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Archive for March 13th, 2015

Counterstrike by Eric Schmitt Thom Shanker

 

Eric Schmitt and Thom Shanker. Counterstrike.  New York, NY: Times Books, 2011. 336 pp.

Radical Islam isn’t going away anytime soon so this book definitely has its place.  This is the story of the United States’ effort in Counter-Terrorism following September 11th.  It is the incredible story of how various parts of the Government matured in their fight against Al Qaeda.  The book focuses not only the frontline agencies against terrorism such as the State Department, the CIA, the FBI and the military but also certain key individuals that have shaped the policies in their respective agencies.  We read in the book the story of the early days after September 11th in which the government was struggling to know who their enemy was.  The book does not cover up the embarrassing extent of the ignorance of various officials in the government concerning Al Qaeda and Osama Bin Laden.  But as the government kept moving forward in its war against Al Qaeda we find that certain men eventually shaped institutional changes to their agency in order to adapt to the stateless terrorist threat of Al Qaeda.  For example, the book talks about how the intelligence community at first collected everything as potential data but this led to an ineffective process of sorting out and producing good intelligence analysis.  Soon “intelligence triage” was developed in order to better handle incoming potential intelligence data along with directing it at the right analysts.  The academic world also had a place in the war on terror in which the intelligence community wisely saw that the academic world can better analyze certain data especially those that weren’t urgent actionable intelligence; this led to the founding of the Combating Terrorism Center based at West Point.

I appreciated how the authors described various elements of the government starting to work together in order to defeat Al Qaeda.  This was dramatically different compared to the pre-9/11 world where government agencies’ jealousy meant an agency become territorial with what they were willing to share and do.  Before 9/11 communications between the FBI and CIA faced many difficulties; the FBI’s computer network system was out of date and incompatible with the other government agencies.  That would eventually change.  We also read in the book of how the military and the intelligence community grew to become better reliant with each other.  The military improved their ways of gathering information and intelligence and also improved on how this was shared to the intelligence community.  In turn the intelligence community enhanced their evaluation and analysis in order to hand over to the military “actionable intelligence.”  I love the example of how a platoon of US Army soldiers unknowingly stumbled upon an intelligence treasure trove in Sinjar, Iraq that was then properly exploited by the intelligence community that helped the military to operationally downgrade Al Qaeda in Iraq.  There is also the story of the book of how the NSA would also have people sent to Iraq to better assist the military.

The book also had a discussion throughout the book about deterrence theory against Al Qaeda.  We see a whole chapter devoted to the discussion about Cold War deterrence theory and the problem with it in relations to Al Qaeda.  Obviously, it is difficult to get someone to back down when they are willing to martyr themselves in the attempt to destroy the West.  However I think the book makes a good point that there is a role of deterrence as a tool against Al Qaeda and other Islamic extremists once we understand the network nature of Al Qaeda and other radical terrorist groups.  This new deterrence theory recognizes that in order for Al Qaeda to function there is the need for a terrorist network that is able to provide logistical needs.  Not everyone in this network is a suicide bomber since a suicide bomber himself would need someone who is a recruiter, a financier, trainer, etc.  This new deterrence theory is not necessarily directed towards the bombers and fighters themselves but towards those supporters who have much more to lose since they are still committed to being of the world (so to speak) and attached to certain things that allow the US leverage.  Recognition of this also means that our tools against Al Qaeda isn’t just military but also other means such as legal, financial and cyber capabilities.  As the book mentioned, “it takes a network to fight a network.”

The book also talked about the problematic and at times ironic relationship the US has with Pakistan in the War on Terror.  I also found it informative that the authors discussed the threat of the loan wolf home grown terrorists inspired by Al Qaeda.

While the book was published before the current geopolitical threat of ISIS, I think readers will find this book informative as to the historical development in the long war against Islamic terrorism.  Highly recommended work.

Purchase: Amazon

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