The US is fighting a blind man’s war on terror

Almost all the recent terror attacks on America have been carried out by people known to US intelligence.

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 (ISI).
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 and West.”
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 Muslim community.”
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 Muslim.”
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 parents divorced.
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.
As an 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.
However, Headley 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 deaths.
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 step behind.
The writer is a PhD researcher at Hebrew University and a fellow at the Jerusalem Institute for Market Studies.