Wednesday, June 13, 2007

US Senate Select Committee on Intelligence

By Susan O.

US Senate Select Committee on Intelligence Meeting
June 12, 2007

This was an open meeting on Intelligence and Terrorism Ideology Report, with three outside experts giving their opinion and answering questions from the Senators. This hearing did not cover intelligence sources inside our own government (is there any? I wonder.) It was an open hearing. There were five Code Pinkers there when it started, and I think nine by the ending. The chairman was Senator Rockefeller and the vice-chair was Senator Bond. The focus was on Islamic terrorists, with no mention of Christian terrorists or any other kind. Timothy McVeigh just does not rate. The opening comments from Senator Rockefeller said that he is concerned that the progress in capturing and killing terrorists has been undermined and that the rate of terrorism has metastasized since Afghanistan. He would be correct in his perceptions.

Rockefeller commented on two recent studies. The first one reported that we are not “winning” this war on terrorism, indeed terrorism is spreading. This report was from the State Department Annual Country Reports on Terrorism, done in conjunction with the National Counterterrorism Center. There has been a 25% increase in attacks and a 40% increase in deaths from terrorism just from 2005. (They obviously define terrorism as violence by non-state actors, and do not include violence by establish militaries or even militias or private security contractors that they happen to like. For example, the shootings by Blackwater personnel in Iraq of unarmed civilians would not be considered terrorism.)

The second report said that Muslim Americans are diverse in their attitudes and mostly assimilated into our society. They reject Islamic extremism for the most part, but there is a minority (13%) that agrees that suicide bombings of civilians to protect Islam can be justified, at least sometimes. And about 53% agree that it has been harder to be a Muslim since 9/11. Only 25% believe that the US war on terror is a sincere effort to reduce terrorism.

Then Senator Rockefeller went on to explain that he felt we needed to understand as much as we could about what causes an individual to get involved in violent terrorism.

This meeting DID NOT cover what behaviors and actions and the amazing amount of violence that the US authorities are taking to inspire people to respond with more violence. It was all about what cultural or social factors might inspire other people to become violent. It was rather like “we” had NOTHING TO DO with the growing amount of suicide bombings around the world, particularly in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Rockefeller commented that it is hard to understand why they would want to kill innocent civilians without a hint of irony.

Vice-chair Senator Bond started out by blaming the media. He felt that they were encouraging more terrorism by not reporting what the US military says was happening in Iraq. He said we have to focus on ideology front and convince them we have good intentions (like hell we do) and to back it up with specifics which he said we are not doing enough of. Well, he’s right on the last one. However, if we stop bombing and invading their countries, THAT may go a long way towards fighting the ideology front, in my opinion.

The first speaker was Stephen Ulph from the Jamestown Foundation. He said his purpose was to research and map out the ideology from inception to acting out and that the ideology struggle is the heart of jihadist culture. He said on our side, those who are fighting jihadists think they are fighting individuals when they are actually fighting an ideology. He said his research showed that the majority of materials on jihadist chat forums and sites are under “doctrinal” or “cultural” sections. They are not under news commentary or audio-visual propaganda. He did not define what constitutes “propaganda” in his views, nor did he comment on what may be driving people to look at these doctrinal or cultural sections.

From his hand out about the jihadists organize and train recruits into being radicals:

>They show how the mujahideen attract the uncommitted broad armchair sympathizer, detach him from his social and intellectual environment, undermine his self-image hitherto as an observant Muslim, introduce what the ideologues claims is “real Islam”, re-script history in terms of a perennial conflict, centralize jihad as his Islamic identity, train him not only militarily but also socially and psychologically for jihad and doctrinally defend the behavior of the mujahideen against criticism.<

Sound awfully close to me to “basic training” in our military. This speaker says that this ideology and its propagation have been going on for decades, and all of this is open source information. He said that this is being fought for the minds of the Muslim youths.

He did not speak to what motives or causes might be behind this behavior at all. I personally feel that violence is always wrong. I also feel there is no excuse for violence, but there are explanations. His presentation focused on how the jihadists were promoting violence, not on why they might be inspired to do so. But in his handouts, he did advocate for taking sides and fighting the jihadists teachings and attempts to recruit Muslim youths. He feels we need to tackle the production process that goes into making jihadists. He said in his handout that we need “to protect ourselves from the slow erosion of our commonly held values which alone can safeguard our peace and our freedom”. He is referring to the erosion by the jihadists, not by Homeland Security and the Military Commissions Act, which came from our own Congress, not from Islamic jihadists.

The second speaker was Kim Cragin from the Rand Corporation. Her topic was “understanding terrorist ideology”. Her area of research is to look at what motivates individuals to become terrorists as well as what influences communities to sympathize with terrorist groups. Her handout states that there is variation in what motivates individuals and groups across countries and communities. She attempted to answer two questions – how have al Qaeda reached out, and how has communities responded?

The current al Qaeda had its founding in the war in Afghanistan, where Arab fighters were recruited to fight Soviet forces there. (No mention was made of US support and arms for those fighters.) One aspect of this was publication of al Jihad magazine, and other publications, that said it was a religious duty to support the Afghan jihad. The same people who were behind this effort also tried to indoctrinate them in what some refer to as the violent Salafi jihadi movement, which formed the core of the development of Islamic terrorism in the later 1980’s. Most Salafi leaders are not violent – but all feel that a lack of Islamic law is the basis of society’s problems like poverty and corruption.

One component of their philosophy is that they believe only God can make laws, and that any humans or governments who do so are “infidels” and therefore true Muslims should wage jihad against them. However, these same groups do not have the solutions to today’s problems faced by today’s governments. (I would add – neither do the current governments, although I suppose it is possible they could do a worse job than they are currently doing.) The developing terrorists were also concerned with the significance of regional factors, such as the presence of US troops in Saudi Arabia, which seems to be the basis of the anti-Americanism that developed in the 1990’s from this group.

This speaker pointed out that Hamas has come out strongly against al Qaeda, because of their attacks on Hamas for participating in an election and because al Qaeda has harmed many civilians. Hamas, no doubt, feels the same way towards Israel and the USA for harming so many civilians. I have NOT found any concern on their part about the Israeli civilians that they have harmed. And I have NOT found any REAL concern on the part of Israel or the USA for the civilians that they have harmed. Each group is extremely concerned about the harm inflicted by someone else, particularly when it is harming someone of their own group. As to concern for the harm they are inflicting – well, that mainly seems to be absent.

This speaker said that al Qaeda has tried to keep the various fractions together across the Muslim world in the Middle East and in northern Africa, with various degrees of success. The main points for cohesion to al Qaeda are anti-Americanism and corruption in local governments.

This speaker claimed that ideology, politics and poverty all serve as motivators to terrorism to varying degrees. She also mentions in her handout that the process of radicalization of Islamic terrorists is similar to the process of recruitment of students into cults here in the USA. She based this on the research of Phillip Zimbardo who did the Stanford prison experiment. The Stanford prison experiment demonstrated what happens to human behavior under certain conditions, and how the “system” can produce abusive and cruel behavior in otherwise normal people.

This speaker also states in her handouts that political and economic grievances are what justifies the use of violence to resolve problems for these groups. That is also true for our country.

The third and final speaker was Daniel Kimmage of Radio Free Europe. He spoke about Sunni insurgents in Iraq, and they will have a full report published later this month. He spoke about the terrorist ideology, and the several factors they have identified. This includes the legitimacy of violence; license to target opponents (Muslim or non-Muslim); a global struggle between faith and unbelief; a backwards looking utopia; license to target Muslims who have strayed; and the need to target the USA, Israel, and “apostate” rulers in the Muslim world. The bush/cheney administration and many of our elected officials also share many of these values. Unfortunately.

This speaker says the number of al Qaeda is small, but their violence against civilians and their exploitation of media has made them more of an international prominence. He also stated that terrorism springs from “social and economic problems, misgovernment, and an ideology that presents itself as a panacea”. And that the US became a target because of “the perception that it supports and uses corrupt Arab regimes”. This would be a perception rooted in reality, in my opinion.

This speaker talks about the man fissures within the overall jihadist ideology. He also points out that many Iraqi insurgents are not al Qaeda, but conflict in Iraq is a boost to al Qaeda globally. (And the longer we stay, the more this will increase, in my opinion.) Iraq’s fighting is attracting foreigners to join in, but Iraq is viewed by al Qaeda as only part of the global struggle.

This ended the presentation from the speakers, and I have no links to their works, but if I had more time, I am sure that goggling their names or corporations would yield more information. Next, we had statements and questions from our Senators. Some were good, but many of the questions reflected a shallow world view, in my opinion.

Senator Rockefeller started by saying there are multiple groups attacking in Iraq (over 30) but US forces say 90% of the attacks are from al Qaeda. One speaker on the panel said that al Qaeda in Iraq has really good media. Rockefeller wanted to know why we did not understand Iraq better……. I am not sure what there is to understand in ruining a culture and all its infrastructure and letting chaos and violence reign. I don’t know what there is to understand about kicking in doors in the middle of the night or killing people randomly out on the street because they get too close to the US military. I think any sane person would feel inclined to resist this, and unfortunately, a lot of people would choose violent resistance. I am not sure what there is to understand about the fact that the US military is there to control the area and the resources, and this is not a good idea for the Iraqi people. I gather that Senator Rockefeller will never understand these things unless he experiences them directly.

Senator Bond made the observation that there has been hostility since Israel was created (gee, I wonder why?) and he asked if we did not have a presence in Iraq, would they still hate us? One panel member answered that the Salafis feel that the US is the spear heading the drive to squelch Muslim identity and pillage their resources, and they use this as a basis for fighting us. He added that al Qaeda feels that attacks on US troops were a great recruiting tool. There was no indication from anyone that bombing their babies to death would impact on the feelings of Muslims. And also no indication that the reason behind the videos of attacks on US troops are popular is because the Muslims have felt impotent and humiliated, and seeing these videos give them reason to cheer. Now, I think it is horrible that humans celebrate the harming of other humans, but I certainly remember the hoopla on our TVs during the start of the bombing of Iraq. It was like all the pundits and military analysts thought our country was so clever to bomb some country that had never attacked us. There was precious little coverage of the civilians killed and injured or the feelings of grief and rage that we engendered.

Another panel member feel that Iraq is being used as an example by the al Qaeda terrorists of the US turning Muslim against Muslim (and this was true in Lebanon also). This, he claimed, is being used as a recruiting tool. The way he said it implied that the poor Muslims over there are just mis-interpreting reality, rather than seeing things as they actually are.

Senator Bayh asked if our actions in Iraq are an intelligent move (my answer: NO) and are we creating more terrorists (my answer: YES)? I nearly shouted out my answers, because these folks (our US Senators) are really in need of help. One of the panelists answered that our presence there is a magnet and recruiting tool --- BUT, WHO KNOWS – maybe if we leave it will get worse. (Hey, if we stay it is SURE TO GET WORSE!! SO LET’S STAY!! Oh dear God, this is stupidity run amuck!!)

They discussed what percentage of the Muslim world is extremist, with no solid answers from the panel, but one person said it was a fraction of a percent.

Senator Werner made the comment that he did not understand Muslims killing Muslims in Iraq. I suppose that Werner does not understand why British citizens fought other British citizens in the American Revolutionary War – nor does he understand the American Civil War – I could go on – but several of us felt that Werner took the prize for stupid statements.

They discussed if calling it a GWOT was a good idea – decided it was not – and then discussed why suicide bombings are used. One panelists explained to them that they don’t have an Air Force or other weapons, and the suicide bombings are effective.

Senator Nelson (FL) asked about the Israel Palestine conflict and the answer he got from a panelist was that the underlying assumption is that Israel and the US pretty much act the same. He then asked if foreign language literacy is a significant factor, and the response was it did not help. He then asked what causes them to become jihadists? And Stephen Ulph said that the jihadists are focused on themselves and their own ideology, which seemed to imply that we westerners had nothing to do with it. A follow up question should have been then – why are they attacking us more than other people? Of course, that question was never asked. The underlying assumptions from all of our Senators are that our actions, all of them, are good and benign, always. So there is no reason to look at what we might be doing, or notice or count the dead civilians along the way.

Senator Hatch raised the question about the possibility of Christians being targeted in Lebanon. One panelist answered that the real targets of the Islamic jihadis was Shi’a Muslims rather than Christians. I decided to get up and follow Senator Hatch out of the room to tell him that Christians in Palestine and Iraq are either being killed or leaving their countries as refugees. He agreed with that, but when I said that was due to Israeli and American policies, he disagreed. I then mentioned how the committee meeting did not look at all at what the US was doing to inspire terrorism, and that bombing babies had a large part to do with why we are so hated around the world. I could have added that kicking in doors and terrorizing people also had a large part to do with this – and that our actions are certainly terrorist actions in their own right.

Senator Feingold spoke and he asked if the extended presence of Ethiopian troops in Samolia would encourage al Qaeda there? There was no clear answer from the panel on this. He also questioned how can US policy or strategic influence address the problem of al Qaeda? Maybe the Senator could talk to Rep. Ron Paul.

Senator Whitehouse asked about the word “crusade” and if that was helpful (the panel said it was not) and then said that we should call them “criminals” not “warriors”. He felt we had given them too much credit and too much publicity.

Senator Bond said that the Philippines are doing well and the people there want more educational and cultural exchanges. He asked “what are the things we can do to appeal to broad Muslim groups to show we are not ogres?” The answer from the panel was to do research, fund and promote moderate to do work for us and to focus on groups that are sympathetic to al Qaeda and make political, social and economic progress with them.

Senator Bayh said that anti-Americanism sentiment is Muslim lands is so high that moderates are not able to speak up in support of the USA and to counter the argument that the USA is trying to divide Muslim against Muslim.

There was no discussion on how this anti-American sentiment is routed in reality, and that we would need to seriously change our behaviors to achieve a different reality. There was no discussion on the fact that we need to stop acting like ogres before we will be released from being looked on as ogres. There was no discussion on how what the USA considers “moderates” in the Muslim world are corrupt governments who do not allow personal freedom, free elections, and who regularly engage in human rights abuses. The ones they call “moderates” really means that they are compliant with US elites and the bush/cheney administration goals and agendas. There was no discussion on the fact that the US and Israel have been arming Fatah and thereby increasing the fighting between Palestinians – and furthering the reality that the US is trying to turn Muslim against Muslim.

As one of the Code Pink women was leaving, she stated loudly that we need to get out of Iraq because that is making terrorism worse. We also need to get out of Iraq because our troops are in a position were they are forced to act like terrorists themselves. This awareness has not reached our Senator’s consciousness, with the possible exception of Senator Feingold.


Eileen Coles said...

Having a "War Czar" who has no one reporting to him allows the military to publicly say they are doing one thing while doing another.

"Open" intelligence hearings allow Congress to do the same thing, but even there it's going to be difficult for them to conceal all the real agendas, so it was good you guys went and showed that we are watching.

Annegw said...

Thank you for this lengthy post. I especially appreciate the interjected comments. They are right on! It does seem that there are two distinct narratives, two points of view.

It is distressing that they cannot admit to US culpability in all this. As a Christian, I keep remembering Jesus telling us to take the log out of our own eye before taking the speck out of someone else's. I guess those logs must block the view.

I really do appreciate CODEPINK being there on The Hill. Please help them to see.

CODEPINK said...

hey, you should see the comments I wrote down and passed to Liz - could not publish them.....! Susan O., aka dancewater