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Archive for the 'Terrorism' Category

Monday, December 4th, 2017

Book Giveaway! Silencing the Bomb One Scientist’s Quest to Halt Nuclear Testing

“When he signed the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty in 1996, President Bill Clinton called it ‘the longest-sought, hardest-fought prize in arms control history.’ Lynn R. Sykes was one of the leading scientists in that half-century-long battle. Although testing has stopped—except in North Korea—Republican opposition has blocked ratification of this treaty in the U.S. Senate. Sykes’ lucid inside accounts of the science underlying the detection of nuclear testing and the battles over the test ban’s verifiability are therefore not just of historical interest but also relevant to contemporary concerns.”
– Frank von Hippel, cofounder, Program on Science and Global Security, Princeton University

This week, our featured book is Silencing the Bomb One Scientist’s Quest to Halt Nuclear Testing, by Lynn R. Sykes. Throughout the week, we will be featuring content about the book and its author on our blog as well as on our Twitter feed and our Facebook page.

Monday, June 19th, 2017

The Curious Legacy of James Comey

The Age of Lone Wolf Terrorism

The following is a guest post from Mark S. Hamm, coauthor of The Age of Lone Wolf Terrorism:

The Curious Legacy of James Comey
By Mark S. Hamm

Say what you will about James Comey—to his supporters the fired FBI Director is a bona fide American hero while President Trump has derided him as a “showboat” and a “nut job”—but of this we can be sure: Comey’s revelations concerning Donald Trump’s possible attempt to obstruct justice in the investigation of Russia’s interference in the 2016 elections has deflected public attention away from Comey’s performance as the nation’s top law enforcement official in the fight against domestic terrorism. He has much to answer for. The United States experienced more than two dozen terrorist attacks under Comey’s watch (September 2013-May 2017), including the ISIS-inspired mass shootings in San Bernardino and Orlando, along with shooting rampages by homegrown jihadists and anti-government extremists in Kansas, South Carolina, Texas, Tennessee, Louisiana, Colorado, and Oregon. In all, more than two-hundred were killed or wounded in these attacks, including a number of police officers. The most lethal attacks were perpetrated by atomized “lone wolf” terrorists.

A major approach to preventing lone wolf terrorism in the United States is an aggressive FBI sting program designed to catch terrorists before they strike. Inaugurated under the presidency of George W. Bush, the FBI’s sting program became the nation’s leading preemptive counterterrorism strategy during Comey’s tenure at the FBI. In February 2015, at the peak of his influence, Comey announced that the bureau had investigations into “homegrown violent extremism” in all fifty states. Most were sting operations against suspects thought to be loyal to the Salafi Jihadism of ISIS.

Sting investigations begin when the FBI identifies a person who expresses interest in joining a terrorist group, be it jihadist, white supremacy, or other forms of extremism. Undercover FBI agents and confidential informants are then tasked with providing the necessary weapons, money, and transportation to carry out a terrorist attack. Almost always, these attacks involve the bombing of buildings, metros, or public gatherings. Once the sting “target” commits an overt criminal act in support of the bombing plot, he (they are mostly males) is arrested and prosecuted under federal terrorism enhancement provisions, which lead to draconian prison sentences. By producing compelling narratives of deadly attacks that they have foiled, FBI officials are able to show the White House and Congress that violent extremism is an imminent threat to national security and thus worthy of multibillion dollar budgets. The strategy is highly controversial.

Critics of the program maintain that those targeted in the stings lack the necessary criminal skill to carry out an attack on their own and that no example exists of a lone wolf becoming operational through meeting an actual terrorist in the United States. Critics further contend that the would-be terrorists are usually uneducated, economically desperate, and vulnerable young men with mental health or drug problems. (Even Comey has described lone wolf terrorists as “troubled souls who are seeking meaning in some misguided way.”) Because the FBI’s sting program concentrates its resources primarily in Muslim-American communities, critics charge that the FBI has eroded community trust in those areas, instigated fear, and silenced dissent necessary for participatory democracy. Moreover, say the critics, the United States is manufacturing terrorism by entrapping innocent Muslims.

To empirically investigate these claims, we compared a sample of fifteen would-be bombers targeted in FBI stings with sixty-seven “authentic” lone wolf terrorists —those who acted alone without government supervision—and made the following discoveries:
• Those targeted in the stings were younger. The average age for authentic lone wolves was thirty-one years old, compared to twenty-six for the sting cases. Three of the sting targets were teenagers.
• Unlike authentic lone wolves, those targeted in the stings were predominantly racial and ethnic minorities who came from Muslim-American communities.
• Sting targets were more likely than authentic lone wolves to hold a steady job.
• Sting targets were less likely to have a criminal record.
• About 40 percent of the sting targets suffered from mental illness, including six who were clinically diagnosed with schizophrenia. Yet the rate and severity of mental illness among authentic lone wolves was the same.

These, then, are the verifiable background differences between authentic lone wolf terrorists and those targeted by the FBI for sting operations: Authentic lone wolf terrorists are mainly unemployed white males with a criminal record, who on average are thirty-one years old; those arrested in stings are younger Muslim men from minority backgrounds with stable employment and no criminal past.

The FBI has created a standard procedure for reaching out to individuals who fit this profile, providing them with the ideological support, material backing, and sense of belonging necessary for committing acts of terrorism by killing innocent Americans with improvised bombs. Similar to the much maligned “broken windows” theory of urban law enforcement, FBI agents and informants find their bombers by trawling cyber neighborhoods of the Internet looking for what they call “Kramer Jihadists” (after the bumbling Seinfeld character) who espouse violence against the United States. Apart from its ethical implications, there are criminological questions raised by a policy expressly designed to turn ostensibly harmless people into mass murderers, and why that matters for national security.

The most catastrophic failure of Comey’s FBI was the bureau’s attempt to run a sting operation against Omar Mateen, the Orlando gunman who killed forty-nine and wounded fifty-eight in the deadliest shooting in American history. Mateen came to the FBI’s attention in October 2013, when Mateen (then 26 years old) got into a heated argument with a deputy sheriff at a Florida courthouse where Mateen worked as a security guard. After claiming that he had family connections to the Boston Marathon bombers, Tamerlan and Dzhohkar Tsarnaev, Mateen said he had links to al-Qaeda and further hoped that the FBI would raid his apartment so that he could become a martyr. Then he threatened to kill the deputy sheriff and his family. Due to this portentous encounter, the FBI office in Orlando opened an investigation on Mateen and began a sting setup involving a confidential informant who engaged Mateen in discussions that were intended to encourage his participation in a plot to commit terrorism in the United States. Either because Mateen was too shrewd to accept the proposition, or because he may have become angry that he was being manipulated in this way, Mateen declined the informant’s offer. The FBI’s attempt to entrap Mateen into agreeing to carry out a terrorist attack raises the important question of whether James Comey’s counterterrorism policies played a role in enabling Mateen’s mass murder at the Pulse nightclub during the month of Ramadan 2016.

Unlike the “Kramer Jihadists” routinely targeted in FBI stings, not only was Mateen a true lone wolf who slipped under the radar, he was a “known wolf” who had undergone an extensive FBI investigation and still became a terrorist, who committed a historically lethal attack. At the end of the day, we are left with a simple reality: If the FBI sting program works only with marginal criminals, and not with the real threats like Mateen, then the policy only inflates the FBI’s prosecution numbers without making us safer.

Friday, August 7th, 2015

Introduction to “Terrorism in Cyberspace”

Terrorism in Cyberspace

“Studying terrorist communication online is one critical means of early warning or scanning of the horizon for potential future threats, as well as a method of keeping on top of evolving trends in terrorism.” — Gabriel Weimann

This week our featured book is Terrorism in Cyberspace: The Next Generation, by Gabriel Weimann, with a foreword by Bruce Hoffman. Today, we are happy to present Weimann’s Introduction, in which he discusses whether the time has come to end the War on Terror, while also engaging with the problem of what terrorism actually is.

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for Terrorism in Cyberspace!

Thursday, August 6th, 2015

Watch Gabriel Weimann discuss “Terrorism in Cyberspace”

Terrorism in Cyberspace

This week our featured book is Terrorism in Cyberspace: The Next Generation, by Gabriel Weimann, with a foreword by Bruce Hoffman. Today, we are happy to present a video interview with Weimann from the Woodrow Wilson Center’s Wilson Center Now, in which Weimann discusses his new book, the current state of cyberterrorism, and what governments can do in response.

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for Terrorism in Cyberspace!

Wednesday, August 5th, 2015

There’s No Such Thing as a Lone Wolf in Cyberspace

Terrorism in Cyberspace

“Most important, however, a careful balance must be established between security and liberty. For fighting terrorism online raises the issue of the price paid in terms of U.S. civil liberties.” — Gabriel Weimann

This week our featured book is Terrorism in Cyberspace: The Next Generation, by Gabriel Weimann, with a foreword by Bruce Hoffman. Today, we are happy to present a post by Weimann that originally appeared on the Reuters’ The Great Debate blog: “There’s No Such Thing as a Lone Wolf in Cyberspace.”

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for Terrorism in Cyberspace!

There’s No Such Thing as a Lone Wolf in Cyberspace
By Gabriel Weimann

“Lone wolf” terrorism is often cited as the biggest terrorist threat today. The problem with this label is none of the assailants act alone. They all belong to virtual wolf packs.

Law enforcement authorities in Boston, for example, described Usaamah Abdullah Rahim’s scheme to behead random police officers as the plot of a lone wolf. Police also applied the term to other recent terrorist assaults, among them the brutal attack on Charlie Hebdo magazine in Paris that left 12 dead and the Boston Marathon bombing. In all these incidents, the assailants used traditional terror tactics, such as targeting civilians, but appeared to be acting independently of any organization.

The “lone wolf” metaphor is based on the image of a wolf alone in the wild. But this is incorrect, as my studies on terrorists reveal. Wolves never hunt alone — in nature or in terrorism.

In fact, wolves are among the most social of carnivores; they live and hunt in packs. Though the whole group is not always seen, their attacks rely on a well-coordinated circling and cornering of the victim. Lone-wolf terrorists are very similar.

They have their pack — but it’s a virtual one. The solo terrorists are often recruited, radicalized, trained and directed by others online. The current wave of lone-wolf attacks has been propelled by websites and online platforms that provide limitless opportunities for individuals to explore and locate their virtual pack. (more…)

Tuesday, August 4th, 2015

Bruce Hoffman’s Foreword to “Terrorism in Cyberspace”

Terrorism in Cyberspace

Terrorism in Cyberspace represents the next step in its author’s decades-long quest to map, analyze, and understand the evolution of terrorist communications since the advent of the Internet and this new form of mass communication.” — From the foreword by Bruce Hoffman

This week our featured book is Terrorism in Cyberspace: The Next Generation, by Gabriel Weimann, with a foreword by Bruce Hoffman. To start the week’s feature off, we’ve excerpted Hoffman’s foreword.

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for Terrorism in Cyberspace!

Monday, August 3rd, 2015

Book Giveaway! Terrorism in Cyberspace: The Next Generation

Terrorism in Cyberspace

Terrorism in Cyberspace represents the next step in its author’s decades-long quest to map, analyze, and understand the evolution of terrorist communications since the advent of the Internet and this new form of mass communication.” — From the foreword by Bruce Hoffman

This week our featured book is Terrorism in Cyberspace: The Next Generation, by Gabriel Weimann, with a foreword by Bruce Hoffman. Throughout the week, we will be featuring content about the book and its authors on our blog as well as on our Twitter feed and our Facebook page.

We are also offering a FREE copy of Terrorism in Cyberspace. To enter our book giveaway, simply fill out the form below with your name and preferred mailing address. We will randomly select our winners on Friday, August 7th at 1:00 pm. Good luck, and spread the word!

Friday, May 8th, 2015

The Conclusion from Boaz Ganor’s Global Alert

Global Alert

“[S]tates that battle terrorism must fastidiously preserve the legal legitimacy of liberal democracy even as they undermine any terrorist attempt to exploit it.” — Boaz Ganor

This week our featured book is Global Alert: The Rationality of Modern Islamist Terrorism and the Challenge to the Liberal Democratic World, by Boaz Ganor. Today is the final day of the week’s feature, and, fittingly, we are wrapping things up with an excerpt from Ganor’s conclusion to Global Alert, in which he revisits his hopes for the book, addresses common misconceptions in how the West thinks about Islamist terrorism, and wraps up his discussion of the “liberal-democratic dilemma in the war on terrorism.”

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for Global Alert!

Thursday, May 7th, 2015

Defining Terrorism – Is One Man’s Terrorist Another Man’s Freedom Fighter?

Global Alert

“We face an essential need to reach a definition of terrorism that will enjoy wide international agreement, thus enabling international operations against terrorist organizations.” — Boaz Ganor

This week our featured book is Global Alert: The Rationality of Modern Islamist Terrorism and the Challenge to the Liberal Democratic World, by Boaz Ganor. Following yesterday’s video, in which Ganor argues that we must have a definition of terrorism if we are to successfully confront increasingly complex terrorist organizations, today we have an excerpt from “Defining Terrorism – Is One Man’s Terrorist Another Man’s Freedom Fighter?,” an article by Ganor from the International Institute for Counter-Terrorism website.

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for Global Alert!

Defining Terrorism – Is One Man’s Terrorist Another Man’s Freedom Fighter?
By Boaz Ganor

Proposing a Definition of Terrorism

The question is whether it is at all possible to arrive at an exhaustive and objective definition of terrorism, which could constitute an accepted and agreed-upon foundation for academic research, as well as facilitating operations on an international scale against the perpetrators of terrorist activities.

The definition proposed here states that terrorism is the intentional use of, or threat to use, violence against civilians or against civilian targets, in order to attain political aims. This definition is based on three important elements:

1. The essence of the activity—the use of, or threat to use, violence. According to this definition, an activity that does not involve violence or a threat of violence will not be defined as terrorism (including non-violent protest—strikes, peaceful demonstrations, tax revolts, etc.).

2. The aim of the activity is always political—namely, the goal is to attain political objectives; changing the regime, changing the people in power, changing social or economic policies, etc. In the absence of a political aim, the activity in question not be defined as terrorism. A violent activity against civilians that has no political aim is, at most, an act of criminal delinquency, a felony, or simply an act of insanity unrelated to terrorism. Some scholars tend to add ideological or religious aims to the list of political aims. The advantage of this definition, however, is that it is as short and exhaustive as possible. The concept of “political aim” is sufficiently broad to include these goals as well. The motivation—whether ideological, religious, or something else—behind the political objective is irrelevant for the purpose of defining terrorism. In this context, the following statement by Duvall and Stohl deserves mention:
Motives are entirely irrelevant to the concept of political terrorism. Most analysts fail to recognize this and, hence, tend to discuss certain motives as logical or necessary aspects of terrorism. But they are not. At best, they are empirical regularities associated with terrorism. More often they simply confuse analysis.[14] (more…)

Wednesday, May 6th, 2015

The Definition of Terrorism: A Fundamental Counter-Terrorism Measure

Global Alert

“We will never be able, actually, to get to the level of counter-terrorism efficiency which is needed to deal with [new forms of terrorism] without agreeing on the basic issue: what are we fighting against?” — Boaz Ganor

This week our featured book is Global Alert: The Rationality of Modern Islamist Terrorism and the Challenge to the Liberal Democratic World, by Boaz Ganor. Today, we have a video from the International Institute for Counter-Terrorism (ICT), in which Professor Ganor discusses the necessity for coming up with a definition of terrorism.

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for Global Alert!

Tuesday, May 5th, 2015

Boaz Ganor’s Introduction to Global Alert

Global Alert

“Islamist-jihadist terrorism—a plague that has spread to almost every corner of the world—creates painful dilemmas for the peoples and decision makers who confront it. Its rapid, shape-shifting advance has sometimes confounded efforts to comprehend its origins, motives, and aims. Its sophistication in exploiting liberal values poses challenges and difficulties for the Western world, and for liberal democratic states in general, in attaining effective and balanced counter-terrorism policies.” — Boaz Ganor

This week our featured book is Global Alert: The Rationality of Modern Islamist Terrorism and the Challenge to the Liberal Democratic World, by Boaz Ganor. To get the feature started, we have excerpted Ganor’s Introduction, in which he discusses the necessity for the international community to grapple with the problems raised by terrorism, and describes how his book will address many of those issues.

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for Global Alert!

Monday, May 4th, 2015

Book Giveaway! Global Alert: The Rationality of Modern Islamist Terrorism and the Challenge to the Liberal Democratic World, by Boaz Ganor

Global Alert

“When it comes to outstanding informed, analytical and policy-oriented scholarship on counterterrorism in the context of open societies, the work of professor Boaz Ganor is plainly and simply inescapable for academics, politicians, security practitioners and concerned citizens.” — Fernando Reinares

This week our featured book is Global Alert: The Rationality of Modern Islamist Terrorism and the Challenge to the Liberal Democratic World, by Boaz Ganor. Throughout the week, we will be featuring content about the book, its subject, and its editors on our blog as well as on our Twitter feed and our Facebook page.

We are also offering a FREE copy of Global Alert. To enter our book giveaway, simply fill out the form below with your name and preferred mailing address. We will randomly select our winners on Friday, May 8th at 1:00 pm. Good luck, and spread the word!

Thursday, January 15th, 2015

Discouraging North American and European Citizens from Foreign Jihad

Mental Health in the War on Terror

This week our featured book is Mental Health in the War on Terror, by Neil Krishan Aggarwal. Throughout the week, we will be posting content from and about the book and it’s author. In today’s guest post, Aggarwal discusses a recent New York Times article on efforts to keep Western citizens from “traveling to fight in war zones in Muslim countries,” and how the War on Terror has been and is being shaped by sometimes troubling stereotypes.

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for Mental Health in the War on Terror!

Discouraging North American and European Citizens from Foreign Jihad
By Neil Krishan Aggarwal

A New York Times article dated January 13, 2015 and titled “West Struggles against Flow to War Zones” describes North American and European officials struggling to “stem the flow of their citizens traveling to fight in war zones in Muslim countries.” The article comes after last week’s tragic attacks in France and reflects major themes from my book Mental Health in the War on Terror: Culture, Science, and Statecraft. In my book, I analyze questionable claims of Orientalist stereotypical scholarship and de-radicalization programs, some of which appear in this article. By scrutinizing this article, I hope to show how such claims recur in an influential newspaper and shape public discussions of the War on Terror. Only by inspecting such claims one at a time can we discern how the War on Terror has permeated popular culture.

1. The “West/Rest” fallacy. The authors begin: “For more than a decade, Western governments have struggled to stem the flow of their citizens traveling to fight in war zones in Muslim countries.” This assertion implies a rigid division among Muslims and non-Muslims. Where does the West begin and end? What is the standard for “Muslim countries”? Is a Muslim country defined on the basis of political system (Saudi Arabia), population (Indonesia), or Orientalist notions of the Middle East? Are we not comparing apples and oranges by contrasting entities based on geography (“Western”) and religion (“Muslim”)? (more…)

Tuesday, January 13th, 2015

National Security Above Mental Health — Neil Aggarwal

Mental Health in the War on Terror

“We need novel solutions for hierarchical organizations such as the CIA and the armed forces that erect institutional safeguards for psychiatrists, psychologists, and whistleblowers warning of misuses in mental health knowledge and practice.”—Neil Krishnan Aggarwal

This week our featured book is Mental Health in the War on Terror, by Neil Krishan Aggarwal. Throughout the week, we will be posting content from and about the book and it’s author. Today, we are happy to repost an article on the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence’s report on American use of torture, written by Aggarwal and originally posted in mid-December.

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for Mental Health in the War on Terror!

The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence’s release of the report Committee Study of the Central Intelligence Agency’s Detention and Interrogation Program marks a signature moment for government accountability in the War on Terror. The report acknowledges that “the CIA’s use of its enhanced interrogation techniques was not an effective means of acquiring intelligence or gaining cooperation from detainees” and “the CIA’s justification for the use of its enhanced interrogation techniques rested on inaccurate claims of their effectiveness.”

Politicians have debated release of the report. Former Vice-President Dick Cheney has claimed that enhanced interrogation techniques were “absolutely, totally justified” and were the “right thing to do, and if I had to do it over again, I would do it.” In contrast, Senator Dianne Feinstein, committee chairwoman, defended the release: “Releasing this report is an important step to restoring our values and showing the world that we are a just society.” Similarly, President Barack Obama declared: “The report documents a troubling program involving enhanced interrogation techniques on terrorism suspects in secret facilities outside the United States.”

In Mental Health in the War on Terror: Culture, Science, and Statecraft, I investigate how the government uses mental health professionals to advance national security interests and how mental health professionals serve such ends. I examine bioethical debates on whether mental health professionals should do no harm or participate in interrogations. I examine debates among prosecution and defense teams on the meanings of detainee mental health symptoms in Guantanamo tribunals. I conclude that the War on Terror has pushed American government officials to treat terrorism as a military problem requiring new forms of mental health knowledge, practice, and institutions rather than a law enforcement problem handled through extant institutions.

The Senate committee’s report reinforces this conclusion. After capture of militant Abu Zubaydah, a psychologist-contractor proposed in July 2002 that SERE (Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape) techniques from the American military could be “novel interrogation methods” for the CIA. These techniques include walling, facial holding and slapping, cramped confinement, stress positions, sleep deprivation, waterboarding, and mock burial. One CIA official clarified that “personnel will make every effort possible to insure [sic] that subject is not permanently physically or mentally harmed but we should not say at the outset of this process that there is no risk.” The psychologist-contractors normalized these techniques, responding, “The safety of any technique lies primarily in how it is applied and monitored.”

(more…)

Tuesday, January 13th, 2015

Mental Health, Culture, and Power in the War on Terror

Mental Health in the War on Terror

This week our featured book is Mental Health in the War on Terror, by Neil Krishan Aggarwal. Throughout the week, we will be posting content from and about the book and it’s author. In today’s post, we have an excerpt from the first chapter of Mental Health in the War on Terror, in which Aggarwal introduces his project, takes a close look at the causes and symptoms of PTSD, and examines the effects that the War on Terror had on an American veteran and a detainee at Guantánamo Bay.

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for Mental Health in the War on Terror!

Monday, January 12th, 2015

Book Giveaway! Mental Health in the War on Terror, by Neil Krishan Aggarwal

Mental Health in the War on Terror

“Very few people are able to synthesize the disciplines of anthropology, mental health, cultural studies, political theory, religious studies, bioethics and forensics as Aggarwal does in this book. He offers a balanced and insightful account of the challenges of forensic psychiatry in assessing and managing terrorism suspects.” — Hamada Hamid, Yale University

This week our featured book is Mental Health in the War on Terror, by Neil Krishan Aggarwal. Throughout the week, we will be featuring content about the book and its author on our blog as well as on our Twitter feed and our Facebook page.

We are also offering a FREE copy of Mental Health in the War on Terror. To enter our book giveaway, simply fill out the form below with your name and preferred mailing address. We will randomly select our winners on Friday, January 16th at 1:00 pm. Good luck, and spread the word!

Thursday, September 13th, 2012

Blake W. Mobley on Terrorism and Counterintelligence

“Terrorist counterintelligence vulnerabilities are common, predictable, and, with some ingenuity, can be exploited.”—Blake W. Mobley, Terrorism and Counterintelligence

Blake W. Mobley, Terrorism and CounterintelligenceEarlier this summer, Blake W. Mobley, author of Terrorism and Counterintelligence: How Terrorist Groups Elude Detection, took The Page 99 Test.

In taking the “test,” Mobley describes how page 99 of his book reflects larger issues and arguments of his book. As Mobley shows, on page 99, his description of Fatah and Black September’s efforts at counterintelligence reflects key components of terrorists’ strategies:

Page 99 brings the reader to the very core of the argument. A comparison of Fatah and Black September shows how the groups’ counterintelligence strengths and weaknesses varied according to their organizational structure and popular support. I note that Black September’s highly centralized command structure promoted significant vulnerabilities—specifically, standardized security procedures and centralized personnel databases, which the Jordanian and Israeli security services were able to exploit. However, the group’s centralized command structure was also a source of strength. It allowed Black September to “respond quickly” to security breaches, “replacing agents and changing its codes” to prevent extensive damage to the organization.

(more…)

Monday, May 14th, 2012

The Poetry of the Taliban

The Poetry of the TalibanThe Poetry of the Taliban, edited by Alex Strick van Linschoten and Felix Kuehn and due out in July is already garnering a lot of discussion both positive and negative.

Richard Kemp, a former commander of British troops in Afghanistan criticized the book in The Guardian, cautioning readers against “being taken in by a lot of self-justifying propaganda”.

However, Michael Dwyer, managing director of Hurst & Co., the British publisher of The Poetry of the Taliban, views the book as an important part of their list of books focusing on Afghanistan: “All these books, including Poetry of the Taliban, contribute to our knowledge of Afghanistan and the vicissitudes endured by its people in recent decades.””

In the New York Times blog At War, C. J. Chivers argues that the book Reading The Poetry of the Taliban as a way of better understanding the Taliban and Afghanistan:

Whatever the current controversy, “Poetry of the Taliban” serves as a martial and social artifact from a broken land. Its poems are variously political and pastoral, one moment enraged and the next heavy with sorrow … They capture ambitions, loneliness, resolve and fear. Many passages crudely mock the West. Others sketch the Taliban’s foes in harsh but lyrical caricature, including a passage in “Death is a Gift” that acidly describes Afghanistan’s president, Hamid Karzai, as among “those who have one mouth but utter fifty different words and have fifty different thoughts/Like Karzai; I will not behave like a juggler.”

(more…)

Tuesday, September 13th, 2011

Paul Pillar on the Dark Side

Paul PillarIn 2006, Paul Pillar, author of Intelligence and U.S. Foreign Policy: Iraq, 9/11, and Misguided Reform, appeared on the Frontline documentary The Dark Side, which examined how then-Vice President Richard Cheney pushed to expand executive power, transform America’s intelligence agencies and bring the war on terror to Iraq.

In an extended interview posted on the Frontline site, Pillar discusses the problem of politicizing intelligence; the tntelligence in the run-up to the Iraq war; the 2004 National Intelligence Estimate; and politics at the CIA. Pllar also shares his thoughts on renditions and torture.

In the following exchange, Pillar discusses changes at the CIA in the aftermath of 9/11:

What did you think would happen with the agency after 9/11 happened?

Paul Pillar: That there would be a major increase in resources devoted specifically to counterterrorism. That’s the natural reaction to any kind of disaster. But other than that, it’s not a matter of something happening to the agency. The basic mission would stay the same. … What changed drastically overnight was, of course, the policy priority and the public concern.

Did you feel the agency was at all responsible for it?

Paul Pillar: No, no. The lack of tactical information is in large part a reflection of the target itself: small groups, highly secretive, very conscious of operational security, extremely difficult to penetrate. With hindsight, there are some miscues we’re all aware of in terms of tardiness, of people being placed on watch lists, that sort of thing. How much difference would that have made historically? That’s a matter of hypothetical alternative scenarios. But in terms of strategic understanding and strategic warning, it’s hard to get more explicit than [what] the head of the intelligence community was even speaking [about] just publicly, let alone in a classified forum to Congress and to the administration leaders.

And when the critics, the vice president included, say, “Where was the human intelligence?” …

Paul Pillar: There is always no substitute for the well-placed human source when it comes to counterterrorism; there’s also nothing I can think of that’s harder to do than place a human source inside a terrorist group. I don’t mean at the periphery — there have been enough of those; I mean in the innermost circles where plans are laid. It’s not that people haven’t thought of that or haven’t worked on that very hard for a long time. It’s always been extremely difficult; it always will be, no matter how the intelligence community is organized and no matter how many resources you give it. …

(more…)

Thursday, September 8th, 2011

Charles Strozier interviewed on the Crime Report

Charles Strozier

We continue our focus on Charles Strozier’s book Until the Fires Stopped Burning: 9/11 and New York City in the Words and Experiences of Survivors and Witnesses by featuring a recent interview he gave with the website The Crime Report. Strozier’s book Until the Fires Stopped Burning draws on interviews with survivors and witnesses of 9/11 as well Strozier’s work as a terrorist expert and a psychotherapist.

In the interview, discusses the ways in which Americans were psychologically unprepared for 9/11 but how we are now much safer today from an attack as complicated as the one on the World Trade Center and Pentagon. Strozier’s book not only examines how New Yorkers experienced 9/11 firsthand but also the effects of the events of the day being watched by many on television. From the interview:

The Crime Report: And for a while, the news played those images of the towers falling, and people jumping out of the buildings, almost on a loop. People were glued to the TV.

Charles Strozier: And that repetition intensifies experience. So the repetitive watching of 9/11 on TV, not living with it, where it’s real and authentic becomes cartoonish. You have the same feelings about it over and over again. I think that’s part of what led to that kind of numbing and then to those feelings of rage. And it just happened as an accident of history that we had an administration led by fundamentalists who already had an agenda of expansion and control— they had things they wanted to try to accomplish politically and geopolitically, like making wars abroad—and they were able to manipulate that rage to serve their own purposes.

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