Right Hook

Terrorism expert says Bush's reelection gave bin Laden a "kosher stamp from the Islamic world" to use nukes on U.S. -- and a major attack is "inevitable." Plus: A karate champion says CIA must play dirty.

Published December 2, 2004 12:21AM (EST)

Over Thanksgiving weekend, as Americans made their annual retail pilgrimage in the highest numbers since the 9/11 attacks, some of the nation's shopping malls were in the process of beefing up anti-terrorism training for their security guards. Outside of Hartford, Conn., reported the Associated Press, one suburban security force, more accustomed to dispersing loitering teens than sniffing out bombs, was "receiving the type of training that just a few years ago was reserved for the Israeli police and the U.S. military."

One well-known conservative thinks that President Bush's reelection will lead to a horrific al-Qaida attack. According to the Jerusalem Post, Yossef Bodansky, the Israeli-born former director of the U.S. Congressional Task Force on Terrorism and Unconventional Warfare and author of "Bin Laden: The Man Who Declared War on America," says that an al-Qaida attack on the U.S. with nonconventional weapons is virtually "inevitable," and that the organization is likely "tying up the knots" for such an attack. "All of the warnings we have today indicate that a major strike -- something more horrible than anything we've seen before -- is all but inevitable," he told the Post on Sunday.

After 9/11 and the launch of the U.S. global war on terrorism, a theological debate began within the operational arm of al-Qaida, Bodansky says, over whether the mass killing of innocents using weapons of mass destruction was permissible. Former CIA analyst and bin Laden expert Michael Scheuer asserted in his book "Imperial Hubris" that bin Laden has had the Islamic world's approval to use nuclear weapons against U.S. civilians since May 2003, when a Saudi cleric condoned it in a "lucidly written" treatise citing Islamic law and rebuking U.S. transgressions against Muslims.

Bodansky argues that Bush's reelection has poured fuel on that fire.

"While bin Laden and his associates argued that by virtue of their participation in US democracy, US citizens were enabling their rulers to fight, other Islamic luminaries contended that this does not permit such massive attacks, Bodansky said. The reelection of Bush in November, he said, was viewed by bin Laden and his cohorts as a decisive answer to this deliberation, with Americans now 'choosing' to be the enemies of Islam. In bin Laden's mind-set, he said, the stage was set for a non-conventional attack. While there may still be some vestiges of debate and doubt within Islamic circles, he believes that planning for such an attack is finished. 'They got the kosher stamp from the Islamic world to use nuclear weapons,' he said."

Curiously, this analysis did not get any play in the media before the election.

Bodansky also told the Post that America is losing the war on terrorism: "In the pre-9/11 world, Bodansky said, jihadists could count on 250,000 individuals trained and willing to die, and 2.5 million5 million people willing to help them in one way or another. He cited intelligence estimates from this summer that suggest that as many as 500,000-750,000 people are willing and trained to die, 10 million are willing to actively support them, short of killing, while another 50 million are willing to support such a movement financially."

Whether Bodansky and others are right in their assessment, revamping the tattered U.S. intelligence system is obviously an urgent priority. But the battle on Capitol Hill over a major intelligence reform bill has ground the process to a halt. National Review editor Rich Lowry claims that the bill under consideration is useless anyway, "a meaningless, and perhaps even counterproductive, bureaucratic reshuffling that has garnered such across-the-board praise exactly because it is such an empty gesture."

Lowry calls the battle over the bill "Washington at its worst," declares the bill should "stay dead," and blames it all, naturally, on the Dems. "The fact is that measures to make us safer usually aren't uncontroversial -- for instance, taking the fight to the enemy overseas as aggressively as possible, or offending the civil-liberties lobby by implementing the Patriot Act," Lowry says. "Since many Democrats don't endorse these steps (in fact, routinely howl about them), they are always looking to get onboard window-dressing tough-on-terror measures, which is what makes the intelligence-reform bill a perfect cause for them."

Lowry spends most of his column berating the 9/11 commission, siding with the Rumsfeld Pentagon in its turf war against the CIA, and applauding the Republican junta in the House, led by judiciary committee chairman Jim Sensenbrenner of Wisconsin, that has blocked the bill with demands to include hard-line immigration reform. Pointing to "legal constraints and the CIA's risk-averse culture," Lowry does take a brief moment to note that "U.S. covert-action capability has atrophied throughout the decades -- and the intelligence-reform bill will do nothing to fix it."

He also credits the president's recent executive order "to beef up the covert service" as "a step in the right direction." Lowry appears to be referring to Bush's directive for opening a new national counterterrorism center in December to be controlled by CIA chief Porter Goss -- though what Lowry actually means by "beefing up covert service" remains unclear.

But while the partisan infighting goes on (Lowry's solution-free analysis seems worthy of his thesis about bureaucratic inertia), at least one former intelligence officer on the political right is proposing that we sharpen the CIA's fangs and let it off its leash. Karate champion and self-styled commentator Don Bendell, who served in the U.S. Special Forces during Vietnam and participated in the infamous Phoenix Program, a covert program that used assassinations and torture to fight the Viet Cong, argues that it's time do away with any and all niceties:

"The solutions are simple: We must, I do not mean 'should,' I mean 'must' hammer our legislators to significantly upgrade our depleted, sometimes-laughable intelligence and security services. They can no longer be 'politically-correct!' They must be 'nationally-correct!' The security of our country and its free citizenry is of much greater import than the distressed feelings of any religious group, nationality, or country.

"Not counting the 3,000-plus innocents killed on 9-11; ever since April, 1983, we have had 813 people killed by Muslim terrorists on US soil by 12 vehicle bombs, 1 boat bomb attack, 2 airliners bombed, and 2 killed by a gun attack at CIA HQ's. Those unsuspecting Americans were not killed by cracker cowboys, octogenarian grannies, or some of those others so frequently yanked out of line at airports. They were mainly killed by young mideastern men. Dare I speak of racial-profiling? Darned right, or do we simply want to appease the ACLU, while we lose some more innocent American housewives, cute little rugrats, and business men and women? Besides, to me; quite often, ACLU means 'A Conspiracy to Legalize Undesirables.' Honestly, do we really need to suck up to them?"

Indeed, Bendell argues, it's time to get back to some creative methodology in U.S. covert operations.

"Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV's) are a neat and necessary invention for intelligence gathering, as are satellite photos and videos, but for our very survival, the United States must now flood every terrorist breeding-ground country with trained, qualified agent-handlers, each with their own net of in-country agents. We must also propagandize, blackmail, or hire indigenous prostitutes, homosexual lovers of officials, disgruntled spouses, and the like to supply us with hands-on, eye-witness, on-the-ground intelligence reports, which can be evaluated and compared with electronic surveillance, news, internet monitoring, and other collection operandi.

"Please contact your congressional legislators and tell them we need the politics and political-correctness taken out of intelligence services and homeland security and common sense and our safety put back in."

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Read more of "Right Hook," Salon's weekly roundup of conservative commentary and analysis here.

By Mark Follman

Mark Follman is Salon's deputy news editor. Read his other articles here.

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Related Topics ------------------------------------------

2004 Elections 9/11 Al-qaida Cia Nuclear Weapons Osama Bin Laden Pentagon Terrorism