Advancing U.S. National Interests Through Effective Counterterrorism
Christopher C. Harmon
October 22, 2001
Thank you for inviting me here today. I come as a scholar and author who’s in the public service, and I speak today in those voices. I don’t pretend to speak for so important an organization as the United States Marine Corps or its university, although I am very proud of that affiliation.
In recent weeks, at least two commentators have declared terrorism to be indefinable. Lack of a definition has also troubled the United Nations, which occasionally manages denunciations, but not an agreed definition. So, we should begin with a definition, the best I’ve found: “Terrorism is the deliberate and systematic murder, maiming, and menacing of the innocent to inspire fear for political ends.”
That can encompass governmental use of terror against its own people. Certainly it includes the terrorist strategies of many revolutionary groups we have known, here and abroad, leftist and rightist alike. It includes the main American concern of the moment, terrorism inspired by selective use and distortion of a venerated book, the Koran.
We could add religious motives or purposes to the definition, but it may be unnecessary: religious terrorists almost always have some political program. That is evident from the Charter of Hamas, and the public posturing of Hizbollah. One can see it directly in the February 1998 fatwa of Osama Bin Laden and associates, and in the Al-Qaida training manual on “Military Studies in the Jihad Against the Tyrants.” Bin Laden has been telling us openly what he wants for years; the [Department of State] report Patterns of Global Terrorism described this man, and printed his color picture, in their annual five years ago.
When terrorists co-join religion with politics, religion may appear reluctantly or seem to take the lead. Either way, adherents to terrorism often see a simple and attractive unity between politics and religion. We Americans see it less easily; many of our forefathers dreaded the control of politics by clerics, and we’re now raised on injunctions about separating church and state.
The religious impulse of some extremists points to one of the reasons terrorism is a major problem of contemporary life and international relations: terrorism is attractive to those who use it. There is a second, equally important problem: terrorism sometimes works. It often works tactically: the bomb works, the AK-47 kills, a line or two of the manifesto does get onto the evening news. Terrorism may also spread operational tentacles around multiple countries, and live on, even after an arm is severed.
At the strategic level, terrorism certainly does not always, or often, succeed completely and achieve all its aims. But for every group that gives up, another carries on for years or decades, or is content with limited success. These victories, limited or complete, are noted by other extremists. Terrorism had a strategic role for a succession of the last century’s revolutionary groups. By degrees—no one equates these groups, but by degrees—observation, inspiration, or direct teaching may be said to link Bolsheviks, Maoists, Khmer Rouge, Vietnamese Communists, Algerians of FLN, and Sandinistas. All these movements took state power, even if some could not continue to rule. To hard-driving leadership, and political organization, and propaganda, and guerrilla warfare, they added strategies of terrorism. So did the Palestine Liberation Organization. Twenty-five years after the Olympics massacre, Black September chief Abu Daoud celebrated that ugly anniversary by telling the press that “Munich put the Palestinian cause inside every house.” He’s right.
Let me take a moment to indicate a few ways a particular brand of transnational terror—that of Islamic extremists—has been prospering.
Consider our friend The Republic of the Philippines. In April 2000, a strange drama began, staged by separatist Muslim militants of Abu Sayyaf, the latest in a long line of such indigenous Filipino groups. They seized hostages, including Americans and other foreigners. Naturally there ensued a crisis—for the Filipino government, for the countries whose nationals were kidnapped, and, it goes without saying, for the direct victims. Tension and waiting ensued. Armed forces there hunted and maneuvered. Strain showed in some political forums. Tourist receipts for the region dropped.
Some hostages were released but others were not. All this was archetypal…. we’ve seen it in too many climes and places. About last October, the crisis abated. Why? Apparently because the Libyan government—a past supporter of Muslim insurgents in the Republic of the Philippines—managed negotiations which included millions of dollars in Libyan funds going to Abu Sayyaf. This money, it was suggested, helped to solve the crisis. And indeed it probably did.
Now, who could be against “solving the crisis”? So for the most part international silence settled over the case, although the Philippines’ armed forces continued their hunt, and caught some of the terrorists. One American hostage has probably been beheaded, and two more—missionaries from Kansas—remain under terror.
Here’s a key question which went unasked: What would the international reaction have been if, 2 years ago and without a crisis, Libya had given this known terror group millions? Or, what if millions had been given, and right after that Abu Sayyaf had committed these same kidnappings and murders? The answer is—international scandal and wide denunciation of Tripoli. Yet what in fact has happened? Nothing. Libya is rarely discussed in America as a sponsor of international terrorism. The usual talk is of (a) lack of fresh evidence against Libya, and (b) the possibility of Libya getting off the U.S. list of seven state sponsors.
Something close to the final word on this bit of theater appeared many months ago, buried in a long article about new kidnappings by Abu Sayyaf: “Although officials had hoped the money would make the guerrillas fade away, it instead emboldened them to snatch more people with newly-purchased guns and speedboats.” This would seem an apt illustration of why one of this department’s pillars of antiterrorism is “no concessions.”
Consider a second case—Iran. There are two decades of Iranian support for fanatics, many calling themselves Shia but also some who say they are Sunni. Richard H. Shultz, Jr. of the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy diagrammed the Iranian method and purpose in a long 1994 article in the journal Terrorism & Political Violence. Foreign media have covered the murder of Iranian exiles in their countries. American reporters and Jane’s Intelligence Review have tracked the barrels full of money Iran gives to Hizbollah and Hamas and the Palestine Islamic Jihad. I made my own approach to the evidence in many pages of the book Terrorism Today.
But we often feel like a minority in Washington. My minority thinks it’s foolish for the last Administration to have repeatedly extended a hand to Tehran, and talked of new openings in bilateral relations, even as State Department reports kept showing Iran as the largest exporter of transnational terrorism. This minority finds something wrong-headed about Brent Scowcroft’s public argument this year [May 11, The Washington Post], that some U.S. offering is appropriate, especially since the youth of Iran are different from the nastiest of the older clerics. Some of them are different; others may aspire to be the next mullahs; neither set of youth is making Iranian policy and strategy. We should try to reach younger Iranians with public diplomacy, but not by deal making with Tehran. American public conversation about Iran has been one-sided in recent years: there has been an unseemly longing for the “reformist” President, and now there is new fascination with how Iran might help, through the Northern Alliance and its own borders, to catch Osama Bin Laden. We hope Tehran helps; but this would not demonstrate true change in Iran’s general posture on international terrorism.
If we all agree the Reagan Administration fooled itself in the busted deal called Iran-contra, why aren’t we foolproof about Iran now? If we do garner intelligence from Iran, it may be fool’s gold; or it may be true metal for which they later demand some service. Why not instead consider what damage embracing Iran could do to the sparkling streams of intelligence we’ve always seen from Israel, or the nuggets we doubtless get from Turkey, our most neglected NATO ally, our closest Moslem friend, so well positioned to see into Central Asia?
After two weeks of speculation in Washington about a counter terror partnership with Iran, Hamas opened this month of October by sending thugs with rifles and grenades to storm homes—not a fort, not an IDF barracks, but houses—of people living in Gaza. Hamas murdered as many as they could, which that day was 17. Of course this made the news. But I saw not even a word about the years of steady support Tehran has lent Hamas, an organization of killers and suicide bombers.
International terrorism, regrettably, has become a staple of international relations. There are enough diverse parties involved, enough immediate motives, and enough root causes. And, as the cases of Abu Sayyaf and Iran show, there are enough partial successes by terrorists to keep this kind of violence going. I should now advance a few general propositions about the ways we fight back.
First, we should resist declaring that we will “eliminate” terrorism. That would be like promising to eliminate crime, or other vice; it would be impossible. Let’s speak instead of fighting terrorism, and of destroying named terror groups, and of relentless pursuit of individual murders, hijackers, and torturers. We must speak too about coercing and punishing terrorists’ larger sponsors. Since the 1960s, we’ve seen different kinds of groups dominate our changing interests in transnational terrorism: communists, national separatists, neo-fascists, several varieties of Asian religion, and now of course Moslem militancy. This latest scourge is a deadly enemy. Even when we beat it, to the degree that the democracies beat the communist terrorist movement here and in Europe, other schools of theatrical violence will emerge, or re-emerge. One only need consider Maoism. An astonishing legacy of evil in China, Cambodia, and Peru, drags after this doctrine…. and yet it dares to reappear, in India, in Nepal, in university study circles.
Second, a key to counterterrorism is steady will. Whenever the dust settles in Washington on this broad question about who and what should direct efforts against terrorism, America will still be facing the more important matter of public and governmental will. Will we pursue Osama Bin Laden until his end? Yes. Will we keep after the other senior al-Qaida men until they have been hit, or captured, or killed? That remains to be seen. Our attentions could skitter sideways after a time. We will see more collateral damage than we want. The enemy-of-the-year has great patience; how great will be our determination, as the months go by?
Our polity is being tested by the present crisis. Many voiced great concern, within days of the September attacks, that counterterrorism could be more dangerous to our liberties than terrorism. After years of debate that began with the Oklahoma City attack, Congress has now voted to allow roving wiretaps, and other controlled privileges to law enforcement. When will we also allow the FBI to collect information on a group it judges to have violent proclivities, even though no bomb has yet been detonated? Will we do what is needed to cut back on regulations that have barred CIA contacts with unsavory persons, so the Agency can infiltrate terror groups? After this fight in Afghanistan, when other terrorists are active, will we use—not just endlessly train—the Special Forces we have to actually find, enter, and destroy the camps of terrorists, or seize them for trial, or kill them where they stand? When Egypt or Jordan or Britain or some other moderate government seeks a subject of extradition, say, an Irish gunman with an American political following, will we tender the suspect, in spite of political consequences and even retaliation? When Turkey conducts its next ground offensive against the remnants of PKK, will our media depict this as appalling use of force, or as another useful blow against the Kurdish Workers Party terrorism that used to be commonplace in European cities? We care most now about leading a coalition against terror; our allies will also ask us what we are prepared to do. We’ll need the will to help our allies, as often as we ask their help.
There’s a lesson in the Basque lands for us all. In the 1980s, when France declined to seriously help Spain pursue ETA, the Etarras enjoyed a nearly free ride on the French side of the border, and thus terrorists bedeviled the Spanish. When Paris decided about 1991 to really help Madrid, combined action against ETA worked wonders. The list of arrests on both sides of the border grew, while terror attacks fell precipitously. 1992 and the next few years were disastrous for the terrorists. It took them time to recover operationally. Now they again attack, but their public support is strikingly low among even Basque people.
Third, we should not get lost, or paralyzed, in the gray area between crime and war. For democracies, the norm is peace; war is a hated breach of peace. We study and learn from Clausewitz, but it’s not in our character to accept war as the mere equivalent of sending diplomatic notes, a mere extension of politics. Yet terrorism, ever calculating, deliberately places Americans into this uncomfortable zone of gray, between war and peace. Terrorism talks of war while others attempt reasoned, nonviolent political competition; terrorism uses armed attacks on civilians in peacetime precisely because that’s more shocking than actual military engagements. Against such an enemy that deliberately makes peace impossible, we need to use all appropriate methods—those of peace, those of war, and those in between.
We’ll need a range of kinds of power to fight back. We need to think in terms of grand strategy, not just tactics.
- Our diplomats are key to the bilateral and multilateral arrangements by which we have been fighting terror. I’m impressed with some of their results.
- For global audiences, especially in the third world, we need to make more use of public diplomacy, as by beaming back the denunciations of terrorism which have been made by moderate clerics, and by Arab governments, and by the Organization of African Unity, and by legal bodies under U.N. auspices, and by the European Union. We need to make use of the fact that Taliban is a foreign-based regime. We need to focus on the way Islamic extremists killed more Muslims in the 1990s than they did Jews and Americans.
- Our intelligence agencies will find good uses for the words of defectors from violent groups. This is one option for psychological warfare.
- The Administration has sought effects with food programs and other humanitarian assistance for those trapped by al-Qaida. Foreign aid has also long been of help to friendly governments like Egypt, which has many impoverished citizens and faces many prospective militants.
- We follow the terrorists’ money trail. In a typical example of quiet success, the U.S. Customs Service has just seized hoards of cash destined for Yemen, and probably identified with bin Laden front companies based there, his land of birth.
- We may use or threaten to use military aid to the enemies of the terrorists, as well. In addition to international sanctions the U.S. helped put in place, one reason for the turnaround in the Sudanese regime after 1999 may well have been our discussion of overt aid to John Garang’s militias in southern Sudan.
- We already train foreign counter terrorist forces, and profit from training with them.
All these methods, and outright military force, may be appropriate responses to an enemy seeking to erase the difference between war and peace. Let’s turn now to more specific recommendations for effective counterterrorism under U.S. law.
As taxpayers, we have to be willing to pay for good police, and willing to support intrusive surveillance of terrorism suspects and groups that are organized to help them. Most counterterrorism is police work. And it should be. Any role for the military within the U.S. must remain carefully limited, and providing well for our police is one assurance we have of keeping it that way. Americans approve of the principle of posse comitatus, written into law in 1878, blocking most uses of national military forces for routine domestic policing operations. Where there have been exceptions, like the skillful use of U.S. Marines to control the Los Angeles riots, Americans have sensed that such interventions are only tolerable due to a state of emergency. It seems to me that the American people will approve use of National Guard, or even conventional military forces, to back up domestic police in a great emergency. There may well be need for military help in such cases as a bio-weapons attack in a major city, or finding all possible intelligence on a so-called “backpack” nuclear weapon reportedly entering the U.S. It’s also evident that a balance must always be maintained between such worthy needs as those and the disastrous use of armed force at home against American citizens.
Next, we are poorly managing the problem of illegal migration. This is a matter we are all uncomfortable with, but it’s central. Just as all too often after a bloody crime, we learn that the criminal has a past record. The story of terrorist plots within the U.S. is too often a story of illegal entry, or lapsed visas, or blunders by authorities whose workload exceeds their unit’s human and technical capacities. The current display of easy passage through the States reminds one of the near past: the convict Sheik Abdul al-Rahman, who inspired the last attack on the Trade Towers, arrived here despite being on a “watch list.” That was regarded as incredible. It is.
The challenge of violent illegals is central to what we can do with our domestic power and how we manage immigration. Somehow our public discourse has lost a proper sense for the difference between American citizens and aliens intent upon doing this country harm. While this is country of immigrants—we are all immigrants or progeny of immigrants—this is also a country, a polity, a particular entity. We are a regime based upon universal principles but we are not a universal regime. Not everyone who comes here is entitled to American citizenship or even the legal protections of citizenship. As the evidence grew, about the foreign direction of the September 11 attacks, I had a talk about this with Ambassador Alan Keyes, who for a time directed this Department’s Bureau of International Organizations. A theme of his life and his public service has been the argument that we Americans tend to undervalue our founding principles and our sense of citizenship. The obverse of this partial disinterest in the good is the lack of heed we pay to those who come here with evil intent.
We should lose our embarrassment over the right we have to expel aliens who may be associated with hostile groups. Court protections placing the full burden of fully public proof against the accused are not needed when the defendants are not citizens. Sources and methods of intelligence gatherers can and should be protected. “Watch lists” for suspected terrorists can and should be better maintained. We have—and we should use—the Alien Terrorist Removal Court, created in 1996, permitting in camera (private) proceedings before a judge, so that intelligence is not compromised before the world. We should also examine the possible resultant problems of the blithe dismissal some years ago by Congress of the McCarren Walters Act. That law had long made it possible to bar any alien who adheres to doctrines of anarchism, or communism or some other form of totalitarianism. To me, rescinding that law seemed foolish.
There are good laws relating to financing of terror groups, and they’ve just been strengthened by House and Senate bills awaiting conference. The recent order to seize many terror group assets is in line with steady progress since 1995 on defunding terrorism. Much has been said of not freezing foreign assets of Hamas and Hizbollah. That may indeed be a mistake. But the U.S. did freeze those groups’ assets in America in 1995. And in 1998, executive order permitted seizure of $1.4 million in assets from Hamas and a so-called “Quranic Literary Institute” in Chicago. For years, Hamas and Hizbollah have been on lists of groups to which Americans are banned from giving material support. Al-Qaida was added in 1998. The Department’s list also includes Jewish extremists of Kach and Kahane Lives. It includes communist groups like Peru’s Sendero Luminoso, which once managed a limited but worldwide fund-raising effort, and MRTA with which New Yorker Lori Berenson was apparently affiliated.
These lists are difficult to manage and every addition to them includes debate, but they are sensible and necessary, and as this fight against terrorism expands, the lists should expand. Perhaps we need a second category, for de-funding unarmed “political fronts” for terrorism. That list could start with Sinn Fein, which has been enjoying a free pass in and out of the U.S. and has been much enriched by this privilege.
Our operations abroad are based around a small network of FBI offices and various intelligence outposts and military bases and deployed forces. The FBI was not really designed for foreign intelligence work, and has minimal experience in such operations. But its growth into that arena has been considerable, even as its budget at home has expanded dramatically. It does indeed make sense to post experts abroad who know American law and can liaise with foreign police and can help prosecutors prepare criminal cases for American courts. That need will always remain, no matter what the success of the current counterterrorism campaign of the Bush administration. As citizens, we should willingly pay for this kind of infrastructure abroad. It’s worth it. Narrowly speaking, it helps with extraditions; very broadly, it’s another kind of advance notice on developing global security problems.
Our foreign-based intelligence assets are also showing skill at something we should ask them to do more often: renditions. When a criminal is disinclined to answer a polite summons, there is great advantage in an ability to seize him abroad and bring him to the U.S. for trial. This will sometimes be necessary instead of extradition proceedings, because even friendly foreign governments do not always willingly pay the political price of extradition. And in fact we have no treaties of extradition with some foreign countries.
A rendition does not necessarily involve any help from the host country where the terrorist suspect is. And it may involve force, or guile, or both. But renditions are fully appropriate in cases where terrorists cannot be surrendered by their hosts.
Under the so-called Ker-Frisbie doctrine, U.S. courts have long permitted the use of guile or force to bring a person to trial from abroad, where the case is strong. A co-conspirator in the assassination of Abraham Lincoln was rendered here from Alexandria, Egypt. Another 19th century case involved a man brought back from Peru. Our modern governments under both Democratic and Republican administrations have carried out such renditions; trials have followed and so have convictions and incarcerations. U.S. laws were made more explicit on this subject in the mid-1980s and since then the number of renditions has increased. Some of the bin Laden lieutenants just convicted in New York for murdering hundreds of Africans and a dozen Americans in 1998 were brought back for trial by rendition. Each was a quiet triumph for American intelligence, and each a public triumph for American justice.
The delicacy of such operations—for us as a polity, for the host country, for our diplomats, and for all directly involved—is self-evident. Some believe that use of this mechanism, backed by force where necessary, compares unfavorably with normal bilateral relations and conventional police work. But renditions are a tool for cases when the normal fails. Rendition can be an answer to inaction, to foreign refusal, and to host country fear for its own reputation. For heinous murderers abroad like Hizbollah’s Imad Mughniya, or senior staff to Osama Bin Laden, a proper comparison is not with an arrest under Miranda rights, but with the less desirable alternatives such as assassination and war.
After every disaster, we as citizens always ask: Why didn’t we know? How could this not have been expected? Where were our spies?
For one thing, we don’t hire enough spies. Every government review, every committee, every special panel ever assembled after a disaster has produced reports, wrapped in the blue ribbon of expertise, saying that our human intelligence networks are well under-strength for the demands of the world. Ambassador L. Paul Bremer, a former Coordinator for Counterterrorism here at State and the architect of yet another such study, has been speaking to this for the last several years. A few months before the September attacks the Atlantic Monthly ran a scorching report by a former CIA agent on his agency’s long-time lack of attention to Central Asia and Afghanistan. An equally gloomy report on our relevant human intelligence assets appeared in yesterday’s papers by the Agency’s inspector general of the 1990s period [Frederick Hitz].
We have foreign enemies who are not ladies and gentlemen but mass murderers. If we refuse to spy on them, and use the knowledge to disrupt their hostile transnational activities, then we lack intelligence in more ways than one. We love our liberal democracy, and we’ve been reading and hearing for so long that intelligence gathering is a form of evil that we don’t seem to want to prepare against greater evils, evils so great they can wreck lower Manhattan. At our Command & Staff College, we study Sun Tzu. He argues that a commander who will not spend the gold necessary to buy good human agents is “inhumane”—inhumane, because for lack of information his soldiers’ lives are jeopardized.
With adequate intelligence, we can act against terrorists to disrupt their activities and, when possible, preempt certain attacks. The Reagan administration enunciated the need for preemptive actions abroad in the mid-1980s. Congress passed a 1996 act directing the President to “prevent, disrupt, and defeat terrorist operations before they occur.” The President signed, but few to no subsequent policy declarations have echoed such words.
And it is rare that we do things like that. Direct actions against terrorists, whether by propaganda, sabotage of their facilities, or attacks on their armed personnel have been very rare, though terrorism against Americans and our allies is commonplace. The December 2000 National Security Strategy was of little help in this narrow respect. What it did talk a lot about is “consequence management.” We didn’t do enough about terrorism in the 1990s, and now, in Manhattan, we’re doing consequence management.
We are able to conduct such preemptive operations, or we would be able, if we paid the bills and developed the concepts and pressed them into action with greater will. Published sources give us the outlines of the story of certain U.S. actions against Abu Nidal. Intelligence and public pressures were combined to force foreign governments to shut down certain Nidal business activities. The case proved the need for will and for intelligence: intelligence to understand the group, its money trail, and its foreign operations.
In short, we ought to be taking pro-active measures more frequently. And our public policy documents ought to state frankly the right to take such defensive actions.
In past years, when closing an article or a speech on terrorism, I sometimes turned to a certain quotation from early papers by Winston S. Churchill. It is an obscure sentence from 1918. Bolsheviks had broken into the British Embassy in Petrograd in the new Soviet Union and murdered a Royal Navy attaché. Churchill, then Minister of Munitions, wrote to other officials in the British government to draw attention to what was so abnormal, so deeply offensive. He wrote: “The exertions which a nation is prepared to make to protect its individual representatives or citizens from outrage is one of the truest measures of its greatness as an organized state.”
Ladies and gentlemen, the time to use that quotation has passed. The principle it states is self-evident and true; its call for action requires an answer; but in the wake of September 11, it does not say enough. The loss of an attaché or the kidnapping of a citizen in Latin America, or even a spectacle like the hijacking and murder aboard TWA 847, an appalling, unanswered crime a decade and a half old—these cannot fully compare with the loss of 5,000 lives. Pearl Harbor swallowed 1300 fewer. This attack shares the old nature of terrorism—its savagery and its focus upon the innocent—but its scope is new. This has been murder on a scale not seen on this continent in the 20th century. It is still terrorism but it is not what, for a time, analysts called “low intensity conflict.” What it requires of us—what it has abruptly demanded of the new administration—is a broad-based and sometimes violent effort.
I disagree with those Americans who fear that, by fighting back, we will become like the terrorists. We mastered even the Fascists, in a war that took years, without becoming Hitlerian. Al Qaida is hardly of comparable strength. No, the real problem is not that we will become like this enemy; the problem is that we might lose the will to fight back and bring justice to those who really are terrorists.
We fought back in the Libyan case in 1986. This not only deterred some Libyan terrorism; it dramatically decreased Syrian terrorism. The same skill at calculation that had shown Hafez al-Asad the advantages of exporting terrorism quickly allowed him to re-calculate the new balance of forces, and judge that the next target could be his own interests. He did not stop all terrorism, but he certainly decreased his direct support of it.
In the end, some terrorists can be deterred; some should find their patrons scourged and hiding; some terrorists can be compromised and turned against their fellows; many terrorists can be arrested, with force as necessary; some terrorists must meet the death they say they long for.
Mr. Lang: Dr. Harmon, on behalf of the Open Forum, I’d like to thank you for that superb and thoughtful presentation. Please give him a warm round of applause. [Applause]
At this time I would like to open the floor to your comments and questions.
As you collect your thoughts I’d like to begin this segment by posing the first question. Dr. Harmon, you touched upon this briefly in your presentation, noting the confiscation by the U.S. Customs Service of cash bound toward terrorist front companies. To what extent are we succeeding in cooperation with our coalition partners in tracking the funds of terrorists’ cells worldwide? How important is this component as part of our overall strategy given the independent nature of these cells and given the fact that some activities may be carried out on shoestring budgets?
Dr. Harmon: It’s a great question. For years, in books about terrorism, no one even talked about funding except for a sentence here and there. I spent a long time writing an article years ago on the subject of funding of terrorism because I thought it was so interesting and innovative. The journals sneered at it and it remained unpublished. Now it seems that everyone is talking about it and The Wall Street Journal, Business Week, The New York Times, and other leading publications are filled with articles about efforts to eliminate funding for terrorists organizations. I think it’s smart for us to be trying. I think it’s exceedingly difficult.
The United States has sometimes been accused of being the world’s biggest money launderer because the number of transactions in banks here is so staggering. It’s an enormous problem, so I think we should always think of it in terms of limited progress. We do learn after awhile about certain things. It may be that it had to take the BCCI bank to break up before we realized that Osama bin Laden and others were using that bank, but we’ve gradually become smarter. We’ve made a lot of progress.
At the beginning of this new millennium we’ve passed, with a lot of allies, a brand new international bill on the subject and it’s putting together a lot of cooperative effort. Since terrorism is transnational we just have to go back all the time to what we are doing with our allies to confront it. The problem is there is so much money and capital is so liquid and fungible. The problem is some of these operations can be done very cheaply.
The Wall Street Journal ran a piece recently about Sinn Fein fundraising here, IRA and so forth. It made the observation that they think that the IRA costs about ten million sterling pounds a year to function. I’ve seen an estimate just the last day or two that maybe al-Qaida costs 35 or 40 million a year to run. Although certain low level soldiers for these groups may be poorly paid and their motive is essentially not so much money but many other things. I’ll put it this way: if Osama bin Laden had not inherited 250 or 300 million from his father, one of the world’s richest men we might not be where we are today. So I do think this is worth proceeding as part of our strategy.
Question: You indicated that taking terrorists to court may or may not be appropriate. Do you think the U.S. made a mistake by telegraphing to various terrorists around the world that all we would do is prosecute them in the way that we have handled others in the last 10 or 15 years?
Dr. Harmon: I want to argue today that in many cases arresting and bringing a terrorist here for trial is very appropriate and in other cases it’s just not possible. So both are parts of what I think we ought to be doing. We don’t like to ever get to the stage of military force either but sometimes other measures don’t work. Things like extradition or other things are really alternatives for times when normal procedures fail. It was difficult as the President and our government geared up for this war—which is what he calls it. There was no question that al-Qaida and a lot of others were getting considerable advanced notice. I think he felt he had to do that because the force was going to be used and the American people don’t like to use force without a superb justification. I think he wanted to explain the stakes in the fight and so for that reason it took some time before actual military action was taken. In a sense, as concerns the current problem, they did get some notice, and it’s probably having something to do with the inability to bring them in immediately.
As to the larger point in your question, yes, I agree that and I do argue that using only law enforcement methods for terrorism is completely inappropriate. It’s just not adequate to the purpose. They deliberately go beyond the law, exploit the openness of democratic societies, and use things like international transits that we all try to make easier. They deliberately exploit all these for their vulnerability. They deliberately avoid, in some cases, normal politics, and so for that reason they themselves open the question of force. I think our answer has to be that yes, we’re absolutely willing to use force and let them wonder whether we will be going for their money, trying to arrest their top people, trying to corrupt their middle levels, and trying to kill them where they train in foreign places. So much pressure is placed on the Sudan for example and it’s hoped that good things are going to happen in the Sudan with the change of regime. I’m willing to hope. But in the 90’s, it was extraordinary how, from an Egyptian point of view, there was such a presence of international terrorist training in that country and we really did remarkably little to nothing about it. When we finally did anything, we targeted one particular chemical plant and that’s all. The camps escaped and the regime was thumbing its nose at us. Osama bin Laden was living there for 5 years and we did nothing about it. There comes a point where you know a country has to decide if it really wants to act and to do something. Sometimes arrests are appropriate, and sometimes attacks are appropriate.
Mr. Lang: Before we conclude, before I present the Open Forum Distinguished Public Service Award to you, Dr. Harmon, I’d like to ask you answer a final question related to bio-terrorism. I’ve read in the popular press accounts that smallpox may have been weaponized in a number of countries. The Secretary of Health and Human Services, Tommy Thompson, has said that he wants to develop vaccines for 300 million Americans—enough to protect us all. To what extent do you think the international community is prepared to deal with this threat?
Dr. Harmon: I think that when they rank medically adept societies, we’re never quite at the top but we’re very near it. I think the current problem we’re having adapting to the threat of anthrax shows us how under-prepared we have been.
Several books have been written about this kind of thing, including a flood of new ones such as Germs by Judith Miller, who’s a very good journalist, but the problem has been that we’ve not been willing to spend enough money to meet this threat. The U.S. hasn’t been prepared and the world is rather unprepared.
Smallpox is something we figured we’d exterminated and basically put in lab museums many years ago, and it’s appalling that we all have to think about it again. It’s been known for a long time that terrorists have been willing to experiment with weapons of mass destruction. Osama bin Laden has boasted that if he had nuclear weapons, he would use them. In one of his Afghan training camps he was using chemical poisons in experimental ways. Many other groups since the 70’s experimented in some limited ways. The most systematic attempt made was of course by Aum Shinrikyo, the rather bizarre cult in Japan. They had some of the characteristics of some of the bin Laden group, and they had an enormous number of very highly educated people involved. They produced scientists out of their own technical universities inducted for various ideological or personal reasons, and they made systematic efforts to use Botulism, Anthrax, Saran gas, VX gas and one or two other forms of chemical or biological weapons. They fortunately failed; they were using a type of anthrax that’s not as lethal as they thought. This is a complicated business even for scientists but bio-weaponism can be brewed up and with less skill by far than it takes to make a nuclear weapon, so I expect that we all face the need to do everything we can to help groups like the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention do their jobs. It probably means bigger budgets, and we are probably going to have to pay much more for these programs. Thank you very much.