For a week, Israel and Hamas have engaged in a war in and around Gaza, one in which thousands of rockets and bombs have been expended, scores have died, and tens of thousands have been forced to take cover. But to the north in Lebanon, Hezbollah, the Islamic militia that rained destruction on Israel in a 2006 war, held its fire. Why?
The consensus among U.S. government analysts and academic experts is that Hezbollah, which has controlled the Lebanese government for more than four years, believes discretion is the better part of valor. As it has in the past, as in Israel’s Cast Lead Operation against Hamas at the end of 2008, Hezbollah decided against creating a diversion that would have helped its like-minded but only sometime ally.
Roger Cressey, NBC News analyst and former deputy counterterrorism director for the National Security Council, notes that Hezbollah is now essentially the government in Lebanon and has different responsibilities, different agendas. “There has never been a correlation between events in Gaza and Hezbollah’s strategic decision-making,” says Cressey.
That doesn’t mean Hezbollah wants to make peace with Israel, just that it’s biding its time, and more importantly that, in the words of more than one analyst, “it has no dog in this fight.”
“Hezbollah is now the party in control of the Lebanese government,” Dr. Robert Danin, Council on Foreign Relations senior fellow, told journalists in a conference call Tuesday. “That has a way of moderating one’s behavior. If they attacked Israel, they know they would be taking the state of Lebanon to war.”
Danin said Israel has made the distinction known to Hezbollah.
The F.B.I. agent who helped start the investigation that led to the resignation of David H. Petraeus as C.I.A. director is a “hard-charging” veteran counterterrorism investigator who used his command of French in investigating the foiled “millennium” terrorist plot in 1999, colleagues said on Wednesday.
The agent, Frederick W. Humphries II, 47, took the initial complaint from Jill Kelley, the Tampa, Fla., hostess who was socially active in military circles there, about e-mails she found disturbing that accused her of inappropriately flirtatious behavior toward Mr. Petraeus. The subsequent cyberstalking investigation uncovered an extramarital affair between Mr. Petraeus and Paula Broadwell, his biographer, who agents determined had sent the anonymous e-mails. It also ensnared Gen. John R. Allen, who now commands troops in Afghanistan, after the investigation discovered that he had sent “inappropriate communication” to Ms. Kelley.
Colleagues and news reports described the role of Mr. Humphries, in just his third year at the F.B.I., in building the case against Ahmed Ressam, who was detained as he tried to enter the United States from Canada in 1999 with a plan to set off a bomb at Los Angeles International Airport.
President Obama is considering asking Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.) to serve as his next defense secretary, part of an extensive rearrangement of his national security team that will include a permanent replacement for former CIA director David H. Petraeus.
Although Kerry is thought to covet the job of secretary of state, senior administration officials familiar with the transition planning said that nomination will almost certainly go to Susan E. Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.
John O. Brennan, Obama’s chief counterterrorism adviser, is a leading contender for the CIA job if he wants it, officials said. If Brennan goes ahead with his plan to leave government, Michael J. Morell, the agency’s acting director, is the prohibitive favorite to take over permanently. Officials cautioned that the White House discussions are still in the early stages and that no decisions have been made.
There was good news and not such good news from the New York Police Department Wednesday at its annual “High Holy Days briefing” before Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, held at 1 Police Plaza, the department’s headquarters near the Brooklyn Bridge.
Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly discussed the discouraging news with an audience of mostly bearded men in black coats and yarmulkes who filled the NYPD’s auditorium: this year has seen a “sharp increase in the operational tempo” of Hezbollah, the militant Shiite political party, key player in Lebanon’s fractious politics (it acts as Iran’s “proxy” in Lebanon), and source of deadly terrorist strikes against Israel, other Jews, and the U.S. since its creation three decades ago. Kelly said that Hezbollah’s or Iran’s fingerprints have been found on at least nine terrorist plots around the world since January, showing a capability and relentlessness of obvious concern to the NYPD and its vaunted counterterrorism division. The acceleration of such plots and the diversity of their locales—Bulgaria, Thailand, Cyprus, New Delhi, Kenya, and Azerbaijan—demonstrate that the July 18 strike on a busload of Israeli tourists at Burgas airport in Bulgaria, which killed seven and injured 21, “was not an isolated event,” said the NYPD’s new head of intelligence research, Rebecca Weiner (that’s “We-Iner,” as she gently corrected a rabbi who had mispronounced her name).
The better news, Weiner said, was that there has been no specific threat against Israeli or other Jewish targets in the New York metropolitan area as the High Holy Days approach. And while Iran and Hezbollah have plotted strikes in several countries with growing frequency, most have failed or been foiled, causing relatively few deaths or injuries.
A magnetic bomb detonated on a diplomatic car in New Delhi. The police uncovered a cache of explosives at a golf course in the Kenyan city of Mombasa. Five Israeli tourists and a Bulgarian bus driver were killed in an attack outside the airport in the Black Sea coastal city of Burgas.»
These were just a few of what some Israeli and American intelligence officials say were nearly a dozen plots that form the backbone of a continuing offensive by Iran and Hezbollah against Israel and its allies abroad. But the links seem tenuous at times, the tactics variable, the targets scattered across the globe, from the Caucasus to Southeast Asia to the Mediterranean.
“This is not a spy thriller that necessarily has a plot readers can follow from page to page,” said Matthew Levitt, director of the program on counterterrorism and intelligence at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. “Iran and Hezbollah both thrive on reasonable deniability.”
Analysts say the shadow war pitting Israel against Iran and Hezbollah has more in common with the cloak-and-dagger maneuverings of the C.I.A. and the K.G.B. during the cold war than the publicity-hungry terrorism campaign of Al Qaeda. It represents a return to the idea that the most effective attack is often an ambiguous one.
“They want just enough ambiguity that you can’t nail down that they did it, the seed of doubt that makes it difficult for Israel or the United States to respond,” said Andrew Exum, a senior fellow with the Center for a New American Security in Washington. The undercover conflict signaled “a return to the black arts of the cold war,” he said.
Daryl Johnson had a sinking feeling when he started seeing TV reports on Sunday about a shooting in a Wisconsin temple. “I told my wife, ‘This is likely a hate crime perpetrated by a white supremacist who may have had military experience,’” Johnson recalls.
It was anything but a lucky guess on Johnson’s part. He spent 15 years studying domestic terrorist groups — particularly white supremacists and neo-Nazis — as a government counterterrorism analyst, the last six of them at the Department of Homeland Security. There, he even homebrewed his own database on far-right extremist groups on an Oracle platform, allowing his analysts to compile and sift reporting in the media and other law-enforcement agencies on radical and potentially violent groups.
But Johnson’s career took an unexpected turn in 2009, when an analysis he wrote on the rise of “Right-Wing Extremism” (.pdf) sparked a political controversy. Under pressure from conservatives, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) repudiated Johnson’s paper — an especially bitter pill for him to swallow now that Wade Michael Page, a suspected white supremacist, killed at least six people at a Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin. For Johnson, the shooting was a reminder that the government’s counterterrorism efforts are almost exclusively focused on al-Qaida, even as non-Islamist groups threaten Americans domestically.
“DHS is scoffing at the mission of doing domestic counterterrorism, as is Congress,” Johnson tells Danger Room. “There’ve been no hearings about the rising white supremacist threat, but there’s been a long list of attacks over the last few years. But they still hold hearings about Muslim extremism. It’s out of balance.” But even if that balance was reset, he concedes, that doesn’t necessarily mean the feds could have found Page before Sunday’s rampage.
Not long ago, banner ads showing coffins draped with American flags started appearing on websites in Yemen. They had been placed by supporters of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. Their message was that Americans were the enemy and Al Qaeda was killing them.
A few days later people working for the U.S. State Department posted banners on the same websites, only this time the coffins were covered with Yemeni flags, photoshopped into the image. The message also had changed. This time it said that most of the people killed by Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula were Yemen.
For all the attention paid to drone strikes and intelligence coups, the daily grind of counterterrorism is as much a digital parry and thrust, a continuous war of words and ideas played out on websites, chat rooms, forums, blogs and Twitter feeds. Now, experts will tell you, it’s all about the cyber-narrative.
And the State Department, specifically a group within it called the Center for Strategic Counterterrorism Communications, is taking on this role with tools and techniques few could have imagined in the days after 9/11. Among other things, they’re training people to be trolls.
ASPEN, Colorado — There have been acts of sabotage, assassinations, explosions, and cyberattack. But the increasingly violent shadow war between the U.S., Israel, Iran, and its allies haven’t hit targets on American soil — yet. That could change before too long, the administration’s current and former top analysts of terror threats warned.
“We’re seeing a general uptick in the level of activity around the world. Both Hezbollah and the [Iranian] Quods Force have demonstrated an an ability to operate essentially globally,” Matt Olsen, director of the National Counterterrorism Center, told an audience of more than a hundred security professionals gathered here on Thursday.
“There are times when we are briefing the White House [on terror threats that] at the top of the list are Hezbollah or Iran,” Olsen added. The al-Qaeda network of Sunni extremists is still America’s undisputed Public Enemy #1. But for the first time in a long time, there’s competition, at least week-to-week.
“It’s going to take a long time to win this war,” President George W. Bush told a group of Pentagon employees on September 17, 2001, six days after the terrorist attacks that marked a new era in global history. “Americans should not expect one battle but a lengthy campaign, unlike any other we have ever seen,” he said, three days later, at a joint session of Congress. Bush was right. More than a decade after 9/11, Osama Bin Laden is dead and many of his top associates have been killed or captured. And yet the endless war against Islamist terrorists—already the longest war in American history—continues on several fronts, in several countries, with no end in sight.
An endless war, and an endless emergency too. “A national emergency exists by reason of the terrorist attacks at the World Trade Center, New York, New York, and the Pentagon, and the continuing and immediate threat of further attacks on the United States,” Bush declared, three days after 9/11. Bush renewed the emergency declaration every subsequent year of his presidency. President Barack Obama renewed it as well every year in office. “The terrorist threat that led to the declaration on September 14, 2001, of a national emergency continues,” he proclaimed. “For this reason, I have determined that it is necessary to continue in effect … the national emergency with respect to the terrorist threat.”
War and emergency invariably shift power to the presidency. Permanent war and permanent emergency threaten to make the shift permanent. George W. Bush’s counterterrorism initiatives—warrantless surveillance, targeted killings, detention without trial, military commissions, limitations on habeas corpus, aggressive interrogations, and much more—were unthinkable on September 10, 2001. Bush succeeded in preventing another attack on the homeland, an accomplishment he described as the “most meaningful” of his presidency.
But many believe that his success came at an unacceptable cost to American legal traditions, and that he destroyed the constitutional separation of powers by violating scores of laws and snubbing Congress. “Decades from now,” said Republican Senator Arlen Specter at the twilight of the Bush presidency, “historians will look back on the period from 9/11 to the present as an era of unbridled executive power and Congressional ineffectiveness.”
No, that’s not sarcasm, this guy Kharoba is actually teaching so called counter-terrorism courses to Florida cops from his home. Home schooling. For law enforcement. I wish I was kidding, but I’m not.
What are these police departments thinking? Americans’ lives depend on law enforcement getting this stuff right. Do they even Google these guys before they hire them? It seems they don’t, and that anyone with a Arabic name and a few connections can open up a counter-terrorism workshop in his garage or whatever.
Googling Sam Kharoba brings up no less than two articles from reputable sources in the first page of results in which a very unflattering light is shone on him. For anyone who has a lick of sense, that should be enough to immediately raise red flags about his qualifications as an “expert” :
How We Train Our Cops to Fear Islam —The Washington Monthly (March/April 2011)
Annals of the great post-9/11 panic: Teaching cops nonsense about Islam —Foreign Policy Magazine (March 2, 2011)
Note: I read both of the articles above when they came out. The first one was posted here at LGF, I believe by iceweasel.
This situation of law enforcement hiring do-it-yourself “experts” with little or no professional credentials in the field of counter-terrorism is untenable. It’s insanely irresponsible and dangerous—it could cost you, me, or any of our loved ones their lives.
People say Muslims don’t speak out enough. Well, here are Muslim all across Florida raising an alarm. Will anyone listen, or will they just say Muslims are looking for “special treatment” or trying to escape scrutiny? I’m going to say it for the umpteenth time: Know who your enemies are, and who your enemies AREN’T, and don’t say we didn’t try to warn you about the snake oil salesmen.
I honestly don’t know what else to say. When are we going to learn? Why isn’t the government putting a stop to this?
There’s a call to dialogue, from a small Muslim community to law enforcement officials, echoing across Florida.
It’s a call for understanding, tolerance and education, to cross cultural boundary lines and request leaders on both sides to ask questions, share a meal and discuss concerns.
The call comes in response to one Cape Coral man’s at-home counterterrorism training business, which he’s used to train thousands of law enforcement officials around the nation for a decade.
Last week, at two news conferences held by the Florida chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, representatives from 30 mosques and Islamic centers and other individuals around the state announced they’d sent a letter to Florida Department of Law Enforcement Commissioner Gerald Bailey, denouncing Sam Kharoba and calling for him to be removed from teaching courses.
They allege Kharoba makes “sweeping generalizations” about Muslims and say he’s not qualified to teach, let alone train police about their religion. They want the chance to set the record straight and don’t understand why, if local police departments wanted information on Islam, they didn’t come to the source.