U.S. Uses Wrong Approach to Spot Radicals

Friday, 29 Jan 2010 11:40 AM

By Walid Phares

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The U.S. Defense report on the Fort Hood terror act raises "serious questions" about whether the military is prepared for similar attacks, particularly "multiple, simultaneous incidents."

In my book, "Future Jihad: Terrorist Strategies Against America," published half a decade ago, I sternly warned about the strategic determination of jihadists, al-Qaida and beyond, to target the U.S. homeland, not just in terms of terrorizing the public, but in the framework of a chain of strikes widening gradually until it would evolve to coordinated, simultaneous attacks.

In 2006-2007, I served on the then Task Force on Future Terrorism of the Department of Homeland Security and developed an analysis clearly showing the path to come.

My briefings to several entities and agencies in the defense sector clearly argued that implanting, growing, and triggering homegrown jihadists to strike at U.S. national security is at the heart of the enemy's strategy. I even projected the existence of a "war room" that directs these operations; Imam al-Awlaki's example of multiple operatives' coordination is only a small fragment of what it would be like.

In facing this mushrooming threat, not only do we not have a detection capacity to counter it, but we have been induced in error to adopt the opposite of policies suitable to our national defense. The misleading advice that the U.S. government relied on is deeply responsible for the failure to counter, stop and reverse radicalization.

The report, although a step in the right direction, has troubling shortcomings:

1. It claims "fixation on religion" is a missing indicator. Meaning if Muslims insist on praying or Catholics refrain from eating meat on Fridays during Lent, this could lead to radicalization.

Obviously it is a dead end, for the indicator is the substance of the fixation, not the mere fact of religiosity. One statement of commitment to jihad is by far more important than fasting during the whole month of Ramadan. It is not theology, it is ideology, even though many writers in town insist on merging both based on their readings of text.

I offer our government an easier way to detect the threat, without venturing into inextricable religious debates or unnecessarily apologizing for one or another particular faith.

2. The report describes Hasan as "an odd duck and a loner who was passed along from office to office and job to job despite professional failings that included missed or failed exams and physical fitness requirements." Nice shot, but it leads nowhere.

For the other potential Hasans among us aren't all necessarily odd, failed students and physically unfit. The next jihadists could be sharp, professional, and extremely social. It all depends on what the "War Room" is going to surprise us with.

Medical doctors in Britain, rich young men from Nigeria or converted farmers from North Carolina aren't all in one profile basket. So let's stop looking for framing "profiles" and start detecting ideology.

3. The report calls on the Defense Department "to fully staff those teams of investigators, analysts, linguists and others so the Pentagon can quickly see information collected across government agencies about potential links between troops and terrorist or extremist groups." This is a long awaited initiative, short of creating further catastrophes by staffing our bureaucracies with more cultural advisers, who would mislead our leaders further and worsen the fledgling counter-ideology sectors already in place.

I am making the bold statement that our problem is precisely that the expertise we sought over the past eight years is the reason for our inability to detect radicalization. Hence I would recommend an additional inquiry into our own specialization body before we re-contract it to lead the war of ideas.

The beef is there. Everything else is dressing.


Dr. Walid Phares is Director of the Future Terrorism Project at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies and the author of "The Confrontation: Winning the War against Future Jihad."

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