Debunking the Hyped Up Al Qaeda Terror Threat

The New York Times on the over-hyped threat of al Qaeda.

[T]he politically charged clamor has lumped together disparate cases and obscured the fact that the enemies on American soil in 2009, rather than a single powerful and sophisticated juggernaut, were a scattered, uncoordinated group of amateurs who displayed more fervor than skill.

By the numbers:

Exactly 14 of the approximately 14,000 murders in the United States last year resulted from allegedly jihadist attacks: 13 people shot at Fort Hood in Texas in November and one at a military recruiting station in Little Rock, Ark., in June.

Even Captian Underpants is overblown: [More...]

“Sending one guy on one plane is a huge step down,” [former assistant director of the Central Intelligence Agency Mark ] Lowenthal said. “They’re less capable, even if they’re still lethal. They’re not able to carry out the intense planning they once did.”

And on al-Qaeda:

Audrey Kurth Cronin of the National War College said Qaeda affiliates borrow the name to enhance their appeal but are usually more interested in local goals than in the global jihad proclaimed by Mr. bin Laden.

“The proper response is to stop calling all these plots ‘Al Qaeda,’ ” Ms. Cronin said. “We’re inadvertently building up the brand.”

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  • Display: Sort:
    I suspect people who decline to travel (5.00 / 1) (#1)
    by oculus on Tue Jan 12, 2010 at 10:43:45 PM EST
    by commercial jet can more easily think this way than those who, for business or pleasure, fly often.  

    Except there is a far greater (none / 0) (#3)
    by Jeralyn on Tue Jan 12, 2010 at 11:27:12 PM EST
    chance of being killed in a car accident than on a plane. If I was worried about risk, I'd fly.

    When they stop making every flight an all day adventure in inconvenience, I'll take it up again.


    I think while it's true AQ (5.00 / 2) (#2)
    by gyrfalcon on Tue Jan 12, 2010 at 11:16:47 PM EST
    isn't -- apparently -- capable of 9/11-style attacks now, that's entirely because we've chased them and hunted them and killed as many of their potential operational leaders we can find by Predator drone.

    If they're left alone to reconstitute and reorganize, the danger will build again.

    I, for one, was very skeptical pre-9/11 that there was much of a real threat out there because of the incompetent doofuses who did the WTC bombing and even the Cole-- their first attempt on a U.S. warship, remember, their boat sank because it was overloaded and they had to start all over again.

    But as the Cole demonstrates, even doofuses can do terrible damage if they get their act even minimally together.  And 9/11 demonstrated that there actually were a few smart, competent, determined, organizationally adept people out there willing to kill themselves and thousands of others in an appalling act of destruction.

    I don't know what the answer to this is or where the proper balance lies.  But the threat is absolutely there, and anybody who doubts it should count the number of suicide bombers who've detonated themselves in Afghanistan and Iraq in the last few years.

    I think it's a big mistake to pooh-pooh the whole thing.

    Hijacking can't happen (none / 0) (#4)
    by Salo on Wed Jan 13, 2010 at 12:45:44 AM EST
    Anymore. It's all about preventing the carting on of explosives.

    Completely agree (none / 0) (#5)
    by jbindc on Wed Jan 13, 2010 at 07:07:55 AM EST
    One person, but for a faulty device, could have killed hundreds on Christmas morning and devastated a community.

    Those who keep running around saying things like "well, no one died" are missing the point.  Saying "Oh, the threat isn't really very big" is naive.

    All it's going to take is one person who is successful to cause pain and misery to many.


    Thats all it ever takes... (none / 0) (#7)
    by kdog on Wed Jan 13, 2010 at 08:16:59 AM EST
    and has ever took...one person with bad intentions.

    I don't think it is possible to stop them all without sacrificing the way of life we hold so dear.  We can only try the best we can to prevent terrorism without sacrificing essential liberties.  But we need to come to grips with the fact that it can happen, and sadly will happen...only a matter of time.  

    Freedom isn't free, as the saying goes...it has costs.  The threat of a violent death at the hands of people with bad intentions is one of them. To totally remove that threat would require total removal of our liberty.


    Again, what should we do? (none / 0) (#8)
    by jbindc on Wed Jan 13, 2010 at 08:25:47 AM EST
    Throw up our hands and say "They're going to do it anyways, there's nothing we can do!" and allow people to go unfettered onto planes, trains, buses, etc.  Or do we take a measured approach by beefing up security at those places, so that while passengers might be inconvenienced by having to get to the airport a little earlier and being scanned?

    Do we take an approach of pre-emptively not allowing people on board who have been flagged for whatever reason, making an inconvenince for them while they straighten it out, yet keeping masses of people safe, or do we just say, "Can't hold this person back - it's inconvenient for them!" ?

    Yes, living in  free society is not free - which also means everyone just can't do whatever the hell they want when they want to. It also doesn't mean you have the right not to be inconvenienced.

    What's the answer?


    There is no answer.... (none / 0) (#10)
    by kdog on Wed Jan 13, 2010 at 09:07:52 AM EST
    my friend, only questions.  Does the presumption of innocence still matter?  The right to be free from unreasonable search?  How much inconvenience & hassle is too much for a threat that historically pales in comparison to the threat of driving to work everyday?

    My personal taste is for a very free, open, all presumed innocent, and hence more dangerous society...while investigating and attempting to disrupt the plans of the murderers out there within our traditional restrictions on law enforcement.  That's how I prefer we live.  I know that ain't happenin', I'm odd:), all I can hope for is the safety-first crowd not to make it too miserable and hassled to live 'round here...I'm not confident right now that that won't happen...I mean we've thrown the spirit of the Geneva Convention and Habeaus Corpus out the window already...the Bill of Rights could be next.


    If we had declared war and (none / 0) (#12)
    by jimakaPPJ on Wed Jan 13, 2010 at 09:13:32 AM EST
    captured these people under the GC we would have the legal right to hold them until hostilities cease.

    Seeing the prisoners that have been released I would say HC is alive and well.

    I also note that prisoners captured on the battle field do not have the rights of US citizens and people accused of committing crimes within the US.

    Kdog, love you bro but you protest too much.


    Perhaps I do... (none / 0) (#14)
    by kdog on Wed Jan 13, 2010 at 09:23:19 AM EST
    but I feel it is a lesser mistake than protesting too little.

    Presumption of Innocence (none / 0) (#13)
    by jbindc on Wed Jan 13, 2010 at 09:23:06 AM EST
    Is only in criminal trials - not necessarily in life.  I think in many cases (like looking for suspected terrorists), I would prefer a healthy dose of skepticism.

    Necessary in my life.... (none / 0) (#15)
    by kdog on Wed Jan 13, 2010 at 09:24:30 AM EST
    don't you presume everyone innocent and good until there is proof otherwise?  Even those with funny Arabic names?  I couldn't live any other way.

    Mostly (none / 0) (#16)
    by jbindc on Wed Jan 13, 2010 at 09:32:44 AM EST
    But frankly, sometimes people look shady, and being a woman walking alone to a parking garage after dark - I err on the side of caution and suspect everybody is out to do me harm.

    I can understand that... (none / 0) (#17)
    by kdog on Wed Jan 13, 2010 at 09:47:10 AM EST
    I err on the side of caution when dealing with those I pre-judge as shady...only in my case its people with badges or the color of authority.  Prejudices...we all got 'em:)

    I would hope authority figures are held to a higher standard than "looks shady" though...since only they have the power to detain, arrest, and legally hassle....unlike schmucks like us.  That's the problem with profiling...its bases on prejudice and people's flawed "shady-meters".


    Whether anyone likes it or not (none / 0) (#11)
    by jimakaPPJ on Wed Jan 13, 2010 at 09:08:20 AM EST
    the facts are that we cannot protect ourselves through defense alone. We also must have the willing cooperation of the various Islamic states in which these terrorists move. They, not us, must stop extremist Imams everywhere, including in the US and Europe, from preaching hatred and jihad.

    If we don't get that, if we can chase the terrorists out of one country only to have them go into another and live there safely because that nation doesn't or can't pursue them then we cannot win through defense.

    At that point then it will be time for us to let lose the dogs of war. Total war.

    I realize that is ugly but we aren't the society that is declaring jihad.



    wag the dog (none / 0) (#9)
    by souvarine on Wed Jan 13, 2010 at 08:45:36 AM EST
    I'd hate to see us go back to the wag the dog era, when President Clinton's efforts to rally support to take on Al Qaeda directly were dismissed, even by many Democrats, as a distraction from his affair with Monica Lewinski.

    Obama has been measured and clear in his reaction to the Christmas plot. He may have gone too far with pointless profiling and body scans, but it is too early to tell how far he will end up taking that line. At least he is addressing the core of the threat, Al Qaeda in Afghanistan, rather than using the threat as an excuse to pursue other military goals.


    Cronin takes it too far (none / 0) (#6)
    by souvarine on Wed Jan 13, 2010 at 07:36:48 AM EST
    At least if you believe Leah Farrall at ATCT. The Christmas plot from Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula was not their first attempt to attack the U.S., and appears to have been carried out on orders from Al Qaeda HQ in Pakistan.

    Yes, many attacks and attempts in the past few years do not appear to be associated with Al Qaeda directly. Yes, Al Qaeda is far weaker than it was in 2001. But that does not mean that Al Qaeda is gone, that it does not have coordinating branches, or that Al Qaeda and it's branches have lost interest in global jihad.

    So be careful when debunking claims, Al Qaeda is still a serious terrorist threat to the West. Hysteria is self destructive and serves Al Qaeda's interests, but pretending Al Qaeda presents no threat is just as destructive.

    I don't really see (none / 0) (#18)
    by Steve M on Wed Jan 13, 2010 at 11:35:06 AM EST
    the "orders from Pakistan" part of the linked post.

    only a little between the lines (none / 0) (#20)
    by souvarine on Wed Jan 13, 2010 at 05:48:46 PM EST
    HQ (AQ Pakistan) allowed AQAP to launch earlier attacks on US, and is now sending operatives to AQAP:

    What this shows is that AQAP has still not reached the capacity it had in its earlier campaign, when it was allowed by its HQ to launch external attacks. But it is fundamentally the same organisation, with many of the same key players still active. They're just not the ones fronting the media end of things. It's not back up to the same size yet, but with AQ now sending operatives back to the Peninsula from Af-Pak it could conceivably reach those numbers again.

    HQ had told AQAP to cool it, but recently sent out new operational guidance:

    What often gets missed in analysis of AQAP is that the organisation was not decimated by the campaign against it in Saudi Arabia and Yemen. It did get damaged, but was also told by its HQ to cool it, lay low and/or redeploy. So it was also a case of squeezing the balloon. Now, the balloon is being squeezed in Af-Pak against AQ core, as it was in late 01/early 02, and AQAP, as it did then, again rises to fill the space.

    And it's only just starting. Of course there is the question of capacity this time around and whether they are allowed to pursue further attacks.  We already know some of what they are looking at because this operational guidance went out recently.

    Al Qaeda is said to be structured as a franchise, not a military hierarchy, so my use of the term "orders" might have been too strong. But the post describes AQAP as coordinating with AQ Pak, exchanging operatives, and obeying instructions from AQ Pak.


    Interesting (none / 0) (#19)
    by Abdul Abulbul Amir on Wed Jan 13, 2010 at 12:05:30 PM EST
    "The proper response is to stop calling all these plots `Al Qaeda,' " Ms. Cronin said. "We're inadvertently building up the brand."

    What we are finding is that there is a strain of Islamic extremism that is actively recruiting and training people to kill us.  You don't need a membership card.  

    The reason the tag "Al Qaeda" gets used is that the meaning of that tag has come to mean more than just the organization, but the movement or if you prefer the ideology.  

    Calling it "Islamic extremism" is not PC.  Calling it "The faction promoting man caused disasters" won't fly.  Perhaps  Ms. Cronin could suggest a better name.