Recently released WikiLeaks documents describing American involvement in Iraq
detail suspected Iranian involvement in undermining government authority and
supporting terrorism. The leaked intelligence assessments and reports reveal
suspected Iranian training of terrorists and even mortar shipments. This comes
on the heels of documents leaked in July that detail Pakistani involvement in
support of the Taliban, through elements of its Inter-Services Intelligence
Iranian meddling in Iraq and Pakistani involvement in undermining
the US in Afghanistan are just two examples of the way in which America is
turning a blind eye to the networks of terror, and fighting a reactive war on
several fronts. Documents obtained by Fox News in October reportedly show that
Anwar al-Awlaki, whose targeted killing the US has approved, was once a guest at
the Pentagon. He is known today for his connections to Nidal Malik Hassan,
perpetrator of the Fort Hood massacre, Northwest Airlines 253 bomber Umar Farouk
Abdulmuttallab and Times Square bomber Faisal Shahzad.
He was a long-term
radical Islamist. Born in New Mexico, he was raised in Yemen, where his father
was agriculture minister. Both he and his father studied at American
universities. In 1993 he journeyed to Afghanistan to fight in the Taliban’s
jihad. But this didn’t stop him from being welcomed to study at Colorado and San
Diego State universities. In a post 9/11 New York Times article he was
highlighted as a moderate imam of a Falls Church, Virginia mosque. The Times
said he was part of “a new generation of Muslim leaders capable of merging East
Toward that end he was also appointed a Muslim chaplain at
George Washington University.
Awlaki had contacts with various terrorists
and terror financing organizations from 1999, for which the FBI investigated
him. However, just after 9/11 the Pentagon invited him to a luncheon as part of
an “informal outreach program” designed to contact “leading members of the
The meeting was arranged by a Pentagon employee who
had attended one of his speeches.
In a March 2010 tape he released from a
hiding place in Yemen, Awlaki said, “To the Muslims in America, I have this to
say: How can your conscience allow you to live in peaceful coexistence with a
nation that is responsible for the tyranny and crimes committed against your own
brothers and sisters? I eventually came to the conclusion that jihad against
America is binding upon myself just as it is binding upon every other able
THE STORY about how oblivious the Pentagon was to Awlaki’s
Islamism is not nearly as alarming as the recently released information
regarding David (Daoud) Headley. Born to a Pakistani diplomat employed by Voice
of America and an American mother in 1960, he was raised in Pakistan after his
He attended an elite boarding school, but returned to
the US in 1977 and began working at his mother’s bar. He married an American
woman. He was arrested for drug trafficking in 1988 and, in exchange for a
lighter sentence became a Drug Enforcement Agency informant.
informant, he began making trips to Pakistan, where he cultivated contacts with
the Islamic terrorist organization Lashkar e-Taiba. The US claims it discharged
him as an agent in 2001. In 2005, after marrying another American woman, he was
detained due to a domestic violence complaint. At this time his wife told
authorities of his Islamist connections.
Headley returned to Pakistan,
this time with a young Moroccan wife named Faiza Outalha. He had made contact
with Pakistan’s ISI and an agent, Major Iqbal, who was also a liaison with
Lashkar e-Taiba. Headley became involved with the terror plot to attack Mumbai
in India, and he and his wife are alleged to have carried out scouting missions
in India, with him disguised as a wealthy playboy.
In 2007 Outalha barged
her way into the US Embassy in Islamabad with information that her husband had
become a terrorist. She met twice with an assistant regional security officer.
She claims the Americans told her to “get lost.”
A US administration
official claims that “the texture of the meeting was that her husband was
involved with bad people, and they were planning jihad... But she gave no
details about who was involved, or what they planned to target.” On November 26,
2008 terrorists murdered almost 200 people in Mumbai – the partial fruits, it
appears, of Headley’s labor. Furthermore, he was accused in a US court in 2009
of plotting attacks against a Danish newspaper and synagogue. India believes he
was deeply involved in the conspiracy against Mumbai.
has cooperated the US investigators in hopes of a lighter sentence, and has not
been turned over to the Indian authorities.
If the Headley and Awlaki
affairs aren’t cause for concern, one should recall that almost all the recent
terror attacks on America have been carried out by people known to US
intelligence. The FBI intercepted 18 e-mails between Nidal Hassan and Awlaki
between December 2008 and June 2009, and yet nothing was done to prevent his
November 5 shooting spree at Fort Hood that resulted in 13
Abdulmutallab was also on US intelligence radar, and yet he
boarded a flight to Detroit on Christmas 2009 without red flags being raised.
Shahzad travelled back and forth to Pakistan in 2009 and 2010, and yet this
caused no alarm at US intelligence. The failings are clear.
What is more
shocking is the fact that so many high-profile terrorists were so close to the
US government. Headley was an informant, Awlaki came to the Pentagon as a guest.
But the pattern of intelligence failure (Shahzad), intelligence gathered but not
used (Abdulmutallab and Hassan) and terrorists consciously overlooked (Awlaki
and Headley) is only part of the larger pattern on the ground in Iraq and
Afghanistan, where the US has its head in the sand regarding Pakistani and
Iranian collaboration with those killing Americans.
The decision to
remain blind runs up and down the line, from the halls of power that shape
policy toward the US’s “ally” Pakistan, down to the lowest analysts and
assistant regional security officers in Islamabad, who turned away Outalha. This
isn’t failure, this is systematic shortsightedness. America is in a complete
state of denial.
Until the US realizes that the front line on terror is
in Pakistan and Iran, in Yemen and among numerous people in the world who are in
touch with men like Awlaki, it will always be reacting to attacks, always one
The writer is a PhD researcher at Hebrew University and a
fellow at the Jerusalem Institute for Market Studies.