From: Berhane Habtemariam (Berhane.Habtemariam@gmx.de)
Date: Wed Sep 07 2011 - 17:16:30 EDT
bout_the_war_on_terror> Things You Didn't Know About the War on Terror
From an attempt to negotiate with Osama bin Laden to a proposal to threaten
to bomb Mecca, it's been a wild decade for the U.S. national security
BY ERIC SCHMITT, THOMAS SHANKER | SEPTEMBER 7, 2011
(look it in original with pictures)
Our new book, Counterstrike: The Untold Story of America's Secret Campaign
Against Al Qaeda, is in many ways a summary of the past decade of our
reporting on the military, intelligence community, and domestic law
enforcement as it entered a new era of Darwinian evolution to counter
It also is our deep dive into a decade of American counterterrorism efforts
-- from the work of commando trigger-pullers and spies on the ground up to
senior political leaders who wanted to defend the nation (and get
re-elected). Our efforts to report and write this book allowed us to uncover
many new missions never discussed before -- and gave us an understanding of
how the "war on terror" had changed over the last decade.
Our book assesses the 10 years since 9/11 as the military divides the fight:
into tactical missions on the battlefields of modern terrorism; then the
operational advancements that provided the means to success while not
securing final victory; and at the top, the strategic level of policy
debates about how the nation should combat this threat to its security.
Here are seven vignettes from Counterstrike that offer glimpses into the
thinking of policymakers and commanders in early days after the Sept. 11
attacks and how that thinking evolved over the following decade into a more
whole-of-government approach to combating terrorists:
1. Bush Tried to Negotiate with al Qaeda
The George W. Bush administration, like all of its predecessors, swore never
to negotiate with terrorists. But it did undertake an extraordinary, and
extraordinarily secret, outreach effort to open a line of communication with
Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda's senior leadership. It was an attempt to
replicate how the United States tried to sustain a dialogue with the Soviet
Union, even during the darkest days of the Cold War, when White House and
Kremlin leaders described in private and in public a set of acceptable
behaviors -- and described with equal clarity the swift, vicious, even
nuclear punishment for gross violations.
In the months after the Sept. 11 attacks, Bush's national security staff,
working through the intelligence agencies, made several attempts to get a
private message to bin Laden and his inner circle. The messages were sent
through business associates of the bin Laden family's vast financial empire
as well as through some of the al Qaeda leader's closest relatives, a number
of whom were receptive to opening a secret dialogue to restrain and contain
their terrorist kinsman, whom they viewed as a blot on their name. (To be
sure, other relatives were openly hostile to the American entreaties.)
According to a senior American intelligence officer with first-hand
knowledge of the effort, the response from Osama bin Laden was silence. And
the effort was suspended.
2. Sometimes a Wedding Is Just a Wedding
In the early days after the Sept. 11 attacks, the CIA and FBI vied to
produce the most compelling intelligence reports that tracked suspected
terrorist plots. The agencies often worked at cross purposes, sometimes
unwittingly. At one point in early 2002, both agencies were tracking what
American analysts said were growing preparations for a major "wedding"
somewhere in the Midwest. (In terrorist vernacular, the word "wedding" is
often code for a major attack.) Dribs and drabs on this "wedding" planning
made their way to President Bush from both agencies, independent of each
other, of course. Finally, over the Easter holiday, during a
video-teleconference with top aides in Washington from his ranch in
Crawford, Texas, Bush stopped the briefing, exasperated by the discrepancies
in the rival agencies' reporting about the suspected threat.
"George, Bob, get together and sort this out," Bush told his CIA director,
George J. Tenet, and FBI director, Robert S. Mueller III.
Bush's instincts were correct. When the analysts finally untangled their
clues, it turned out that the ominous "wedding" really was just that: the
matrimony of a young man and a young woman from two prominent
Pakistani-American families. There was no threat. There was no plot.
3. The Threat to Bomb Mecca
As fears of a second attack mounted following the 9/11 strikes, U.S.
government planners frantically cast about for strategies to protect the
country. Even the most far-fetched ideas had a hearing, however briefly. In
one case, some government planners proposed that if al Qaeda appeared ready
to attack America again, the United States should publicly threaten to bomb
the city of Mecca in Saudi Arabia, the holiest site in all of Islam, in
retaliation. "Just nuts!" one Pentagon aide wrote to himself when he heard
the proposal. The idea was quickly and permanently shelved.
4. The SEAL Raid in Iran That Didn't Happen
When U.S. forces routed the Taliban government in Afghanistan and forced bin
Laden and his top lieutenants to flee, many senior al Qaeda leaders,
including bin Laden and his deputy, Ayman al-Zawahri, escaped to neighboring
Pakistan. But a separate group, including the al Qaeda leader's son, Saad
bin Laden, fled to northern Iran, where American troops would not pursue
them and the Iranians would likely not detain them. But the Shiite clerics
running Iran placed the al Qaeda operatives and their family members under
virtual house arrest, and they became a shield against possible attacks from
the Sunni-based terrorist organization.
One plan in particular illustrated the bold thinking and wildly unrealistic
aims of the military's initial approach after 9/11 to kill or capture
terrorist leaders. The plan called for hunting the eight to 10 senior al
Qaeda leaders and operatives who had sought refuge in Chalus, an Iranian
resort town on the Caspian Sea, where they had been detained.
At the Joint Special Operations Command at Fort Bragg, N.C., military
planners drew up options for Navy SEALs to sneak ashore at night using
state-of-the-art mini-submarines. Once they landed, the SEALs would slip
past Iranian guards to snatch the al Qaeda leaders. Another option called
for Special Operations helicopters to spirit American commandos into the
town and whisk them out again with their quarry. The Americans went as far
as conducting two or three rehearsals at an undisclosed location along the
U.S. Gulf Coast in early 2002. They conducted small-boat insertion exercises
involving about 30 Special Operations personnel, most SEALs, and eventually
concluded the mission was feasible if they were provided with more detailed
intelligence on the locations of the al Qaeda members and the security
The logistics of the mission were daunting. Chalus sits at the edge of the
Elburz coastal mountain range about 70 miles north of Tehran, and the failed
rescue of the American hostages in Iran in April 1980 loomed large in
commanders' memories. Eventually, Gen. Richard B. Myers, the chairman of the
Joint Chiefs of Staff, rejected the mission as too risky and too politically
volatile. Many of the al Qaeda operatives are reportedly still there.
5. Intelligence Hauls of Unusual Size
U.S. intelligence and military commandos have carried out tens of thousands
of raids in the decade since 9/11. The amount of material seized from
terrorist and insurgent targets has grown to a massive size. The Defense
Intelligence Agency (DIA) operates exploitation triage centers and giant
warehouses for storing intelligence products -- in war zones, rear
headquarters in countries like Qatar, and back in the United States. One
intelligence analyst said that walking into one of the warehouses for
documents and media exploitation reminded him of the final scene in Raiders
of the Lost Ark, when the captured Ark of the Covenant is crated up and
rolled into a cavernous storage area that contains all the government's
other dangerous secrets.
All told, more than two million individual documents and electronic files
have been catalogued by media type: hard copy, phone number, thumb drive.
Each is inspected by a linguist working with a communications analyst or
computer expert. The DIA analysts are joined by specialists from other
agencies, including the FBI and the Drug Enforcement Administration. Yet
given the overwhelming volume, no more than about 10 percent of the captured
intelligence has ever been analyzed. Intelligence officers say they simply
are overwhelmed, and untold quality leads may still be buried in the piles
of computers, digital files, travel documents, and pocket litter.
6. The Digital Counterjihad
Cyberspace is the terrorists' ultimate safe haven. It's where they recruit,
raise money, and even plot attacks, using coded language while playing
online video war games. The U.S. government fights back. One technique is
called false band replacement, whereby the intelligence agencies infiltrate
militants' networks and post their own material to counter extremist efforts
on those same jihadist websites. The trick is to forge the onscreen
trademarks -- "web watermarks" -- of al Qaeda media sites. This makes
messages posted on these sites official, and sows dissent and confusion
among the militants.
This Internet spoofing can be used in support of more traditional combat
missions. There is at least one case confirmed by American officials in
which a jihadist website was hacked by American cyberwarriors to lure a
high-value al Qaeda to a surreptitious meeting with extremist counterparts
-- only to find a U.S. military team in waiting.
7. First, Kill the Mullahs
U.S. counterterrorism officials have learned fighting terrorists effectively
means targeting specific nodes of that network that support and enable
militants who strap on suicide vests. This strategy focuses on neutralizing
enablers such as the financiers, gun-runners, and logisticians. Among these
terror linchpins are religious leaders who bless attacks. Heavenly reward
will not await a suicide bomber unless his death and those of his victims is
deemed halal, in keeping with Islam's sacred sharia law. Each militant
network has a sharia emir, usually at the level of a sheikh or mullah. In
Iraq, American commanders specifically killed emirs to throw a wrench in a
suicide bombing networks. "Take him out, and suicide bombings from that
network are frozen until he is replaced," said one military officer with
command experience in Iraq.
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