Dr. Walid Phares
Al Qaeda Has the Initiative in Attacking US National Security
January 8, 2010
In 2001, one would-be shoe bomber forced millions of travelers to take off their
shoes. In 2006, terrorists planned to bring down aircraft on transatlantic
flights by smuggling liquid explosives onto planes. They were thwarted but they
succeeded in preventing passengers from bringing liquids into airline terminals.
Lesson number one: In this terror war, the jihadists have the upper hand. They
are the ones who choose to use a new weapon and they are also the ones who – by
using simple logic -- have refrained from using the same terror weapons more
than once. In fact, since September 2001, Al Qaeda’s Terrorists have avoided
rushing into the cockpit of an airliner with box cutters. Does this mean we were
successful in deterring the terrorists? Of course: as long as we can prevent
them from using the 9/11 methods, they won't be naïve enough to repeat the same
So is the US winning the fight with Al Qaeda by using these specific measures?
No, we are simply protecting our population until the war is won. But winning is
not measured by surviving potential copycat attacks.
Instead, this confrontation will be won by striking at the mechanism that
produces the jihadists. And on that level, no significant advances have been
made either under the previous administration nor under the incumbent one. For,
as President Obama admitted late last month after a near-terror attack on
Northwest Flight 253, there is a "systemic failure" in our defense against the
In my analysis, it has to do with the refusal by decision makers -- based on the
opinion of their own experts -- to attack the factory that produces terrorists
and instead to wait until the jihadists show up at our country's ports of
In an imaged vision, the US has been fending off the Jihadi operations inside
its own trenches and often behind its own lines of defense.
Preventing Al Qaeda’s zombies from killing our airline pilots and flight
attendants by securing cabin doors with steel and installing machines to detect
liquid, creams and potential explosives is like fighting an invading army inside
our own trenches and neighborhoods with bayonets. If anything, it means that our
strategists have no way to remotely detect this threat and they can't even
decide what is and isn't a threat until it actually strikes us or is a few
inches from us. It is a pretty ironic situation when the grand narrative of US
official strategies is that we are fighting terrorists or extremists (pick your
word, it has the same conclusion) in Waziristan, Afghanistan, and beyond, so
that our defense perimeters are thousands of miles away.
So are we wrong to institute any of the security measures? No, we need to take
all possible measures to secure the population, but we also need to take them in
the framework of a grand strategy to defeat the threat. And in this regard we do
not have one. The jihadists are monitoring our actions, our measures and I do
assume also are comfortably spying on us and looking into the deepest of our
security mechanisms. After the Nada Prouty and Nidal Hasan penetration cases no
one can convince me that neither Hezbollah nor Al Qaeda haven’t deployed more
agents throughout our national security apparatus. The enemy knows our defense
strategy, and some would argue that they are already inside our walls. As we are
learning -- constantly and dramatically -- the so-called "isolated extremists”
are not that isolated and those believed to be "lone wolves" are in fact part of
a much greater, well-camouflaged packs. The jihadists are way ahead of our
security measures -- even though we need to apply them nevertheless.
In the wake of the Abdulmutalib terror act the Obama administration announced
that any traveler flying into the United States from foreign countries will
receive tightened random screening, and all passengers from "terrorism-prone
countries" will be patted down and have their carry-on baggage searched before
boarding U.S.-bound flights. The list includes Cuba, Iran, Sudan and Syria as
well as those traveling from Nigeria, Pakistan and Yemen. But here is the
problem: In the jihadi war room, this was duly noted. Thus, the next human
missiles will be selected from the "other” countries, and there are many
countries where combat Salafis are indoctrinated and readied: Egypt, Algeria,
Morocco, Tunisia, and Indonesia to name a few, by the way all U.S. allies. Even
better, the jihadi strategists could task recruits with German, British, French
as well as Australian and Canadian passports to wreck havoc in our cities. The
past year has shown us that the jihadis can also emerge from North Carolina,
Illinois, New York and other states all across the land. Most likely the "emirs”
of Al Qaeda will recommend dumping the use of powder to blow up planes, and soon
another Zawahiri tape will rail at us for spending millions on a path they won't
use for a while.
As we move to implement our mammoth security measures, the swift men of jihadism
are already mapping out the endlessly open areas of our underbellies. In
strategic terms we’re not even going anywhere near that direction, it is a dead
end. The Al Qaeda jihadists will keep coming, each time from a different
direction, background, with a new tactic. And they will surprise us.
Unfortunately, that is the price of a national security policy that identifies
terrorism as a "manmade disaster” and jihadism as form of yoga.