Nothing makes me feel warmer inside than the thought of worms inside Osama bin Laden. But in the greater war on terror, his death is a blip. That should be plenty clear, especially given the dire warnings of the last day or so.
But Osama’s irrelevance, beyond mere symbolism, has been clear for a long time now to anybody paying attention.
The police have to factor terrorism into “everything we do,” Mr. Kelly said. If that means following leads that take NYPD undercover detectives into mosques, Islamic bookstores, Muslim student associations, cafes and nightclubs, so be it. Mr. Kelly vowed to continue stationing liaisons in 11 cities abroad to “ask the New York question”—much to the occasional chagrin of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the CIA.
It was an undercover officer in an Islamic bookstore who helped stop Shahawar Matin Siraj, a homegrown Muslim extremist and self-professed al Qaeda admirer, from bombing the Herald Square subway station during the 2004 Republican convention, Mr. Kelly said. Another undercover officer prevented homegrown terrorists Ahmed Ferhani, 26, and Mohamed Mamdouh, 20, from bombing a Manhattan synagogue and trying to “take out the entire building.”
Would he continue sending NYPD officers across the Hudson into deepest, darkest New Jersey? Yes, he declared, if that was what was needed to keep tabs on the likes of Carlos Almonte and Mohammed Alessa—al Qaeda sympathizers arrested en route to Somalia at JFK Airport in 2010 “who were determined to receive terrorist training abroad only to return home to kill us here.”
Michael Sheehan, a former NYPD deputy commissioner for counterterrorism, says that the NYPD has succeeded thanks to its collection and sharing of domestic and foreign intelligence through “humint” (human sources) and “sigint” (signals intelligence) such as electronic intercepts and the monitoring of Internet, cellphone and other communications. Tip-offs from concerned family or community members have also been vital.
Sigint was key in disrupting at least two of the most serious al Qaeda plots targeting New York since 9/11: the 2006 “Liquid Bomb Plot,” or “Operation Overt,” in which 25 British citizens of Pakistani descent targeted some seven transatlantic commercial flights from London to North America; and Operation Highrise, an attempt to use suicide bombers to blow up New York City subways in 2009.
The homegrown Islamist in that plot was Najibullah Zazi, an Afghan immigrant with al Qaeda ties who grew up in New York City and staged his operation from there and Colorado. In Zazi’s case, investigators say, officials were initially tipped off by the intercept of an email he sent from Colorado to an address in Pakistan that was associated with another group of terrorists who had been arrested earlier that year in Manchester, England.
The “link man,” or coordinator in Pakistan, writes Mitchell D. Silber, director of Intelligence Analysis for the New York Police Department, in his forthcoming book, “The Al Qaeda Factor,” was corresponding with operatives in three different al Qaeda plots. Zazi’s New York subway plot took off only after he contacted the coordinator, identified only as “Ahmad,” and informed him that the “wedding,” or suicide operation, “was ready to proceed,” writes Mr. Silber.
Another serious plot that was disrupted thanks to Internet intercepts was a 2006 scheme by Assem Hammoud, a 31-year-old Lebanese al Qaeda member, and several other still unnamed Islamists—all overseas—to flood Lower Manhattan by setting off explosives in the PATH railway tunnels under the Hudson River. While no arrests in America were made, several suspects have been detained in Lebanon and other Arab states.
Mr. Silber argues that humint has proven even more valuable than sigint in detecting and thwarting homegrown threats—the fastest-growing category of militant Islamist terror. This explains Mr. Kelly’s determination to preserve the NYPD’s vast intelligence capabilities, even if he’s forced to scale back elsewhere in the department due to budget cuts.
With Osama bin Laden dead and al Qaeda under pressure, some terrorism experts argue, as does Peter Bergen, author of the book “The Longest War,” that al Qaeda, or at least its “core,” “no longer poses a national security threat” to America “that could result in a mass-casualty attack anywhere close to the scale of 9/11.”
Mr. Kelly isn’t buying it. He’s fixated on the recent jump in homegrown extremist plots throughout the country—to 10 in 2009 and 12 in 2010 from four in 2007 and just one in 2005.
Many of us have wondered, though few have had the nerve to speak of it, when Al Qaeda would scale down its ambitions from 9/11-style fireballs to smaller-scale, but equally terrifying attacks. Obviously, they already have.
The idea that Al Qaeda has been emasculated into some sort of harem eunuch is absurd. Al Qaeda doesn’t need an HQ or a CEO if it has branch offices in bookstores, mosques, and taxi companies across the world. Ideologies and the Internet were made for each other, the former being spread by the latter without hindrance or counter argument.
We are indeed fighting “The Longest War”, but do we understand that? Do we have enough faith in our society to defend it indefinitely? Now that George Bush is well-removed from the picture, now that Obama’s flattering speeches to the world’s Muslims have fallen on deaf ears, his embrace of the Arab Spring rebuffed by the hardline Islamists who have sprung up in its vernal warmth—do liberals or Americans in general understand that the question isn’t “Why do they hate us?”, or even “Why do they hate?”—but “Do they hate?”
The answer to that one is simple, and our response clear.
PS: From another WSJ piece this morning:
One exchange sticks in Mr. Mukasey’s mind for what is says about both the terrorists’ mindset and America’s vulnerability. The informant and one of the defendants were walking along a New York street “looking for a piece of electronics that they could use as a detonator. The [defendant] starts to talk about, ‘Look at this society—how open it is. You can get anything here. You can get these electronics, you can get’—he segues from that to Playboy magazine and pornography and the whole span of things that are available in an open society. It was a combination of awe and contempt—awe at the openness and contempt at the notion that people could do anything they wanted. . . . The bottom line is we were ripe for plucking because of all of this.”
You’ll pry that Playboy out of my cold, dead hands.
PPS: From later in that same piece:
Judiciary Committee Democrats, led by Chairman Patrick Leahy (and again including Mr. Schumer), demanded that he deliver a legal opinion he was not qualified to render. At issue was the CIA’s program that subjected high-value detainees to “enhanced interrogation,” a designation Mr. Mukasey calls “probably the worst marketing since new Coke.”
“Not having seen, and not being cleared to see, the CIA program, I was asked to pronounce that waterboarding, in the abstract . . . was torture,” Mr. Mukasey recalls. He refused. “In retrospect, I’m very glad I did that, because then I read about the program, and it didn’t violate the torture statute. . . . The torture statute defines torture as acting under color of law so as to cause severe physical or mental pain or suffering, and severe mental pain or suffering is defined in durational terms.” Waterboarding “didn’t produce physical pain . . . and there were no lasting psychological effects,” so it was permissible under the law.
By the time Mr. Mukasey took office, the question was moot anyway. He learned that the Bush administration had suspended enhanced interrogation. The Obama administration went further, barring the CIA from interrogating terrorists altogether. “The current interrogation regime is limited to the Army Field Manual,” which, Mr. Mukasey notes, “has been available on the Internet for years and is used as a training device by terrorists.”
Exactly. Al Qaeda doesn’t issue a magnifying glass or a decoder ring to anyone who can’t withstand Army Field Manuel interrogation tactics while reciting the Koran backward in pig latin. And we use waterboarding as training on our own operatives.
Thanks, O, for keeping us safe.
PPPS: Yet more:
A vigorous critic of the Obama administration, he is not impressed when I point out that except for interrogation, Mr. Obama has ended up largely continuing his predecessor’s antiterror policies.
“Where they were coming from was articulated during the campaign, which was they felt that we had overstepped,” he says, noting that “the first thing [President Obama] did was sign an order closing Guantanamo. . . . They’ve done as much as they think they have to do, but . . . their instincts, I don’t think, are in it.”
“Look at the paper that the president issued back in August on dealing with terrorism—’community cooperation’ or something of that sort. It’s meant to sound like harmless pap. It isn’t, really. It suggests that the thing we have to worry about most in the United States is a backlash against Muslims.”
He does have a few points of agreement with the administration. He praises the use of drone strikes against terrorists, and he thinks the appointments of Mr. Panetta at the Pentagon and Gen. David Petraeus as CIA director will enhance cooperation between the military and the intelligence community. And, of course, “the most commendable thing [Mr. Obama] did—the gutsiest thing he did—was the killing of bin Laden. He didn’t do it with a drone strike, he did it in a way that would allow exploiting whatever intelligence we could find and in a way that . . . we could be sure that we got him, and that it was him that we got.”
But that leads to a caveat: “It was a mistake to disclose that we had found a trove of information. We could have done without disclosing that, because obviously the people who dealt with [bin Laden] directly . . . I’ve got to believe that some of them changed their daily habits.” It’s reminiscent of the release of that list of co-conspirators back in the 1990s, except that this time it was an unforced error.
So was the ’08 election.