ot ex-CIA officer on war on terror


Ex-CIA Officer on 'War on Terror'
By Richard Fricker
December 13, 2005

Editor's Note: Michael Scheuer worked as an analyst for a CIA unit
tracking - and trying to understand - al-Qaeda. Under the name
"Anonymous," he wrote Imperial Hubris, a critical look at U.S.
counter-terrorist strategies. He was interviewed recently about the War
on Terror by journalist Richard Fricker. A version of this interview
first appeared in the Swiss publication, SonntagsBlick.

Regarding so-called "rendition" flights to other countries and
secret CIA prisons:

Scheuer: "From the start, the [CIA's] clandestine service would
much prefer to bring these people to the United States. One of the Cold
War hangovers in America is we are still looking for people to do our
dirty work. We were so used to, during the Cold War, of using proxies
that we're still doing that. Look how much we depend on the
Pakistanis to capture Osama bin Laden. There is a certain process of
returning to adulthood that has not taken place in the U.S. leadership.

"There's just a huge misperception that we are kind of invulnerable
and we can have other people do our bidding. In terms of the Islamic
militants, on both sides of the aisle in America, there is a huge
self-delusion that these people are gangsters and deviants and
criminals and that they are such a small part of Muslim society and
that we can arrest them one man at a time.

"So we're still playing this game of super cops and robbers and
we're really not serious about protecting America or destroying
al-Qaeda and its allies because we still treat it as a super law
enforcement problem. ...

"I resigned from the CIA in part to try and make them aware that
al-Qaeda and bin Laden are heroes in the Islamic world, to a huge
percentage. Not because they believe in what al-Qaeda does but in the
sense of standing up to the United States. ...

"Al-Qaeda is a liberation movement in many ways in the sense that
their main target is not the United States, but to get us out of the
way and then to overthrow the Israelis and ... Egypt and Saudi Arabia,
the tyrannies as they see them.

"The bottom line for me is we don't have to empathize or sympathize
these people, but if we don't understand the numbers that are
involved and
the motivations they feel because of our policies, we're never going
to be
able to protect ourselves."

Regarding poor intelligence about Iraq and weapons of mass destruction:

Scheuer: "The intelligence community, as well the people who worked
on counter-terrorism, clearly told the administration that an invasion
of Iraq would break the back of a fight against bin Laden because it
would validate virtually everything he had said about the United States
over the years. This administration came into office with a contempt
for the intelligence community.

"There's not one American politician willing to say 'they don't
hate us for what do, or how we live. They may not like it, but
they're not going to blow themselves up over it. But they will blow
themselves up over what we do in the Islamic world.' And, that has
been the problem under Mr. Clinton and Mr. Bush."

Regarding the Islamic world's historical reference point of the

Scheuer: "The historical awareness of Muslims is extraordinary, in
the sense that 65 percent of the Islamic world is illiterate, but all
of them know their history, from having the Koran read to them, from
having the Prophet's biography read to them. When bin Laden makes an
illusion to something that happened in the Seventh Century, people get
it within a few words. So yes, the resonance of the Crusades is very

Regarding Israel's stake in U.S. policy:

Scheuer: "We are at the point where we can no longer tolerate that
Israel dictates the policy the U.S. must follow. It's time we play
the great power in the relationship and not the minor power. Fifty
years is enough, I think Israel should do whatever it needs to do to
defend itself. I have no qualms about that, but I don't think it's
worth one dead American."

Regarding the impact of the Iraq War on the al-Qaeda problem:

Scheuer: "I think the debacle in Iraq is the real horrific thing
that's coming down the road. Al-Qaeda is now al-Qaedaism and has
really taken hold in other parts of the world. The media, especially
American media, is really bore-sighted on Iraq. But if you look at
Thailand and the Philippines, the Northern Caucuses, northern Nigeria,
militant Islam is really gaining traction. These will be problem areas
in the not too distant future.

"I also think that the rather sophomoric argument about setting a
deadline for the U.S. to pull out of Iraq only makes the enemy strong.
I don't think either party is serious about this. There will be a
pull out just in time for the 2006 elections. ...

"The real tragic thing about Iraq is that the administration didn't
put much thought into what they were doing, especially about the
Sunnis. They thought they would box them into a place where the Sunnis
would attack and we could kill them.

"In the thinking of the Islamic militant, Iraq is contiguous
territory to countries they were never able to get to before. They are
always looking for a Pakistan, it was their safe haven against the
Russians. Bin Laden has explained that the reason he has not sent
fighters to the Balkans or Israel is because there was not a safe-haven
border from which they could operate. Iraq now gives them safe haven to
attack Syria, Israel, Jordan and Turkey. ...

"The militants aren't going to be bought off with economic
improvements. One of the great mistakes that Americans make is to
believe that these people are motivated by poverty, or the lack of
education or that they don't have prospects for a career. Al-Qaeda
and its allies are mostly middle- and upper-class educated people. They
appeal to educated people, or they wouldn't spend so much time
dominating the Internet.

"There seems to be this belief that if we build schools it will make
Muslims un-militant. I don't think that's true. ... They're very
rational actors."

Regarding what's happened to militants captured as early as 1995:

Scheuer: "I don't think anybody has been released. ... People we
picked up are being held someplace else. I don't think we held anyone
until after 9/11. But the rendition program initially delivered people
to countries where they were wanted. [These people are either still
incarcerated] or they're dead. We never picked up anyone who wasn't
wanted by the authorities.

"The rendition program was designed to do two things: to take people
off the streets that we knew were a threat to the United States, and
two, at the time of their arrest, to pick up any hard-copy documents
they had. No one was ever picked up so they could be talked to. Any
intelligence service will tell you that al-Qaeda guys are trained to
fight from the jail cell by giving false information mixed with some
good information that's dated. ...

"We still behave as if this were still the terrorism of the Eighties.
The terrorism of that era was a lethal nuisance, but it was never a
national security threat. The problem, for the U.S. at least is that
the possibility of a large attack is a reality and the possibility of
another attack is on the horizon.

"What's going to happen in the United States is that there's
going to be a much larger attack than 9/11 or there will be a kind of
nuclear attack with a weapon acquired from the former Soviet Union. The
surest sign that neither party in the country takes the possibility of
an attack seriously is that we have done nothing to help Russia secure
its nuclear weapons.

"I think Iraq is going to be central to the threat for the next
decade or more. And, I think we have probably signed the death warrant
for Jordan. I think the two attacks we have seen there are just the
start of what's going to happen. Bin Laden has always said the great
human reserve for Islam is Asia, so I assume we will see things
continue to evolve in that region. ...

"Part of the reason we haven't seen al-Qaeda is because bin Laden
had to satisfy an enormous amount of critics within the Islamic
militant movement before he attacks us again. He was criticized first
for not having warned us enough. Secondly, for not offering us a chance
to convert. Both of those things sound silly, but they are very clear
demands made by the prophet before Muslims attack.

"The third criticism was that bin Laden did not have enough religious
justification to kill that many Americans. He had to close those three
loops. From about the spring of 2002 prior to the election, he gave
four speeches directly to the American people saying that 'because
your governments policy depends on the support of the public, I can
only assume that if you keep voting for the people that maintain these
policies that you approve of them.' The last one was on the eve of
the election. ...

"The third thing he did was to secure from a Saudi sheik was
religious authorization to use nuclear weapons against the United
States, that was in May 2003. ... Al Zarqawi has said, 'thank God for
letting the Americans invade Iraq because now they will be defeated if
they stay and defeated if they leave.' ...

"It's so much more than Israel. We are so dependent, along with our
European allies on oil out of the Gulf, we still are going to be
supporting the al-Saud tyranny. We're going to support the Egyptian
tyranny because of the peace process. We're still going to be in
Afghanistan. ...

"The real danger for America is they will turn to the idea of a
Marshall Plan or New Deal and that by pumping tons of money into the
Middle East to build schools that that will somehow cure militancy.
[What will cure the problem is] disengagement. What this is about is
the future of Islamic civilization. We are bearing the brunt right now
because we are in the way."

Regarding claims that Islamic militants seek world domination:

Scheuer: "That's the rather silly argument of the neoconservatives.
The idea that we're facing a united Islamic juggernaut is just
nonsense. The only thing that creates unity within Islam right now is
hatred of U.S. policy. As we become less of a focus, the energies of
the Islamist will begin to focus on Israel and Saudi Arabia and the
other Arab states. ...

"It is absolutely in their [neoconservatives'] interest to make us
believe the militants hate us because we are democratic and have
liberty. The idea that someone blows himself up to try to destroy
Mubarak and you call him a 'freedom-hater,' there's a disconnect
there. Mubarak is a police state, the Saudis are a police state. The
Islamists may not have the same definition of freedom that we have,
freedom is different in every culture, but there is every bit of
evidence that the Muslim militant movement is as much a liberation
movement as it is anything else."

Regarding the possible effect of a Democratic victory in 2006
congressional elections:

Scheuer: "It could make it worse. Mr. and Mrs. Clinton are seen as
friends of Israel, ... and if the Democrats come in, they are viewed by
the militants as more pro-Israel than the Republicans."

Regarding differences in "renditions" under Bill Clinton and George
W. Bush:

Scheuer: "In a sense, I would say these prisoners are better treated
in the hands of Americans than they were when the Clinton
administration wanted us to take these people to places like Egypt.
It's kind of a disconnect for me. The Clinton administration wanted
no part of treating these people in a manly fashion and keeping them as
prisoners of war. ...

"The difference between the two administrations is that now we are
holding people. Under the Clinton administration they didn't want any
part of it. They wanted us to give them to the Egyptians or other
Middle Eastern countries. ...I think the big difference in the Bush
administration is that we hold people at Guantanamo and in Iraq. ...

"The Clinton guys didn't want to hold these people. So we said,
'OK, we'll focus on guys that have outstanding warrants and try to
get them returned to their country of origin.' We said, 'You know,
Mr. President, Mr. Sandy Berger, Mr. Richard Clarke, that if they go to
any Middle Eastern country, they're not going to be treated the way
they would be in the United States. We said the State Department puts
out a negative human rights report on virtually every state where we
would send these guys. What do you want us to do?'

"They asked, 'Will the countries that agree to accept these people
agree to treat them according to their own laws?' We said, "Sure,
we bet they will do that.' And, that's what satisfied them. Mr.
Clinton and Mr. (Richard) Clarke have been trying to re-write history
by saying we insisted that these countries treat these people by the
standard of international law and the law in America and that was never
the case. ...

"The rendition program has been enormously successful and well
conducted except for the last step, where these people were to be held.
In that sense, I think the United States has shot itself in the foot.
If we had treated people who declared war on us as prisoners of war and
brought them to America and treated them as we did prisoners in World
War II, the world might not like it, but we wouldn't have all the
trouble we have at the moment."