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07-06-07, 04:53 AM
July 06, 2007
London Calling
By J.R. Dunn

There are many reasons why the U.S. has chosen its current strategy in the fight against terrorism. The most crucial of them were underlined last weekend, thanks to events in the UK.

The world was fixated on Britain, watching with fascination and a sense of breathlessness, in the hope that yet another shoe would fail to drop, that there would be no other car attack, that the Jihadis have played out their hand for the moment. Two car bombs were found in London, professionally placed, the first discovered not by police but an ambulance crew. Evidently the bombs were triggered (by cell phones) but failed to go off.

Then, only hours later, an attack was attempted on Glasgow Airport by two goons a little crazier than strictly necessary. Failing to breach the terminal, at least one of the terrorists leapt out of his incendiary-packed SUV, poured gasoline over himself and set it ablaze. (One of those actions that informs us that we are dealing with people truly unlike us.) Once again the citizen element prevailed - when the police were unable to subdue the blazing terrorist, he was tackled by a passerby who brought him down in short order.
A number of arrests have been made. Apart from the fact that most of the suspects are doctors - educated, established individuals, men of respect, in any other milieu - few details have yet emerged. We can surmise that we are about to be exposed to yet another facet of Jihadi mentality until now unknown to us.

The aura of Jihadi incompetence evident since 7/7 remains. The London terrorists triggered the cell phone detonators several times with no result. The Glasgow crew failed to smash through the security barriers protecting the airport terminal. In neither case is there evidence of a fallback, redundant systems, or any kind of Plan B. They still have not regained the level of technical mastery seen in 9/11 and their other early strikes.

But can much better be said of the British? In the end, it was a matter of pure luck. A more blase medical team, a terrorist who had taken an electronics course, and the outcome could have been very different.

According to MI 5, this may be a new network of which security forces were completely ignorant. It shouldn't be this way six years after 9/11 and two years after 7/7. It is this way because of deliberate policy decisions by the British government.

The London Telegraph states that MI 5 is now monitoring no less than 30 ongoing plots involving up to 1,700 individuals, "an increase of 100 since November". While it's good intelligence procedure to allow a conspiracy to mature under close watch in order to bag as many participants as possible, 30 is a very high number, and 1,700 terrorists is simply too many to keep an eye on. Allowing ten agents for each terrorist (the number would actually be higher), including at least two drivers, technicians, and replacements, gives us a requirement of 17,000. Now multiply that by three shifts. Does the MI 5 have that many field agents? Does the FBI? Does anybody, in this post-Cold War epoch?

Under those circumstances, something is inevitably going to break. Something is going to be overlooked. Somebody is going to slip away while the cops are occupied elsewhere. (This has in fact already happened - according to several reports, the 7/7 bombers had been under surveillance but were dropped due to lack of personnel.) Somebody is going to start a 31st operation while the authorities are busy with the first batch.

Then we have the phenomenon of the "control order". The Edinburgh Scotsman told us that British authorities were "keen to rule out of their inquiries" four Jihadis who recently disappeared while under "control orders". This is a provision of British anti-terror law which places a suspect under house arrest - but only for eighteen hours a day. It's not backed up by surveillance, tracking anklets, or anything else. These four endured it only as long as they had to before taking off, nobody knows where. They include Cerie Bullivant, the Algerian brothers Lamine and Ibrahim Adam, who vanished in May, and former London Underground (read, "subway") worker Zeeshan Siddiqui, who faded last year.

John Reid, home secretary under Tony Blair, described this crew as "dangerous" but not a "direct threat", a distinction slightly finer than the situation seems to demand. Particularly since another Adams brother, Anthony Garcia Adam, is now serving life for attempting to build a fertilizer bomb, suggesting that the clan does have an interest, and maybe even considerable expertise, in bombmaking and related arts.

At the same time, the British are searching for an Iraqi "who cannot be named for legal reasons", who also has an interest in bombs. He slipped out from under his control order last Monday, June 18. He was part of a six-man cell associated with Al-Queda in Iraq. Consider that for a moment -- six years after 9/11 and while British forces are engaged in Basra. Another member of the same group, Bestun Salim, disappeared last August. The Brits believe he left the country, which must be quite a relief to the inhabitants of London and Glasgow.

So that's how two of the thirty investigations-in-progress have worked out. Anybody feel like laying bets on the other twenty-eight?

None of this would have occurred in the U.S. Over here, we bag them.

Many of the Jihadis arrested in this country over the past few years - the Lodi group, the Miami group, the would-be New York subway bombers, the Lackawanna group -- committed no actual violent acts. What they were doing was conspiring. They were talking big, making connections and inquiries, scouting targets. In Britain, this would make them eligible for a control order. On this side of the pond, it gets them locked up in ugly concrete structures for a long, long time.

Consider Sami al-Arian, the Florida computer science professor prosecuted and convicted for supporting terrorism. Not a violent figure; essentially a financier, a bagman. The British would have added him to the list as number 1701. American authorities put him in a cell to serve a sentence that ends next fall, at which point he will be invited to return from whence he came. They may have harsh words for him there as well.

Terror networks are set up the way they are to accomplish a particular purpose. Each member fulfills a certain role. Sami al-Arian might well not be able to bring himself to hurt a fly. But the Hamas terrorists he was funding were killing people throughout Israel, and today in Gaza, and tomorrow, who knows? Taking down al-Arian pushed that "tomorrow" a little farther down the calendar. It cost them something. It degraded their network. It made things a little more difficult for them. Which is the way you want it to be for any terrorist group that may be operating against your country. You might not be able to knock out all of them, but you can increase the operational obstacles they have to overcome.

The Brits certainly do not need lessons in counterintelligence -- they've been at it since Walsingham, if not earlier. But they have not yet made the mental shift required to adequately deal with the new challenge. Like many people in the West, they are still living in peacetime. They believe they can treat the Jihadi threat as a domestic emergency, the same way they did the IRA. But they can't. It's a new order of threat, with its own distinct nature and operating according to its own rules. And the stakes, as we saw last weekend, are infinitely higher.

The irony here is that there are forces in this country promoting something very similar to the British system. Over the past month we've seen a series of judicial decisions in both military and civilian courts pointing to a complete reworking of our current terrorist policy. One in which Guantanamo will not exist. In which the Jihadis have been turned over to the civilian justice system. In which they will be treated the same as domestic criminals, with the same rights and subject to the same procedures, including habeas corpus, bail, and representation courtesy of the ACLU.

The U.S. has not suffered a single successful large-scale terror strike since 9/11. Not because it hasn't been tried - there have been a dozen attempts. But each one has been stopped in its tracks. There has been no American 7/7, no American Madrid train station. For one reason: our method works. Of course, anything can happen, and eventually somebody will get through. Luck operates on both sides, and we will have our bad days. But Jihadi successes will be few and far between. Because our system ain't broke and it doesn't need fixing.

So what we have is of the nature of an experiment - the British attempt to treat the terrorist threat as an elaborated criminal enterprise, to be addressed with a slight intensification of standard procedure and serious attention paid to human rights as defined by the progressive European elite, contrasted with the U.S. insistence on open war, damn the torpedoes and full speed ahead. And despite all rhetoric, obfuscation, and media manipulation, it could not be clearer which strategy has proven out.

Britain needs to un-muzzle its outstanding counterintelligence forces, abandon "control orders" and the entire paradigm of terrorist-as-criminal. The U.S. needs to learn the British lesson and cease attempting to transform terrorism into a matter for the criminal court system.

How likely is this? Recent trends are less than encouraging. Politics, public attitudes, and not the least, shifts in the priorities of the major players (future historians are going to have a tricky time explaining why the heroic figures of the first terror campaign put so much effort into undercutting their own achievement - Tony Blair in search of a delusive European unity, George Bush in support of his misbegotten immigration "reform") all militate against it. Eventually, there will be another ugly, avoidable incident. The cell phones will work. The Jihadis will pay attention to the manual. Our luck will run out, and we will, as ever, be forced to respond to the world as it is, and not as we wish it to be.

Until then, at least we've got the ambulance crews.