amazingly large number of terrorists, and the audacity of their ambitions, which frequently exceeded our own. Whentalking to Iranian officials in the mid-eighties, I remarked to a high-ranking ayatollah that some day our two countries might get back on good terms. After all, we did share some common interests.
"Absolutely," he snapped back. "Like the Soviet Union. And we are going to bring it down." Few American officials, even during the Reagan years, would have been so outspokenly ambitious. Only later did I discover that Iran was running a substantial operation into Soviet Central Asia, bringing Korans and weapons to the local Muslims so that they could pray and kill communist infidels.
The most potent Iranian-sponsored terrorist organization was, and is, Hizbollah, the Army of God. Americans have suffered at its hands since 1983, when Hizbollah and the PLO combined to blow up the American embassy and then the Marine barracks in Beirut. But this was only the beginning.
• Hizbollah developed a global reach, blowing up the Israeli embassy and then a Jewish community center in Buenos Aires, Argentina, in 1992, killing a hundred civilians, and destroying a Panamanian commuter flight in 1993.
• Hizbollah specialized in kidnaping Westerners in Lebanon, including AP correspondent Terry Anderson,Reverend Benjamin Weir, David Jacobsen, Father Lawrence Jenco, CNN correspondent Charles Glass, journalist Jeremy Levin, British journalist David Hurst, French correspondent Jean-Marc Sroussi, Anglican Church envoy Terry Waite, CIA Beirut station chief William Buckley, American lieutenant colonel William Higgins, several Israeli soldiers and civilians, and many others.
• Hizbollah organized and led the military campaign against Israel in southern Lebanon throughout the 1990s, ending with the Israeli withdrawal.
Khomeini was the spiritual model for Al Qaeda, and Hizbollah, under constant Iranian guidance, provided the organizational model. Both are organized along paramilitary lines, with a governing Shura, or council, headed by the supreme leader (in Hizbollah's case, Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah). Today Hizbollah has operational centers all over the world, including the United States and Canada, South America, Indonesia, Malaysia, France, Germany, England, and Belgium.
Syria controls the Lebanese territory where Hizbollah trains and hides and holds hostages, while Iran commands Hizbollah's top leaders. Whenever key decisions have to be made, either the terrorists go toTehran for guidance, or Iranian officials travel to Lebanon. When Hizbollah takes a particularly interesting hostage, experts from Iranian intelligence organizations come to Lebanon to conduct the interrogations. And, although both Syria and Saudi Arabia are also major contributors, Iran keeps tight control over funding.
As in any successful underground organization, Hizbollah leaders understand that effective operations require mass support. The terrorist fish need a popular sea in which to swim, and Hizbollah wins popular support because it is also a social welfare organization, providing health care, food, education, and alms to its followers, in addition to full banking and other financial services. Indeed, a significant part of Hizbollah is now public; Hizbollah members sit in the Lebanese Parliament, having been duly elected by their supporters.
But no matter how generous the social services, or how talented the leadership, you cannot recruit tens of thousands of terrorists without a cause, an inspirational vision. Some would have us believe that terrorist organizations are no more than dangerous cults, that the terrorists are terrorists because they are mentally disturbed, and that if they weren't terrorists they would be suicide cultists like those in Heaven's Gate or Jonestown. 15 There is undoubtedly some truth to the claim that cults attract a certain kind ofderanged personality, but in the case of an Islamic fundamentalism, potential recruits are first spotted, then indoctrinated, so that their personalities develop along these lines. And no matter how fervently we would wish it otherwise, these terrorist fundamentalists are Muslims. Their fanatical desire to destroy the West grows out of a deep-seated Muslim rage, and is buttressed by a powerful Muslim doctrine. Without the rage and the doctrinethe ideology of the terror mastersthere might be Islamic terrorists (there have been for centuries) but there would not be a global Islamic terrorist network, resting on an Islamic fundamentalist mass movement.
The Crisis of Islam
Like most Muslim thinkers, Osama bin Laden pays great attention to history, and the history of the past fifteen years pleases him enormously. As he reads the recent past, Muslims have racked up a string of impressive victories against some very powerful infidel countries: the Soviet Union, Israel, and the United States. One of his associates fondly went over the list of recent successes:
In Afghanistan, the Mujahideen triumphed over the world's second most qualitativepower at that time ... a single Somali tribe humiliated America and compelled it to remove its forces ... the Chechen Mujahideen humiliated and defeated the Russian bear ... the Lebanese resistance expelled the Zionist army from southern Lebanon ... 16
No matter that the Mujahideen only began to win the war against the Soviet occupation forces when they received weaponsabove all, Stinger antiaircraft missilesmoney and tactical guidance from the United States, via Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. No matter, either, that the humiliation of a number of American soldiers at Mogadishu was hardly a glorious Islamic victory. Clinton simply decided he couldn't tolerate the spectacle of body bags and dead Americans on the evening news. The "defeat" of the Russian bear in Chechnya was short lived, and Israel withdrew voluntarily from Lebanon.
Radical Islamic fundamentalists overlook these details in favor of an heroic legend of a suddenly resurgent Islam, in bin Laden's words of an Islamic nation that was repeatedly victorious in a way not known since the rise of the Ottoman Empire. In the eyes of bin Laden and other Muslim fundamentalists, this sequence of glorious victories bespeaks a most welcome change in the course of history.
Nothing could be more encouraging to anythoughtful Muslim than a reversal of the catastrophic trends of the past two or three centuries. For many centuries Muslim civilization was the greatest in the world. The Muslims preserved much of ancient Greek culture at a time when Western Europe had fallen into a continental catatonia that historians have called the Dark Ages. The Muslims far outclassed the Christians in most every area of human endeavor. They were more powerful, more educated, more artistic, more scientific than their Christian rivals. And they were more tolerant and humane. It was far better for minorities like the Jews to live under Muslim rule than under Christian hegemony.
Muslims took these accomplishments as their due, believing as they did that God's words to Mohammed, as recounted in the Koran, constituted the third, final, and only complete revelation of God to man. In their eyes, the manifest superiority of the Muslim world was a Divine reward for their belief in God's revelation to Mohammed. God was on their side, and He gave them glory.
All glorious and inspiring when things go well, but how do you explain centuries of decline, corruption, misery, and humiliation? 17 Have you brought it on yourself? Is Allah punishing you for your sins? If so, is it necessary to reform your ways? Or, perhaps, is it someone else's fault?
The latter explanation is far more psychologicallyattractive than the former, and predictably it has been offered more frequently. Arabs have blamed the Turks for the ruin of Islamic civilization, and the Turks have blamed the Arabs. Persians have blamed both Turks and Arabs, and all have blamed foreign colonialists and imperialists, most recently the United States, for stealing Muslim wealth and repressing Muslim genius. Anti-Semitism caught on in the twentieth century, first under Nazi inspiration and then in response to the creation of the Jewish state in Israel. All these themes linger on, even when radical Muslims like Khomeini and bin Laden distribute the blame on the Islamic Nation itself. Islamic rulers are typically condemned for their supine surrender to the infidels. Islamic weakness is blamed on the betrayal of the true faith by Muslim leaders, and a return to fundamentals is presented as the only cure. The indictment is reminiscent of Martin Luther's condemnation of the Catholic Church at the beginning of the Reformation, and of the jeremiads of the Jewish prophets following the destructions of the Temple in Jerusalem, and the long exile in the Diaspora. It
attributes all evil to the abandonment of the divine heritage of Islam and advocates return to a real or imagined past. That is the way of the Iranian revolution and of the so-calledfundamentalist movements and regimes in various countries. 18
Allah consigned the Muslims to decline and humiliation because they forgot His revelation, strayed from His ways, and adopted the ways of the infidels. Muslims will become strong when they return to the ancient truths.
That is why Osama bin Laden's close reading of recent events is so important, for he is able to argue that the only Muslims who can defeat infidels are those who derive their strength from Allah. Unlike the losers throughout the Muslim worldwho are dominated by infidel culture, infidel technology, and infidel armiesthey have rejected the corruption of the modern Arab states and embraced the true faith, just as it was when Muslims ruled the civilized world. It's a powerful message, for it "explains" the world to those disinclined to look unflinchingly at history, and it gives meaning to the lives of those who embrace it.
In 1990, before anyone outside the Middle East had heard of bin Laden, Bernard Lewis warned the West that we were in for a very tough time. "It should now be clear," he wrote, "that we are facing a mood and a movement far transcending the level of issues and policies and the governments that pursue them." We faced what Lewis elegantly termed "the perhaps irrational but surely historic reaction of anancient rival against our Judeo-Christian heritage, our secular present, and the worldwide expansion of both."19
Like Khomeini, Osama bin Laden assembled a terrorist coalition to wage jihad against the West in the name of fundamentalist Islam. There were two main differences between them, aside from the formal conflicts between Sunni and Shi'ite doctrines. Khomeini ruled a country, while Osama needed state support to become a potent force. Also, Osama was not a theological innovator, while Khomeini was a theological revolutionary. Osama did not need to be an innovator, for the official doctrine of his native Saudi Arabia was the Sunni equivalent of Khomeini's version of Shi'ism.
The Saud family conquered Arabia in the early twentieth century in no small measure because of the support of the Wahhabis, a violent, puritanical fundamentalist Sunni sect named after its founder, Ibn Abdul Wahhab (1703-1792).
Wahhabism is the Islamic equivalent of the most extreme Protestant sectarianism. It is puritan, demanding punishment for thosewho enjoy any music except the drum, and severe punishment ... for drinking or sexual transgressions.
It [calls for] simple, short prayers, undecorated mosques, and the uprooting of gravestones (since decorated mosques and graveyards lend themselves to veneration, which is idolatry in the Wahhabi mind) . Wahhabis do not even permit the name of the Prophet Mohammed to be inscribed in mosques, nor do they allow his birthday to be celebrated. Above all, they hate ostentatious spirituality, much as Protestants detest the veneration of miracles and saints in the Catholic Church. 20
The Wahhabis' rejection of anything that portrayed the human figure has often been carried to extremes, as it was in 2001, when the Taliban dynamited two enormous stone statues of Buddha in Afghanistan. Once again, there is an Iranian parallel: After the revolution, Khomeini forbade the production of carpets that carried the images of living things. Henceforth only geometrical and floral designs were permitted. In addition, despite their celebration of certain aspects of Muslim history, the Wahhabis can be quite contemptuous of relics of the Muslim past. In January 2002, the Saudis demolished the two-hundred-year-old (Ottoman) al-Ayed Castle in centralMecca, to make room for a parking lot. Turkey's cultural minister protested with UNESCO, denounced the Saudi "crime against humanity," and noted that there was no difference between the Taliban action the year beforewhich had been denounced by the global intelligentsiaand the destruction of "this legacy of the Ottoman era."21
The Wahhabis venerated and practiced violence on a grand scale, and were credited for several famous massacres during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Their support was crucial in the military victories of the Saud family in the 1920s, and King ibn Saud rewarded them by making Wahhabism the official faith of the Saudi state.
Osama imbibed Islamic fundamentalism because it was part of growing up in Saudi Arabia. It was the message of his mosque and the basic language of Saudi Wahhabi doctrine. He had ample opportunity to spread the faith, for the wherewithal to advance his crazed vision came with his birth certificate. His father Muhammed created one of the kingdom's leading business conglomerates (the Bin Laden Group), and he maintained his more than fifty children in great luxury, but Osama was fully prepared to leave his gilded world in order to fight infidels. The call to arms came when the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan at the end of 1979. "I was enraged and went there at once," Osama said, "I arrived within days."
He would like us to believe otherwise, but Osamawas not a great fighter in Afghanistan. He worked on finance and logistics, the precursor of his terror network. Over the next nine years he contributed many family millions to the Mujahideen fighters, raised additional funds throughout the Gulf, and created Al Qaeda, originally a charitable organization that expanded its philanthropic work worldwide, including an office in the United States, to fund extremist groups. In the course of his work he created recruitment centers and guest houses in Egypt, Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia that gave sustenance to thousands of volunteer fighters and workers; created paramilitary training camps for his recruits in Pakistan, Sudan, and Afghanistan; and brought heavy land-moving equipment to Afghanistan in order to create a network of roads and tunnels. (American armed forces subsequently attacked pieces of this network during the Afghan campaign in 2001-2002). He was also deeply involved in financing radical Islamic groups that carried the struggle to moderate Arab governments .
It has often been said that bin Laden is a classic example of "blowback," that is, an operation aimed against an enemy that rebounds against the attackers. According to this view, the United States supported radical Islamic forces against the Red Army in Afghanistan and now finds itself at war with many of those same Islamic radicals, with bin Laden in thefront rank. It's the Middle Eastern version of Frankenstein's monster. There is some truth to the accusation, but not much. In the late eighties and early nineties there were precious few Americans on the ground in Pakistan, let alone Afghanistan, where virtually no one from the Pentagon or the CIA was permitted to operate. The Islamic forces were mostly funded by the Saudis and mostly trained by the Pakistanis. The really telling American failure in Afghanistan was not an excess of zeal but a lack of engagement and follow-through. If we had been more fully involved in the war against the Soviets in Afghanistan, we might have taken steps to dismantle the Mujahideen networks, or penetrate them, or at least remove the most dangerous weapons, like Stinger missiles. This never happened.
If there was any blowback from Afghanistan, it blew back against the Saudis and the Pakistanis, and only indirectly against us. When bin Laden returned to his native land after the great victory against the Soviets, he found American troops on Saudi soil, and this drove him into a famous rage. He denounced the monarchy for permitting "crusaders and Jews" to despoil the sacred land of the prophet, and pronounced Saudi leaders unworthy of their holy mission. This has remained one of his central themes, prompting many serious analysts to conclude that bin Laden aims at conquering his own country.
He and Al Qaeda are certainly incomprehensible without understanding their intimate connection to Saudi religious doctrines and an ongoing power struggle within the kingdom. "At its core, Al Qaeda is a product of Saudi dynastic politics," Wurmser tells us. Its purpose is "to swing Saudi politics toward the Wahhabi establishment ... but not necessarily to destroy the royal family, at least not at first ..."22
In keeping with our past overseas behavior, we simply lost interest once the main enemy, the Soviet Union, was defeated. Americans do not believe that conflict is normal, so once the war was over we went back to "normal." This traditional compulsion was reinforced by the subsequent collapse of the Soviet Union itself, at which point we temporarily stopped worrying about the entire region, save for the "peace process" involving Israel and the Palestinians.
Plus, there was a form of cultural arrogance: Arabs' warrior virtues are not highly respected in Western capitals. The stereotype of the Arab does not include qualities that induce fear and respect. Aside from a handful of counterterrorism experts, very few policy makers were inclined to think deeply about what the Afghan Arabs would do after they left Afghanistan. After all, they had been cannon fodder for the Red Army before we arranged to have them properly trained and armed; why should we be concerned? So Osama and his cohorts had a free ride.The American government wasn't worried, and wasn't going to pay much attention. This was another recurring blunder, since U.S. policy makers had already made the same mistake concerning the Iranians. The United States had trained Iran's military and intelligence elite during the shah's rule, but once Khomeini came to power the Iranian image in Washington changed drastically. Instead of the most advanced Islamic country, Iran was taken to be just another Third-World dictatorship, perhaps a bit crazier than most, but surely no serious threat to the United States.
Our leaders should have remembered the joke about the man who has a flat tire in front of an insane asylum. He jacks up the car, removes the flat, and carefully puts the lugs in the hubcap, at which point a motorcycle speeds past, clips the edge of the hubcap, and sends the lugs flying down a drain. The man stands helplessly, wondering what to do, when an inmate on the other side of the asylum fence says, "It's not so bad. You've got three more tires with four lugs per tire. Three are plenty to hold the wheel in place. Just take one lug from each of the other wheels and put on the spare, and then buy yourself four new lugs later on, one for each wheel."
The man does as he is told, and as he is getting ready to drive off he asks the inmate if he lives in the asylum. "Yes."
"Well, then, how were you able to solve that problem so easily?"
"Hey," says the inmate, "I may be crazy, but I'm not stupid."
Fanatics can be powerfully pragmatic and effective, and they can act with a single-mindedness that eludes more balanced personalities. American policy makers finally got that message on September 11.
The Soviets withdrew from Afghanistan in 1989, and bin Laden returned to his family's construction business in Saudi Arabia the following year, still maintaining his close working relations with radical Islamic groups that targeted moderate Arab governments. Even worse, he openly denounced the royal family for permitting American troops to use Saudi bases during the Gulf War. The Saudi government was concerned, and they showed it by withholding his passport for nearly two years to prevent him from meeting overseas with extremists. Given the close working relationship between Saudi intelligence and the CIA, our people would have started to track Osama at that time.
He got his passport back at the end of 1991, and early the next year bin Laden moved to Khartoum, where he combined work for the family business (building a major highway and an airport) with his expanding terrorist activities. This is one of the many features of his career that led people to thinkof bin Laden as the CEO of a multinational terrorist corporation; he has been very imaginative at finding ways to make money from his terrorist ventures. The most spectacular of theseif indeed it happenedwas playing the European stock market to take advantage of the terrorist attacks he'd ordered for September 11. He is said to have shorted the shares of the insurance companies covering the World Trade Center. If it's not true, it's still a great tale, as the Italians say, and it properly draws our attention to the considerable sophistication of Al Qaeda. They may be crazy, but they're demonstrably not stupid.
Sudan had fallen under the sway of a Wahhabi-style regime, and bin Laden was a most welcome guest. Over the next five years, he financed terrorists throughout the region, worked with the Sudanese government to create a series of terrorist training camps in the northern part of the country, and extended his reach to the likes of Ramsey Yousef, the architect of the first World Trade Center bombing. In this period he funded attacks against American military personnel on a peacekeeping mission in Aden, designed and financed terrorist attacks against Egypt in concert with the Egyptian Jihad group, and provided training to thousands of terrorists from Egypt, Algeria, Tunisia, and Yemen.
It was not all scheming and safe havens, however.Osama wanted to join the fight against the unbelievers in Southern Sudan, and he was furious when the Sudanese government wouldn't let him play. And he had to pay a price for his years in Sudan: The government took hefty commissions from his business activities, and wasn't always convinced that Al Qaeda was paying its full dues.
Looking at bin Laden's activities in Sudan, one is struck by his support for Egyptian terrorists; Egypt is a country that does not often figure in his diatribes. The attention to Egypt was probably not his originally, but his sponsors', for there was constant tension between Egypt and Sudan in those years. When bin Laden started to operate in the region, it should have set off multiple alarm bells in Washington. Egypt is the biggest single recipient of American aid, and it would not serve our interests to have the government of Egypt fall to Islamic fundamentalists. Moreover, a partnership between Al Qaeda and the Egyptian Islamic Jihad was a serious matter. The Egyptian Jihad was responsible for the assassination of Anwar Sadat, and was a potent force. If you added Al Qaeda's wealth and organizational skills to the Jihad's murderous manpower, you got a major threat. They started working together in Sudan, and the merger was complete no later than 1998. And that threat became even more sinister with the addition of Hizbollah and the Palestinians.
Sudan in the early nineties expanded what had been created in Lebanon a decade earlier: a meeting-place for the terror network, a training ground for their troops, a haven for their intelligence officers, and a place where the various groups and leaders could exchange information, ideas, and war stories. People who lived in Khartoum in those years tell of a colorful parade of foreign visitors, from countries as diverse as Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Syria, China, Cuba, Indonesia, and the Philippines, the states of the Caucuses from Georgia to Central Asia, and the north African trio of Libya, Tunisia, and Algeria. Both Iran and Iraq established significant intelligence headquarters in Khartoum, and both had contacts with bin Laden, as did the Syrians and the leaders of the main terrorist groups, from Hizbollah on down. They all envied and hated America, welcomed bin Laden's campaign against "moderate" Arab regimes, and were engaged in the same sort of terrorist operations as Al Qaeda. Future events confirmed the intimacy of their relationships.
By the mid-nineties bin Laden had acquired a significant international profile. The Saudis revoked his passport in 1994, and his oldest brother, Bakr, contemporaneously announced the family's "regret, denunciation, and condemnation" of Osama's behavior. As mentioned earlier, the State Department announced in 1996 that bin Laden was the greatest singlefinancier of terrorist projects in the world. Even though he hadn't killed very many infidels, his organizational talents had not gone unnoticed.
The first American effort to disrupt Al Qaeda's operations came in the same year1996when the Clinton administration encouraged the Sudanese government to expel bin Laden, thereby forcing his relocation to Afghanistan. It was not a great success for American counterterrorism; Al Qaeda quickly built a new network of terrorist training camps in Afghanistan. Worse still, the Taliban regime proved even more supportive than the Sudanese, and it's fair to say that Afghanistan under Mullah Omar was the world's second radical Islamic terrorist state (after Khomeini's Iran). His home base secured, bin Laden sent additional troops to train in the traditional places: Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon's Bekka Valley, the long-standing Iran/Syria joint venture.
Thanks to court testimony from persons involved in the 1998 bombings of the American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, we know a good deal about Al Qaeda's internal structure. We know there is a governing council called the Shura, which controls various other councils that manage the military, financial, communications, and intelligence needs of the group. In short, it's a national security apparatus under the overall command of Osama. So long as he was based in Afghanistan, there was a convenientoverlap between Al Qaeda and the Taliban state. But once the Taliban was destroyed, bin Laden needed increased assistance from the other state sponsors.
The Nature of the Terror Network
Western intelligence services have long been reluctant to accept the fact that modern Islamic terrorism is above all else a weapon used by hostile nation states against their enemies in the Middle East and in the West. Although testimony from Director of Central Intelligence George Tenet has moved steadily toward accepting a far greater degree of organization, the CIA long maintained that even an organization as well structured as Al Qaeda is a "loose association" of terrorist groups, a definition that is crafted with a political intent. First of all, it suggests a certain spontaneity to the elements of the terror network, avoiding any implication of control or decisive influence, either from a state or from a terror master like bin Laden. As late as the end of 2001, the CIA insisted that while the various groups and even national intelligence services may have cooperated in some operations, they did not constitute a well-organized terrorist network.
The intelligence community fought against the notion of a coherent terror network throughout 2001,demonstrating once again how abysmal our intelligence continued to be. On the last day of the year, James Risen of The New York Times reported on classified American documents showing that there had been contacts between Al Qaeda and Iranian intelligence officers in 1995 and 1996 (before bin Laden's move to Afghanistan). Risen's article, clearly reflecting the convictions of CIA analysts, noted that "Iran ... has tended to support Shi'ite-based extremist groups like Hizbollah ... rather than Sunni Muslim extremists like Al Qaeda."23
Yet the same article noted that an American grand jury had indicted thirteen Saudis (heavy favorites to be Sunni) and a Lebanese in the 1996 Khobar Towers bombing. And "the indictment implicated Iranian officials ..." In other words, radical Shi'as and Sunnis worked together.
We may never know the full story, for when the Saudis found convincing witnesses, they promptly decapitated them before any American could interrogate them. Probably the Saudis, too, were afraid of the consequences if they permitted the witnesses to identify the Iranian terror masters. As Risen wrote, "the Bush Administration, like the Clinton Administration before it, has been eager to improve relations with Iran and has not talked of it as a possible target in President Bush's new global campaign against terror." It would be hard to have improvedrelations with a country that was actively killing your own citizens.
The unwillingness to recognize that Iran and Al Qaeda were working together prevented us from understanding the nature of the terror network, and blinded us to what was actually going on on the ground in Afghanistan. The best way to think of the terror network is as a collection of mafia families. Sometimes they cooperate, sometimes they argue, sometimes they even kill one another. But they can always put aside their differences whenever there is a common enemy. As in The Godfather, sometimes the Barzinis and the Corleones and the others join together to fight the feds. In this case, we're up against all five families, not just one. If they killed us, they'd go back to fighting over turf and methods. But in the meantime, it's all for one and one for all.
If American policy makers had understood this, we might have had better success in capturing Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan. As American forces hunted for him and for other Al Qaeda leaders, American intelligence officers focused their attention on the eastern border with Pakistan instead of toward the western border with Iran. When I asked a top analyst at the CIA in December 2001 why we were not more concerned about the possibility that bin Laden would be rescued by the Iranians, I was patiently told that this was highly unlikely since Sunnisand Shi'ites just didn't work together that closely. Yet the CIA soon had dramatic evidence of Sunni-Shi'ite cooperation in the celebrated case of the Karine A, the ship loaded with tons of explosives and Iranian weapons intercepted in early 2002 by the Israeli Defense Forces en route from Dubaia major Iranian operational baseto the Palestinian Authority. Iran is the operational definition of Shi'ism, and the Palestinians are Sunnis.24 The weapons were Iranian and the ship and its captain were Sunni. If that didn't cause our experts to reconsider the theory of unbridgeable Sunni/Shi'ite hostility, what would?
And how would they explain the intimate cooperationnow a full thirty years of itbetween Iranian Shi'ites and Syrian Alawites in Lebanon, where Hizbollah received support and protection from both governments?
By mid-February, 2002, all that had changed. The president was able to see the picture more clearly than many of his Middle East experts. Bush listed Iran as a charter member of the "axis of evil," Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld announced his displeasure with Iranian assistance to escaping Al Qaeda terrorists and surviving Taliban fighters, and Bill Gertz of the Washington Times reported that we were aware of "scores" of Iranian military and intelligence officers operating deep inside Afghanistan to destabilize the interim government and drive outAmerican forces. Having finally gathered firsthand intelligence on the ground in Afghanistan, Pentagon officials spoke openly about Al Qaeda fighters moving into Iran, some of them transiting the country for destinations from the Palestinian Authority to Yemen. Others remained, having found a safe haven in the Islamic Republic. Given all this, no one in the Pentagon was surprised in early May 2002, when Israel sank yet another ship carrying weapons from the Iranian-sponsored Hizbollah to the Palestinians in Gaza.
The U.S. intelligence community, which had scoffed at the very idea of Iran/Al Qaeda cooperation, now seriously considered the possibility that bin Laden himself was hiding in the Islamic Republic. Nobody knew exactly where bin Laden had found refuge, but it would be entirely in character for the Shi'ite tyrants in Tehran to hide him. Their faith revolves around a "vanished imam," and they would understand that bin Laden might become even more powerful if he, too, vanished. The Iranians were adept at creating myths; they would relish turning bin Laden into a legendary figure. "Vanishing" bin Laden inside Iran would be easy, since, in addition to the normal hiding places in a country of seventy million people, there was a vast covert facility: The Chinese and North Koreans had dug an elaborate network of tunnels just north of Tehran, where weapons,ammunition, laboratories, and guests requiring total privacy could be secreted. Bin Laden was used to living in caves and tunnels, after all.
In all probability, the working relationship between Al Qaeda and Iran was forged in the Afghan war against the Soviet Union, and continued uninterrupted throughout the nineties. There were certainly many contacts during Osama's Sudan years, and while his move to Afghanistan and his intimate relationship with the Taliban (an enemy of Iran) undoubtedly caused problems, the link was never broken. Indeed, people in a position to know claim that shortly after September 11, bin Laden sent a video cassette to Tehran, thanking the Iranian leaders for their precious assistance.
Iran's intentions with regard to Afghanistan were crystal clear: Iranian mullahs and ayatollahs wanted to turn Afghanistan into a second Lebanon. In the 1980s the Iranians' fearsome Islamic terrorist organization, Hizbollah, had driven out the Americans by taking hostages and blowing up military and diplomatic facilities, and in the nineties similar methods had driven out the Israelis. The mullahs hoped to use the same methods to achieve the same glorious result in Afghanistan. It was no accident that anti-Israeli terrorism increased dramatically after the defeat of the Taliban; it was part of the counteroffensive by the terror masters.
Just as they did in Lebanon in the eighties andnineties, all elements in the network cooperate with one another today. After Bush's "axis of evil" speech, Iran, Iraq, and Syria designed contingency plans in the event of an American attack against any one of them, and Iranian officials flew to North Korea for consultations. By mid-March 2002, there were twice-weekly flights of transport planes between Tehran and Iraq, there were regular flights between Iran and Saudi Arabia, and to and from Damascus. Intelligence operatives from Baghdad, Tehran, and Damascus were planning anti-Israeli operations based in Lebanon. On March 9, the London Daily Telegraph reported that the United States and Britain had concluded that Iran and Iraq were cooperating closely to rescue Al Qaeda survivors from Afghanistan ("large numbers of Al Qaeda and Taliban fighters were seen in northern Iraq after fleeing Afghanistan"), and that Iran was helping Saddam rearm. Moreover, American and British intelligence sources told the Telegraph that Iran and Iraq had "connived ... to allow Al Qaeda fighters to use Iraqi airspace to fly from Iran to Lebanon after the fall of the Taliban regime ..."25
Al Qaeda had lost its operational base in Afghanistan, but it had quickly acquired a new one in Lebanon and the Palestinian Authority. Bin Laden had lost a battle, but was still engaged in holy war against the West. And he had the full support of the ruling terror masters in the Middle East.
The terror war started in Afghanistan, against binLaden and the Taliban. It continued as the most lethal of our enemiesIranmoved onto the battlefield. Meanwhile, the other terror masters advanced apace. Saddam Hussein was rebuilding his facilities to produce weapons of mass destruction, as well as the missiles he needed to deliver them onto neighboring territory, especially Israel. Power in Syria passed from Hafez al-Assad to his son Bashar with no noticeable change in policy; Syria refused to even discuss the possibility of arresting or expelling the terrorist groups under her protection, and they continued full cooperation with Iran, Hizbollah, and Al Qaeda in Lebanon.
And all the while, largely unnoticed by the experts, a network of radical Islamic mosques and schools was spreading all over the United States, raising young American Muslims to hate Jews and Christians, and encouraging them to join the terrorist ranks, even if it meant their own martyrdom.
THE WAR AGAINST THE TERROR MASTERS. Copyright © 2002, 2003 by Michael A. Ledeen. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews. For information, address St. Martin's Press, 175 Fifth Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10010.
Meet the Author
Michael A. Ledeen, a noted political analyst and highly knowledgeable about the Near East, is a resident scholar at the American Enterprises Institute. He is the author of Machiavelli on Modern Leadership and Tocqueville on American Character. A contributer to The Wall Street Journal, he lives and works in Washington, D.C.
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