Thomas Patrick Melady, Ph.D., Sean Hilscher
One does not need to look far to recognize that terrorism is a worldwide problem.*
A quick look at the headlines of any daily newspaper will reveal that terrorism continually threatens the peace and stability of nations around the globe. As seen through the horrific attacks on New York City and the Pentagon on September 11, 2001, the bombings of Madrid trains in March 2005, and the coordinated bombings of seven commuter trains in Mumbai, India in July 2006, terrorism is a threat that knows no borders. Today, the threat is still present as the United States Department of Homeland Security issues daily warnings against possible terrorist attacks, particularly alerting the public of the likelihood of a large scale attack on the United States during the summer of 2007.
Established governments recognize that life under the constant threat of terrorism jeopardizes their nation's stability, prosperity, and overall well being. They have all publicly condemned terrorism as criminal and immoral. For instance, on the heels of the horrific attacks of September 11, 2001 even the Chinese government announced that it "opposes and condemns all forms of terrorism and is against using terrorism as a means of achieving political objectives.” Such statements prove that nations, regardless of whether their pronouncements against terrorism are genuine, at least recognize terrorism as a serious security threat to other nations. More recently, in 2005 the European Union had released a similar declaration stating, "Terrorism is criminal and unjustifiable under any circumstances." In line with these statements governments around the world and several intergovernmental organizations have established a number of different task forces and adopted new strategies in order to root out, combat, and prevent terrorism.
Following the attacks of 9/11 the United States and George W. Bush declared a Global War on Terror, sending forces to Iraq and Afghanistan in order to destroy terrorism "where it grows." Similarly, in 2005 the European Union has released an EU Counter-Terrorism Strategy, which aims to prevent such violence through such measures as countering terrorist recruitment through the internet, by improving border security throughout Europe, and to cut off funding to suspicious organizations. The Asian Pacific Economic Cooperation organization has also made similar vows to introduce more effective airport screening and to improve cooperation between immigration officials in all member states. Despite the good intentions behind these measures, the threat of terrorism is still far from eradicated as seen by the recently foiled plots in London and Scotland.
Recognizing this problem, we propose that in order to wage a more successful war on terrorism the intelligence agencies of the various nations throughout the world need to cooperate. In a highly globalized world in which transportation and technological advances have significantly reduced the distance between all peoples, it is in the interest of all responsible world leaders to promote cooperation amongst the world's intelligence agencies. Recognizing the difficulty in information exchange amongst these secret agencies we do not describe how such cooperation should be achieved. Rather, in the following pages we merely demonstrate that such cooperation is imperative to help combat this global threat.
Terrorism: A World Wide Problem
A careful study of history will reveal that terrorism has long had a presence in our world. For example, throughout the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries terrorism was often used as a political weapon by nationalist and anarchist terror organizations. Several monarchs and heads of state including Archduke Francis Ferdinand of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, United States President William McKinley, and Tsar Alexander II of Russia were all assassinated by anarchist or nationalist gunmen. Terrorist attacks continued to occur throughout the rest of the twentieth century in nearly every corner of the globe. For instance, the Irish Republican Army (IRA), the Red Brigade in Italy, the Red Army Faction in former West Germany, and the Basque terrorist group Basque Fatherland and Liberty, or ETA, were responsible for countless attacks throughout Europe during the mid to late twentieth century. During the last thirty years, Latin America was also the site of a number of terrorist incidents, often carried out by militant revolutionary groups. In 1983, 1994, and again in 1996 the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) were responsible for kidnapping and ransoming American citizens, while in 1990 the Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement was responsible for the bombing of the U.S. embassy in Lima, Peru.
The Middle East and North Africa however has experienced the greatest number of terrorist attacks over the last few decades of the twentieth century. Al-Qaeda, Hezbollah, Hamas, the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) and other Jihadist and liberation groups have been behind countless attacks throughout the region. For example, Hamas has been responsible for a string of bombings in Israel during the 1990s, while Al Qaeda was suspected to be behind the bombing of the U.S.S. Cole in Yemen in 2000.
Unfortunately, terrorism has continued to occur in the new millennium. Over the past few years terrorist attacks have increased in their scope and frequency shocking the world with their unprecedented levels of death and destruction. Indeed, it was only recently that one of the most destructive terrorist attacks in history was perpetrated on September 11, 2001with the attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon killing over 3,000 people. Coupled with the increase in death toll and dollars in damage, terrorist attacks have also increased in frequency. In 2005 it was reported that 11,111 terrorist attacks were committed causing the deaths of 14,600 noncombatants worldwide. This number has only increased in 2006 to 14,000 attacks claiming the lives of 20,000 noncombatants.
Although nearly twenty-five percent of these attacks have occurred in Iraq and Afghanistan, two regions embroiled in conflict, this is by no means a regional problem. Over the past decade the death and destruction caused by terrorist attacks has touched nearly every corner of the globe. In 2002 Indonesia experienced the horrors of terrorism with the bombing of a nightclub in Kuta, Bali killing 202 people. India has experienced similar attacks as seen by the coordinated bombings of seven commuter trains in Mumbai in July 2006, which left 186 people dead. Europe has also suffered from terrorism over the past few years as well. In Madrid in March 2004, 191 people were killed and nearly 1,755 were wounded after ten bombs on four different commuter trains were detonated. Similarly in July 2005, 52 people were killed and 770 people injured due to the bombings of three subway trains and one double-decker bus in London.
Over the past few years Russia has endured a relentless string of terrorist attacks and bombings. In October 2002 fifty Chechen rebels seized a Moscow theater and took 800 hostages. Following a three day siege by Russian police forces, the rebels and 150 hostages were killed. The following year Russia witnessed the bombing of a military hospital in Mozdok, an explosion on a commuter train in Stavropol and the bombing of a metro train in Moscow. However, the most devastating incident in Russia occurred in 2004 when Chechen and Al Qaeda terrorists took a school in Beslan hostage, killing 300, 156 of whom were children. Meanwhile, governments in the Middle East are continually threatened by terrorist attacks. For example, in 2002 there were eighteen mortal suicide bombings in Israel alone. Similarly, cities in Morocco, Tunisia, and Turkey have all been targets of suicide bombings. Presently in Iraq, car and suicide bombings are occurring nearly everyday as death and destruction seems to have become commonplace.
Due to globalization, the damaging effects of these terrorist attacks are not only felt at the particular location in which these attacks are perpetrated, but are experienced in many different forms around the globe. Indeed, Thomas L. Friedman writes in his book The World Is Flat that “the world is shrinking from a size small to a size tiny,” which gives “newfound power for individuals to collaborate and compete globally.” This collaboration and newfound competition is made possible through technological advances in communication and transportation, which significantly reduces the space between people. With these new advances people are now more in contact with one another and consequently more dependent as well. Thus, due to such advances terrorist attacks in different locations throughout the world can have widespread consequences. For example, the 2004 bombings in Madrid initiated a downturn in stock markets around the globe. The New York stock markets, the Dow Jones Industrial Average, the S&P and NASDAQ, all fell as did the other European markets in London, Paris, and Germany. This new globalized world not only gives terrorist cells an opportune environment in which to operate, but more power as well. Like businesses and corporations, these cells can use the new technological tools of the twenty-first century, such as the internet, to collaborate and plan with other like-minded groups throughout the world, to attract new recruits, and to receive funding from their financiers.
Intelligence: The Primary Weapon against Terrorism
As mentioned above, governments around the world have taken different steps in order to combat terrorist cells and to prevent future attacks. For instance, the British government has sought to root out homegrown Islamic radicals and to stop the further radicalization of its Islamic population by “changing the environment in which the extremists and those radicalizing others can operate,” and by “challenging the ideology that extremists believe can justify the use of violence, primarily by helping Muslims who wish to dispute these ideas to do so.”
Meanwhile, the Chinese government by passing its first anti-money laundering law in 2006 is seeking to cut off illegal financial channels to terrorists within China. Similarly, the European Union has been striving to bring terrorists to justice through the creation of the European Arrest Warrant and the European Evidence Warrant by the EU Council. Although such domestic strategies and legislative measures are helpful, the most effective weapon a nation has against terrorism is their intelligence systems.
Intelligence, as Abram N. Shulsky defines it is "information relevant to a government's formulation and implementation of policy to further national security interests." Intelligence activities, therefore, include the process of collecting and analyzing information and acting on such information through covert action or counterintelligence operations. These activities, carried out by the nations’ various secret intelligence agencies are the most valuable weapon against terrorism. Intelligence agencies are able to collect information through human intelligence, or humint, which involves the collection of information through agents, contacts, and informants. Technical intelligence, or technint, referring to the collection of information through technical tools and sophisticated gadgetry, is another way of collecting information. It was recently reported by BBC that prior to the failing bombing attempts in the summer of 2007 in London and Scotland, British intelligence officials, through the use of technical intelligence, obtained information about the planning of an attack on the United Kingdom. It was reported that British intelligence officers were able to intercept conversations between known jihadists who discussed the possibility of attacking the United Kingdom, but did not make specific references to London's West End or Glasgow Airport. Lastly, intelligence agencies are also able to collect information through open source intelligence. This sort of intelligence collection includes consulting foreign newspapers and periodicals as well as official diplomatic correspondence.
Although these strategies are the most effective ways of garnering information on terrorist organizations and plots, it is by no means easily accomplished. Non-governmental targets, such as terrorists who are not connected with a particular facility or a fixed location, are notoriously difficult to track. Thus, intelligence agencies often have to rely on human intelligence by either sending agents in to infiltrate the group or recruiting its members as informants. However, in the intelligence world terrorists are identified as "hard targets," because it is very difficult for agents to infiltrate a terrorist organization, as they usually have to participate in terrorist activities in order to remain in the group and prove their loyalty. Additionally, membership in a terrorist organization is often based on religious, national, or family ties, which makes it even more difficult to convince someone to betray it. Despite these difficulties different national agencies have proven successful at penetrating terrorist organizations. For example, it was reported last year that British intelligence agents were able to infiltrate an Al-Qaeda terror cell that was planning to blow up ten jets bound for the United States from the United Kingdom. Similarly, in 2003 an agent of the German intelligence agency, the BND, was able to get into contact with a number of Al-Qaeda members in Iraq and set up meetings between such members and German agents for intelligence purposes.
As mentioned above, there are a number of instances in which national intelligence agencies have proven successful in preventing terrorist incidents through unilateral intelligence activities. However, due to the widespread detrimental effects of past terrorist attacks and the global network of terrorist cells, national intelligence agencies can no longer act unilaterally, but must cooperate and share information in order to combat this global threat. In the early years of the twenty-first century several nations have recognized the necessity of cooperation amongst their intelligence agencies as seen by the 2004 installment of the first European Union Counter-Terrorism Coordinator and the creation of a South American Intelligence Center in Brazil in 2006. While these are all steps in the right direction it is my intention in this article to induce responsible world leaders to realize the importance of cooperative intelligence and to fully commit their national intelligence agencies to cooperate with other reliable and responsible foreign intelligence agencies.
The twentieth century has witnessed a growth in international and inter-governmental cooperation. Within the last century several intergovernmental and transnational organizations have been established in order to foster economic cooperation, to forge stronger diplomatic relations in order to prevent the eruption of a destructive worldwide conflict and to promote respect of human rights for all peoples. Amongst the first of such organizations was the United Nations, established in 1945 under the UN Charter. According to the Charter, the United Nations was created in order to maintain peace and contain regional conflict, to promote friendly relations amongst member nations, and “to achieve international co-operation in solving international problems of an economic, social, cultural, or humanitarian character…”
Similarly, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) was also established in order to avoid conflict by promoting stronger relations among member states and “to eliminate conflict in their international economic policies …” Although conflict will always be a part of our world, such organizations have proven relatively successful in achieving their goals. Indeed, the United Nations and other intergovernmental organizations have been able to prevent the eruption of worldwide conflict as most of the wars that plague the globe are primarily contained regional conflicts. Today’s conflicts in the African nations of Nigeria, Côte d’Ivoire, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo are all primarily due to localized civil unrest.
In the meantime, nations have also been successfully cooperating in other policy areas besides security. The Asian Pacific Economic Cooperation organization or APEC, has worked to promote liberal trade throughout the Pacific, while Mercosur strives to promote free movement of goods between South American nations. The European Union has promoted cooperation among its members in a number of different policy areas. The European Court of Justice was formed in order to ensure that EU law is applied equally to all member states. Additionally, the European Police Office or Europol aims to “improve the effectiveness and cooperation between the competent authorities of the Member States in preventing and combating serious international organized crime…”
In line with the dramatic increase in international cooperation in various policy areas, national intelligence agencies throughout the world have also begun to cooperate in order to combat terrorism. These steps should be applauded and further encouraged by world leaders who recognize that this international threat needs to be neutralized by an international force. However, it should be noted that due to the secretive nature of intelligence work complete cooperation cannot be easily achieved. Recognizing this problem Gijs de Vries, the recently retired EU Counterterrorism coordinator, noted that “there are limits to the amount of information one can share. Confidentiality is essential, not only to safeguard the effectiveness of the work of agencies but also to protect the life and limb of the individuals who are the source of much information.” Although it is an undoubtedly difficult task to maintain secrecy while sharing relevant information with other intelligence agencies, it is still far from impossible. Indeed, national intelligence agencies may be able to overcome this obstacle by examining the workings and cooperation of the strategic military alliances such as NATO and other international security coalitions.
As mentioned, several national intelligence agencies throughout the globe have been well on their way to promoting cooperation and strengthening closer ties with other national intelligence agencies. Following the 2004 appointment of their first counterterrorism coordinator, the European Union has made significant efforts to promote cooperation particularly through such agencies as Europol, Eurojust and the Situation Centre “where intelligence and security services jointly analyse terrorist threats both outside the European Union and within.” Similarly, the EU has also been working closely with other international organizations and non-member nations, such as the United States, Canada, Norway, Switzerland, as well as some friendly Middle Eastern nations like Morocco and Jordan.
The United States’ Central Intelligence Agency has also made significant strides in promoting close cooperative intelligence work. In 2005 the CIA deputy director reported to Congress that “Virtually every capture or killing of a suspected terrorist outside Iraq since the September 11, 2001, attacks – more than 3,000 in all – was a result of foreign intelligence services’ work alongside the agency...” Such success has been achieved through the creation of Counterterrorist Intelligence Centers in nearly two dozen countries where CIA agents and officers from the host nation work side by side in capturing terrorists and preventing further attacks. In addition, the United States has also cooperated with several predominantly Muslim nations in order to combat terrorism, particularly Indonesia, Yemen, and Pakistan. Due to their cooperation with Yemen, the CIA was able to locate and kill six Al-Qaeda operatives in the Yemeni desert in 2002, including Abu Ali al-Haritihi, one of the suspected architects behind the bombing of the U.S.S. Cole in 2000.
China has also begun to push for further cooperation with foreign defense and intelligence agencies in the fight against terrorism, particularly in Southeast Asia. Noting this new advance in policy Chinese military researcher, Zheng Shouhua, stated that anti-terror cooperation with other nations has now “expanded to areas such as intelligence and command services, as well as technical and weaponry advancement.” With the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing fast approaching, China has been particularly eager to strengthen ties with other foreign security agencies in order to foster more intelligence cooperation. In January 2007 the Olympic Security Command Center in Beijing established an International Liaison Department in order to achieve this goal. This, however, may prove to be a difficult task as Chinese analysts claim that due to concerns of spying by the Chinese in other nations the amount of intelligence that nations will want to share with China in fact may be limited.
Regardless of these concerns, efforts at cooperation between national intelligence agencies have certainly proven to be worthwhile. Over the last few years there have been countless examples of national intelligence agencies working side by side to prevent attacks. Most notably in July 2006, through the sharing of information, United States, British and Pakistani intelligence officials were able to thwart an attempt by suspected Al-Qaeda terrorists to blow up ten jets leaving the United Kingdom for the United States. Meanwhile, close cooperative ties between Russian, Ukrainian, and Azerbaijani security services enabled them to uncover and foil a plot, hatched by Chechen rebels, to assassinate Russian President Vladimir Putin at a meeting of former Soviet states in Yalta in 2000. Similar attempts by Israel to cooperate with other national intelligence agencies have also paid off. In July 2007 it was reported that the sharing of information between the Israelis and the Palestinian Authority was instrumental in foiling a string of planned attacks in the West Bank and in Israel.
The failure in information exchanges with other foreign agencies and the devastating attacks that followed further underscore the importance of international intelligence cooperation. In 2002, following the bombing of a nightclub in Bali it was reported that the Indonesian and Australian governments did not properly heed the warnings from the Central Intelligence Agency of the likelihood of an attack in Southeast Asia, identifying Bali as one of the most likely targets. A similar intelligence failure occurred before the September 11 attacks. According to reports, a large Israeli spy ring in the United States who was tracking four of the hijackers was actually thrown out by the United States when their cover was blown. The CIA therefore overlooked a report drawn up by some of these spies warning the United States of an imminent attack and listing several suspected collaborators. In addition, German officials also claimed that the United States did not keep them updated on the whereabouts of Amzi Binalshibh, one of the primary planners of the attack based in Hamburg, Germany. Such information would have allowed German authorities to make contact with and possibly foil the Hamburg based Al-Qaeda cell’s plans. As can be seen, such failure in cooperation and communication between intelligence agencies can have devastating consequences.
Due to the global theater in which the extensive network of terrorists operates, it is in the individual and collective interests of all responsible world leaders to promote a policy of cooperation with foreign intelligence services. Recognizing this borderless threat, Gijs de Vries, the former EU Counterterrorism Coordinator noted that in order to combat this threat “national agencies must work across borders to be effective.” As witnessed in the instances cited above, several nations and intergovernmental organizations have indeed been pursuing this course. The results have been very positive. Undoubtedly, such relationships are indeed hard to forge due to the difficulty of striking a balance between delivering too much information and revealing sources while maintaining open channels of communication with other intelligence outfits. In addition, agencies must also be wary of receiving heavily biased information particularly from different nations who may have completely separate agendas.. However, with the lives of so many continually at risk, the stakes are too high to let such obstacles get in the way of international intelligence cooperation.
* The authors would like to recognize Brooks Sommer, Assistant to the Senior Ambassador in Residence at the Institute of World Politics, for his help in the preparation of this article.
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