Another Problem With The “Law Enforcement” Model of Fighting Terrorism

From the excellent “Counterterrorism Blog“:

Today Italian newspapers announced that authorities in Milan have indicted 13 CIA operatives for the kidnapping of Abu Omar, a radical Egyptian cleric that “disappeared” from the streets of the northern Italian city in February of 2003. The step represents a major upset to the CIA’s “rendition” policy and could create a potential rift with one of its closest allies in the War on Terror.

I’ve argued in the past against the notion presented by some opponents of the war in Iraq that an – equally tough on terror – policy is to simply hunt down and kill or capture the terrorists wherever they happen to be.

This is a horrible policy for a large variety of reasons, one of which is that it simply doesn’t work well – the Clinton Administration actually did a pretty good job of identifying and prosecuting the perps in terror attacks, and Al Qaeda managed to flourish regardless. Another is – as noted above – that it violates the sovereignty of other countries (and is itself, I believe, an act of war in a certain sense).

Another issue, I strongly believe, is the culture created by emphasizing this kind of covert activity. I don’t think we need a lot of secret warriors, and I don’t think that such an army would be good for us in any way.

We need some – I have no illusions otherwise – but if they become the primary means or even a primary means of force projection, we’re in trouble. And I don’t just mean with Italian magistrates.

26 thoughts on “Another Problem With The “Law Enforcement” Model of Fighting Terrorism”

  1. While I agree that “abducting” people is not a particularly effective method of countering terrorism, there is one thing that confuses me in this Italian incident.

    Most of the initial wire stories had this paragraph: “Italian papers have reported that Omar called his wife and friends in Milan after his release last year, recounting he had been seized by Italian and American agents and taken to a secret prison in Egypt, where he was tortured with electric shocks.”

    This would lend to speculation that it was a “joint” effort. Which begs the question: why the indictment?

    Interestingly, the wire stories now omit this paragraph. As of the time I’m posting this response, Canadian Press is still carrying the paragraph (their time stamp on the story is 1:33PM ET).

  2. I guess the italian security forces and the Italian judiciary are not on the same page. Indeed, iiuc the Italian judiciary is still calling for the extradition of Omar to Italy, and for his trial in Italy. Its NOT that they want him free – they want to try him themselves.

    One presumes we preferred rending him to Egypt eihter 1. cause he would get off on a technicality in Italy – it would be hard to try him with secret evidence, etc.
    2.he would get a lighter sentence in Italy
    or 3. He would not be subject in Italy to the kinds of interrogation techniques that would be used in Egypt.

    Now there are, I think, legitimate points on both side for all three of these possibilities.

    IMHO, none of which is quite about Iraq. Surely whichever approach you prefer to dealing with an individual terrorist, no one thinks you can catch them all, EITHER way. Iraq is about draining the swamp – the same thing that, say, addressing the economic problems of the region is about, which i doubt anyone (other than extremists) opposes.

  3. While indicting those agents sounds like a bad idea it may have also been an even poorer move to kidnap Omar from the streets. We must be careful in this war lest we become like those we are doing battle with. Terrorism historically never wins in the end it always builds resentment among those groups it intends to sway. If we become terrorists in kind we cannot win.

  4. Who watches the watchers? How are the secret police/hit squads to be kept accountable? Difficult questions, for which I have no easy answers (today).

  5. Floundering against the tide of todays comments, I would say that there is some validity to the targeting of certain individuals, wheither to kill or capture. As an example Isreal had some success using these methods to decapitate the leadership of the terrorists factions in the West Bank and I have heard they are resuming the practice. Those methods are similiar to those used to take down Pablo Escobar and the British used against the IRA, both in the Twenties and recently. While shooting everone that disagrees with you is obviously contraproductive, selective strikes can be very demoralizing and disruptive to the chain of command in secertive organizations.

    Always liked to the con side on the debating team.

  6. _I guess the italian security forces and the Italian judiciary are not on the same page._

    Judiciary is sometimes really red and the military security forces are really brown. Atleast that are what some Italians claim.

    _Iraq is about draining the swamp_

    A swamp greated by invading Iraq. This circulary reasoning is what is wrong. Most wouldn’t be terrorists if America was not in Iraq and most would stop being terrorists if America left Iraq

  7. so if the CIA came to you and said they’d like to kidnap a terrorist in Morocco or Sudan, you’d tell them “No, I’m sorry, I don’t believe in those kinds of covert operations?” It’s one thing to say that covert/special forces operations are by themselves not enough, but so what? Force by itself is not enough; diplomacy by itself is not enough; economic development by itself is not enough; What difference does that observation make?

    Those of us who didn’t agree with the decision to start the war in Mar. 2003 didn’t do so because of some grand philosophical objection to the use of force, or some grand Kissinger/realist objection to democracy promotion. Basically, we disagreed with the Cheney analysis that Saddam was strong and getting stronger, and that time was not on our side. We believed Saddam was weak and getting weaker, and that time was very much on our side. But I *don’t* want to revisit that debate. It doesn’t matter any more.

    The single biggest reason why we haven’t had a terrorist attack inside the country since 9/11/anthrax, IMO, is because they haven’t been able to get any of their guys inside the country without being monitored. That’s very much a matter of law enforcement, and not so much a matter of military force. I’m not denigrating the use of force, just stating the facts as I see them.

    I’m also skeptical about the flytrap/swamp-draining, just because of the lessons of history. The closest historical parallel to Iraq is the Spanish-American war. Killing 300,000 insurgents wasn’t enough drain the swamp in the Philipines. Killing a million insurgents wasn’t enough to drain the swamp in Vietnam. Why is killing 50,000 insurgents enough, or nearly enough, to drain the swamp in Iraq? If there is a cause that large numbers of people believe in, finding bodies is not a problem. To the extent that the WOT can be permanently won, it can only be won by discrediting their cause, not by killing or jailing everybody who desires to hurt us (unless you descend into semi-genocidal Michael Scheuer territory).

    We have to win in Iraq (damned easy for me to say, of course). But we have to do it because, as in Kosovo or Liberia, it’s simply the right thing to do, not because it will somehow deal a body blow to the terrorists. Did victory & democracy/human-rights promotion in Kosovo or Bosnia make us any less likely to be hit by terrorists? I hope beating the insurgents in Iraq really will significantly reduce the number of young Muslim men with the ability and desire to hurt us. Is there any evidence that that’s the case?

    Rather than getting into some kind of grand philosophical debate about military or law enforcement, offense or defense, pre-emption or containment, torture or club med, blah, blah, blah, I’d rather make a list of everything we could be possibly doing to to reduce the chance of a terrorist attack, and then try to carry out each item on the list to the best of our abilities. Top of the list, IMO, is nuclear proliferation.

  8. What’s going on here? Probably for the first time ever I agree in part with A.

    The Judiciary is playing games. Don’t forget that the Italians have a long tradition of letting terrorists go, including the Achille Lauro hijackers (who shot and killed wheelchair bound Leon Klinghoffer, such brave men).

    The Security Services probably loathed this guy and wanted him gone. Most of the underlying tension in Europe is between the police/security people who want the Muslim terrorists gone before they get a 3/11 on their hands; and the Judiciary sticking it’s head in the sand thinking that being nice to people will prevent bombs going off.

    Democracies can get VERY good at killing and suppressing mob/ethnic/tribalist/terrorist groups. The Indian Wars from the late 1790’s all the way to the 1890s just dragged on and on; Geronimo ran wild in the Arizona territory before being tracked down in Mexico and shipped off to Florida. The French dealt with their own Sardinian and Corsican terrorists and separatists. The Red Brigades and Baader Meinhof were dismantled.

    But … much of “liberal” Europe is in basic denial and thinks being nice is a workable strategy, which also plays up anti-Americanism which is huge (America matters, European countries individually do not). This was inevitable, and we will see more of it. Eventually some fool magistrate will pull a Pinochet arrest warrant for a current or former President; provoking a military response. The Chileans WANTED Pinochet tried, since he evaded justice in his home country. I don’t think anyone wants Clinton or either Bush tried for “war crimes” by some tinpot European country (Luxembourg, Belgium, France) which would be mainly for domestic Anti-Americanism.

    As for the policy or action itself? Case by case but certainly warranted if a threat. We are NOT in the old world of pre-9/11. Terrorists can and will do anything and everything, including nuclear bombs in cities. If it’s worth the risk let’s do it. Sovereignty meant very little to the folks who jumped out of the WTC on 9/11 to their deaths.

  9. The Traditional Law Enforcement/Criminal Justice System Paradigm Is Ill
    Prepared to Fight this War On Terror

    To All:

    The concept that the GWOT is a law enforcement/ police action is fatally flawed. Yes, there are many policy issues posed by grabbing enemy agents in sovereign countries.

    We need to announce to the world we will not tolerate any country that does nothing to seek out and or detain people after we notify them that they are suspected enemy agents. We are at war with a very cunning, determined, and patient enemy that is transnational in nature, driven and unified by a cult-like religious ideology of hate and evil whose mission to kill each and every one of us – Islamofascism That’s the bottom line folks.

    Let us remember that AQ declared war against the United States of America in the early 1990’s. There declaration of war is readily available on the net from AQ. It wasn’t until 9/11 did we really take notice.

    Many Americans still have little awareness that our Country is at war (Yes, I know this is getting trite in the Blogos but I side with Instapundint). The American people are largely uneffected by this war and consequently have no real personal stake.

    For more on this point see:

    FREEDOM – Thx to The Greatest Generation for Preserving It

    Many of the American people still receive their news of the day from the MSM. The American people are not as dumb as the MSM believes as recent poles show its credibility is falling. Unfortunately the American people do not have alternative reliable sources of information. We in the Blogos know differnetly and many are coming to the Blogos to get objective news/info.

    The MSM is quickly becoming irrelevant. As Hugh Hewitt says in his book, Blog we are entering a transformational period as great as that of Martin Luther’s time and the Protestant Reformation when the printing press wrested away the control/filtering of the news, science, and religious thought of the day from the elite aristocracy and the Catholic Church.

    The Blogos now has the power to bring these messages directly to the American people. This administration has great difficulty in delivering these messages because of the biases of the MSM. Boggers can fill this gap.

    We must involve the American people and the great resources of our private sector to win the GWOT. For instance the IT and computer tech giants are US based mutlinational companies i.e., IBM, Novel, Intel, Cisco, Microsoft, Motorola, ATT, Covad and others. It’s not a a big secret that the AQ is using the Internet for command and control purposes. Hostile regimes are activily filitering/blocking the free flow of information into, within, and from their countries e.g. China, Saudi Arabia, and Iran to name a few.

    Do you think for one moment we would allow an enemy to gain air superiority over the battlefield? No in a heartbeat! We would immediately take and own the skies. Do you see a parallel to Cyberspace? Come on folks a little patriotic support is needed. We have the ability to tear down these walls. After all this is a war of ideas, culture, religion, and the free will of men and women. Besides when these repressive regimes fall there will always be a need for hardward and software to run their IT/IS infrastructure.

    I am a law enforcement professional with over thirty years experience, twenty as an investigator, in a large metro city (300K) in Sourthern California. I’ve given considerable thought to the question of what local, regional, and state law enforcement’s role should be in the GWOT.

    I’ve come to the conclusion that the traditional law enforcement paradigm is ill-equipped to deal with the GWOT domestically within the US for a number of reasons. I’ve written several essays on this subject which are linked to in the discussions threads below.

    This topic was recently discussed at Dean’s World and Jihad-Watch with some interesting observations.

    Deans’ World Here and Here


    Jihad Watch Here

    OK I’m done.


    Off-topic here’s some thing you can do right now to help in the GWOT to deliver a crushing if not fatal blow to the enemy in the GWOT.

    Dr Zin of Regime Change Iran needs your help RIGHT NOW!

  10. I’m italian and I don’t like people like the abducted Abu Omar.
    I’m pro to close and prosecute (with existing or new laws) the people aiding and abetting terrorists.

    I understand the points some people bring in favor to abduct Abu Omar and likes.

    But I think people in the USA must ask themselves what they would think about Italy if Italy law enforcers under cover would abduct and deport wanted people from the USA?

    Would be this be limited only to terrorists?

  11. bq. So we should invade Iraq to catch terrorists in Europe?

    Well, a good number of European terrorists are in Iraq rather than in European cities – which I figured you knew.

  12. If our choice is between the European model of not even arresting or holding internation terrorists such as the Munich Olympics, or the Israeli model of hunting down same to the very ends of the earth and abducting or assassinating them no matter where they hide their wretched selves, i’ll go with the the latter.

  13. Mirco,

    It would be helpful if you expanded your question by proposing a semi-real hypothetical.

    “What would Americans say if the Italian Secret Service snatched the ringleader of the Brigate Rosse responsible for the abduction and murder of Aldo Moro?”

    Nice job.

    “What would Americans say if Italian police snatched a Mafia chief?”

    Don’t we have an extradition treaty with Italy?

    Dipende, sempre dipende. Secondo me, non sarebbe una sorpresa se il governo italiano sapeva (almeno ad un levello alto) che il sequestro fosse programmato.

  14. #13

    If the US allowed terrorists to train, plan, strategize for attacks that would kill Italians and burn them in their office buildings, I would suggest that the Italians had every right, no an obligation, to abduct these individuals.

    The Europeans have a terrible track record prosecuting terrorists-the Germans just let one go!!

    Since you are an Italian, you need to understand that I find your treating our people like Mafia members or common criminals offensive.

    Italy seems to be signing a separate peace with the Islamist facists.

  15. What if the terrorists are Iraqi’s who want to kill Saddam. Would you have allowed Saddam in the 1980’s to abduct/kill Americans in America?

    This kind of policy leads to trouble. The “you can do what you want as long as you don’t do anything illegal here” is in the long run so much better

  16. With regard to terrorists, Italy, and the United States, read Tom Clancy — I believe it was his non-fiction “Special Forces.”

    Remember the Achille Lauro? How a group of terrorists hijacked a cruise ship, and how they murdered and threw overboard an elderly American named Leon Klinghoffer?

    Also remember how “cowboy Reagan” dispatched F-14’s to intercept the jet that was taking the terrorists to safe haven from an Egyptian-brokered deal? While Israel was always in the “never negotiate with hijackers” mode, the Europeans for a long time were in appeasement mode with Middle East and other terrorists because they felt vulnerable — if you took one of these guys prisoner, his friends would do another terror act to spring their guy from jail.

    Anyway, Reagan sending Navy jets out to intercept the Egypt Air plane carrying the hijackers was really “pooping in the punch bowl” — it was something you just did not do, and it came as a refreshing suprise to Americans as well.

    According to Tom Clancy, there was a lot, lot more to this than simply intercepting the plane. Not only was it forced down in Sicily, it was followed by two C-141 plane loads of Navy Seals — not a bunch of guys in a rubber raft like in the movies, but a substantial contingent of Special Forces soldiers. Also, the Italians were NOT happy about having not only the hijackers but the biggest American military landing since Patton’s time. The plan is to take the hijackers back to the U.S. for trials, but the head American officer was also worried about an impending standoff between his guys and the Italians, not so much for his guys but for the Italians and what kind of international incident would result.

    So he is on his sat link with Washington, and he gets told “do what you think is best” because even Reagan’s guys are in “h*ly sh*t” mode and don’t know what to do. So what the Navy Seal commander does is work out a deal where the Italians take custody and put on trial the two triggermen who murdered Klinghoffer (y’know, the Italians have jurisdiction because this happened on their ship, and the Seals are just handing these guys over, but the Italians were really sticking their necks out to go so far given the European approach to terrorism).

    There are two other guys in with the hijackers — some red-head could be an IRA “advisor” (along the lines of recent allegations about the Iraq “resistance” and Clancy’s fictional “Sum of All Fears”, there is kind of a network where all the bad guys — FARC, IRA, ETA, the Middle Eastern guys — all kind of know each other because they are of common ground of nursing some or other kind of grievance against the lawful world out ther) and a “rough looking guy” who I believe was Abu Abbas (I can never figure out who the bastard child with so many Abu’s is — I think I have his “name” right). This Abbas fellow was allowed to seek refuge in . . . Iraq (so much for Iraq not being plugged into Terror Inc — Iraq may not have had any connection to Bin Laden, but it was the Hilton Hotel for any terrorist who needed a place to chill.).

    So this business of Italians and Europeans in general being weenies on terrorism has a long history to it, but then just as now, Italy is in the “allies” column so we have to do what we can.

  17. a wrote:
    What if the terrorists are Iraqi’s who want to kill Saddam. Would you have allowed Saddam in the 1980’s to abduct/kill Americans in America?

    This kind of policy leads to trouble. The “you can do what you want as long as you don’t do anything illegal here” is in the long run so much better
    Which I think is instructive. While it’s certainly true that the US has a history of interfering in other countries sovereign affairs, see: Cuba, Central America, South America, Africa, Asia etc. up to and including sponsoring guys who are terrorists (like Posada the airline bomber); that was in context of a brutal proxy war taking the place of an even worse nuclear war.

    It was bad. Nuclear war was worse, if it avoided THAT catastrophe so be it.

    a’s problem is that he/she wants a perfectly moral policy, which is impossible in our big country with a big fat target on it. Maybe New Zealand, wealthy and isolated and with no enemies in the foreseable future can act like that; the US quite literally cannot. The cost of a perfectly moral policy is not just 3,000 dead but a lot more next time.

    Al Qaeda is clearly escalating attacks, it went from aiding Mohammed Aidid in Mogadishu in 1993 to the Embassy bombs in 98 to the Cole in 2000 to 9/11. That’s clear escalation. No way can we afford to ignore that or simply adhere to rigid moral and legal codes.

    a — how many lives are you willing to trade to avoid this situation of abducting a foreign national conducting or planning terror against us? Is it OK for the guy to enable the deaths of a 1,000 Americans but not more? Or is it 3,000?

    The objective of State policy in America is not to be perfectly moral above all else; it is to save as many AMERICAN lives as possible while still being moral (and legal). If you told most Americans that say, Khalid Sheik Mohammed had serious information about another plot against America involving Nuclear Weapons, I doubt you’d find many squeamish about the measures to question him. I don’t think you’d find many or possibly even any willing to mistreat a low level foot soldier with no combat involvement with no information.

    The policy if I read him/her right that A suggests is fantasy, relying on the interests of Italian prosecutors and judges to secure the safety of Americans. This is never going to fly and yes, there will be embarrassments, but so what? Don’t want that to happen to you don’t take up arms against the US.

    This whole thing is aimed at the Berlusconi government to bring them down. It may well do so. However when/if CIA and other agents are arrested in Europe, it will go the other way too. Dems will be put on the spot to stand up for America and American interests, or submit to the global test which says “Die American Pigs!” and then maybe we’ll feel sorry for you for two seconds before we go back to hating you for being successful.

  18. _For instance the IT and computer tech giants are US based mutlinational companies i.e., IBM, Novel, Intel, Cisco, Microsoft, Motorola, ATT, Covad and others._

    IT was ten years ago American but now? IBM is bought by China, Novell is now mostly known for SUSE, Intel is losing from german made AMD, Cisco is losing marketshare to the Chinese, Microsoft is Microsoft even when it it is Indian, Nokia is bigger and the Koreans are closing in, ATT (who, the phone company), Covad is just local and not especially innovating.

    _Do you think for one moment we would allow an enemy to gain air superiority over the battlefield? No in a heartbeat! We would immediately take and own the skies._

    When was the last time the US fought a real enemy, not some weakened third rate state. If i remebered correctly the US didn’t even own the sky over North Vietnam and since then technology has made defending air much easier against none stealth planes. And those are the kinds you need on the battlefield

  19. _a’s problem is that he/she wants a perfectly moral policy_

    My problem is not that i want a moral policy but that i’m not an American. Your policy sounds great if you an American but it doesn’t sounds so great form the perspective of non-Americans.

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