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Archive for May, 2010

[Originally published in The Herald Of Randolph.]

In late March, a little noticed, almost unreported event took place in the Middle East. The government of Qatar forced out the moderate leadership of one of Islam’s most popular, moderate websites and is reshaping it into a religiously more conservative media outlet. They have started by running news releases instead of the moderate and diverse content that the site, IslamOnline, was known for.

The outcome of our ongoing struggle with fundamentalist Muslim terrorism lies with the moderates of Islam. They are the swing vote in the fundamentalist conflict with western advocates of liberal democracy. Unfortunately, as a result of our own policies, the Muslim world is now becoming more hostile to us.

The Koran stipulates that “The only reward for those who make war upon Allah and His messenger and strive after corruption in the land will be that they will be killed or crucified, or have their hands and feet on alternate sides cut off, or will be expelled out of the land….”

Moderate Muslims today are faced with a real dilemma. The Koran explicitly forbids the murder of Muslims. Thus, killing a believing Muslim in a terrorist attack would constitute “corruption on earth and war against Allah”. Al Qaida members could be penalized under the Koran for making war on Allah.

One of the main reasons Al Qaida’s reputation has declined in the eyes of moderate Muslims is that they have killed Muslims both purposefully and indiscriminately, in violation of the Koran. The perfect example of this decline is the Sunni Awakening movement, which began in Iraq’s western Anbar Province in 2006. One of the main motivating influences behind that movement was Sunni revulsion against the Muslim-murdering activities of Al Qaida in Iraq.

We Americans should hope that this fact would turn moderate Muslims throughout Islam against Al Qaida. Unfortunately, that has not been the case, simply because it is clear to those moderates that American forces have also been killing Muslims since they invaded Iraq in 2003, a practice equally condemned by the Koran.

Add in the permanent grievances of most moderate Muslims against us—the military invasion and occupation of a Muslim country, American support of corrupt and brutal Muslim regimes, and their perception that we are biased against them in favor of Israel, and the Muslims are in a quandary. Whom should they condemn? If we could mitigate or remove those grievances against us, the moderates would be free to turn completely against the Al Qaidas of the world. And they almost certainly would.

The real problem right now is that almost everything we are doing in the Middle East increases moderate Muslim anger and resentment against us.

We are occupying Iraq and trying to do the same in Afghanistan. Our primary tool for these activities is our military establishment, which, however mightily our military leaders try, and they are trying mightily, is a very blunt instrument in those two countries. There is nothing rapier-like about a 19-yearold marine who is being shot at! Artillery and drone aircraft are indiscriminate weapons. They kill non-combatants, which has a particularly provocative effect on Muslims.

We are trying to “export democracy” to countries where there are already functioning systems of governance, very different from ours, that are reflections of the belief structure provided by Islam. We continue to insist that “free elections” as in Iraq and Afghanistan are somehow evidence of the inexorable march of democracy across the world. That is self-delusional.

At the same time, in direct and observable contrast to our lofty pronouncements about the spread of democracy, we support regimes across Islam that are repressive, brutal and exploitative of their people. How can we look anything other than hypocritical to Muslims, particularly those moderate Muslims who, under more benign American policy, could be in our corner?

Finally, America has pursued a foreign policy that has supported Israel to Israel’s own detriment. We have provided an impermeable umbrella to Israel with cash, armaments and UN vetoes that have permitted Israel to develop its own policies without any consideration of the realities that exist in her neighborhood.

The result has been an Israeli population, reinforced by emigrants from the former Soviet Union, that has grown increasingly distant from the democratic, Jewish state envisaged by Israel’s Zionist founders and closer and closer to a demographic reality that, without a two-state solution, will eliminate either Jewishness or democracy.

Our policy in the region is not working for us or anyone else. It never has because we see the world as we would like it to be, not as it really is. As long as that continues, we will never get it right.

Haviland Smith is a retired CIA Station Chief who served in East and West Europe and the Middle East and as chief of the counterterrorism staff. He is a former longtime resident of Brookfield.

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[Originally published in the Barre Times-Argus and Rutland Herald.]

The two-state solution is dead. The Palestinians and the Israelis have both become paralyzed by the most extreme elements in their respective societies and apparently are incapable of compromise, even in their own interest, on virtually any issue. And America has done nothing to help.

On the one hand, with strong support and influence from Syria and Iran and from individual supporters throughout Islam, militant Palestinians have managed to wrest control of their national movement from the more moderate Palestine Authority. They continue the decades-old battle for the “right to return” and the final destruction of Israel, through their support of Hamas and Hezbollah.

On the other, Israeli fundamentalists, eyes fixed on the re-creation of Biblical Israel, have plunged ahead with Israeli settlements in the West Bank and Jerusalem. They thus destroy the last hope for peace. They are fueled by support from hard-core Americans who automatically and uncritically support Israel on any and all issues and from American Christian fundamentalists who seek the second coming and, paradoxically, the ultimate conversion of Jews to Christianity.

America always has been Israel’s most staunch supporter. According to the U.S. State Department, between 1972 and 2006, the United States vetoed every single UN Security Council resolution that was critical of Israel. That totaled more than 40 vetoes and it was rare that any other country even abstained on those votes. This practice has brought neither Israel or America any real friends.

In the first 50 years of Israel’s existence, the United States contributed almost $135 billion in direct aid to that country and in interest on loans to procure it. The result is that Israel has survived as an island in an essentially hostile sea. Is that a success? Certainly not when you look at their options for the future.

America has done Israel no favors. Over the years, we have protected her so completely that Israel has never had to face the realities of either living in her own neighborhood, or of developing appropriate policies to do so. Israel right or wrong.

Israel was established as a “democratic, Jewish state.” Without a two-state solution, Israel will either become a non-democratic, apartheid Jewish state or a majority (Palestinian)-ruled democracy. Because of demographic realities, Israel will become either democratic or Jewish, but not both.

Because of our smothering protection, Israel has passed the point of no return on a two-state solution. We have enabled her to sow the seeds of her own destruction and we did this largely because of our idealistic national will to protect a young democratic Jewish state.

What went wrong? Why has Israel today chosen this self-destructive path when the Zionists were so totally committed to democracy and Jewishness?

Israel is about 50 percent secular. Recent polls in Israel show her youth to be far more secular and less interested in the philosophies of liberal democracy and Zionism than their parents or her founders. Sixty years after Israel’s birth few original Zionists remain; emigrants from the former Soviet Union have replaced their numbers.

The USSR was not a country that tolerated organized religion, Jewishness, Zionism or democracy. The emigrants who were raised in that repressive environment, whether secular or believers, are generally far more prone to accept non-democratic ideas and activities than the original Zionists.

It’s hard to judge the true impact of those former Soviet citizens on Israel, but it seems fairly clear, given the nature of their significant current involvement in the settlement movement and broader Israeli politics, that they think and behave very differently from Israel’s founding fathers.

The emotional attachment of the American people to the idea of Israel is constant, but is the same true of our feelings about today’s reality of Israel? Do we support its treatment of the Palestinians in Gaza? Israel’s bellicose policy toward Iran with its implications for America? The settlement movement that slowly takes over the West Bank? Their manipulation of U.S. public opinion and politics? The list goes on.

Ultimately, Israel must be allowed to pursue her chosen policies without the pervasive international political cover now provided by the United States. Only then will Israeli policies be influenced by realities in her neighborhood, and only then will Israel find broad support in the international community, support that has diminished over the past few years.

Right now, under America’s political umbrella, there are no viable alternatives for Israel. Only through modifying our policies can we help her learn to deal with her own realities and find new policies that guarantee her survival as a democratic Jewish state.

Haviland Smith is a retired CIA station chief who served in East and West Europe and the Middle East and as chief of the counterterrorism staff.

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Is this the best we can do?

[Originally published in the Barre Times-Argus and Rutland Herald.]

In late December 2009 at Forward Operating Base Chapman in Afghanistan’s Khost province, a suicide bomber, who was offered to the CIA by the Jordanians as an agent who could penetrate al-Qaida but who was really working for al-Qaida, killed four CIA officers and three contract security guards on the base.

It appears that CIA personnel at Khost Base felt it necessary for four case officers to be present for the debriefing of their Jordanian “agent.” During the Cold War, which was a far less physically dangerous time for CIA officers, it was rare that even a KGB agent was met by more than one case officer. More than that was unprofessional, operationally insecure and unnecessary.

Add on three contract security guards and the situation becomes more confusing. What was their role? If they were needed for their security expertise, the Jordanian would appear not to have been trusted. If that was the case, why had they not already searched him before he came on base?

Or it tells us that the guards had no security or protective role, or for that matter any understandable operational role. In short they were superfluous.

It says that Khost Base officers, probably with CIA headquarters’ concurrence, apparently felt it was too dangerous to meet their Jordanian agent outside the base. Since Jordanians are, prima facie, our friends, does that mean that the operational environment is too dangerous to meet anyone at all off base? If you can’t meet a Jordanian outside, how could you meet a Taliban or al-Qaida agent?

It says that the difficult, time-consuming process of developing and recruiting new agent penetrations of critical targets has become extremely cumbersome, dangerous, perhaps even impossible. Do we run any unilateral operations or do we now rely primarily on friendly intelligence services for new sources?

All in all, it suggests that not much thoughtful, operational expertise was given to this particular meeting.

Twenty years ago, CIA case officers moved easily, even in difficult Middle East environments and could cultivate targets where they lived, worked and played as long as careful consideration was given to appropriate tradecraft. Now, it seems, our case officers had to bring onto American real estate what they obviously believed was a bona fide and important agent, a practice highly dangerous for such a sensitive source.

It is difficult to measure the impact that this event is likely to have on the CIA’s clandestine collection operations in that very difficult part of the world. Risk-taking is the lifeblood of intelligence organizations. Unfortunately, the first reaction will be that field stations will become more cautious. Fear of additional provocations will inhibit them. They will withdraw and shed some additional portion of whatever risk-taking proclivities they may have had before the incident.

The almost inevitable combination of reactions to this unfortunate incident will probably have fairly long-lasting negative impacts on the agency’s ability to get its job done.

More recently, we see a fascinating account of the petty jealousies that exist between the FBI and the New York Police Department as shown during the recent Times Square bombing case. National Public Radio’s Dina Temple-Raskin gives her account of the purposeful leakage of critical information to the press by both the FBI and the NYPD. It is an appalling example of the kinds of incredibly short-sighted practices of employees of the two organizations, prompted by their petty jealousies and rivalries.

In the process of blowing their own horns and trying to denigrate each other’s activities, Temple-Raskin says, FBI special agents and NYPD officers leaked to the press the identity of the suspect, his home address in Shelton, Conn., the address of an additional apartment he had in Bridgeport, sensitive operational details about the VIN number on the suspect’s car, the fact that he was an American citizen of Pakistani descent, and God knows what else.

This was certainly enough to tell the holder of bachelor’s and MBA degrees that he was a suspect and when he was finally arrested on the aircraft heading for the Middle East, after having ditched his FBI surveillance, his first question was whether the arresting officers were FBI or NYPD. It was a miracle he didn’t get away.

The FBI is this nation’s premier law enforcement agency, responsible for domestic counterterrorism. The NYPD is said to be far and away the most effective American police organization on counterterrorism operations. The CIA is this country’s premier foreign counterterrorism intelligence gathering organization.

Is this is the best we can do?

Haviland Smith is a retired CIA station chief who served in East and West Europe and the Middle East and as chief of the counterterrorism staff.

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