The Deadly Connections We Don’t See
Americans tend to be highly organized. As a characteristic, we like to categorize and label, compartmentalize and sort. We are also fixated on legalities. It’s part of our culture: “a government of laws, not of men,” as John Adams famously wrote.
As a consequence, when we structure institutions, we adhere to these conventions assiduously. While a strength in many ways, our preoccupation with organization and legalities also exposes a weakness. We are led to believe – perhaps at the subconscious level – that enemies of the United States think along similar lines.
One needs look no further than the organization of our most important governmental institutions to see how this plays. Though supposedly “fixed” by post-9/11 Report re-structuring measures, major players still communicate poorly. The FBI, CIA, and DOD are still stymied in inter-departmental communications and intelligence sharing. Roles and missions – once seemingly clear – have become blurred, with the result that critical areas are neglected. Our preoccupation with legalities has muddied waters about areas of responsibility, rights of citizens and non-citizens, and even something as basic as definition of “the threat.”
Let’s look at a few examples. Peel back the wire-and-block organizational charts of any large institution and you will find very neat and highly defined areas of responsibility. Even in matrix organizations like the Department of State, the divisions are readily apparent. Bureaus are assigned either geographic areas of responsibility or functional roles. Thus you will find bureaus who work Middle East, East Asia, Africa, Europe, Latin America, and other regions. You will notice bureaus devoted to Political-Military affairs, Oceans and Scientific affairs, Human Rights, and other specialties. Check out the org charts at Langley and the Pentagon, at NSA, FBI, DEA, NSC, NSA, and DIA, and you’ll see much the same.
What is missing from the equation is some group that takes the wider view. Supposedly this was to be corrected in part by the addition of a larger bureaucratic layer on top of all the organizations, one designed to pull them together. The first step was forming the Department of Homeland Security, followed by installation of the “Intelligence Czar,” the National Intelligence Director. The reality was that each Department retained its peculiar culture and interests, and the larger organization simply mirrored the divisions and parochialism of the subordinate institutions. The one, unchanging rule within Washington is that bureaucracies quickly become entrenched and every bureaucrat’s primary interest is expansion and retention of power.
Here is some of what is happening today. Iran and Venezuela meet and openly discuss how they will “end the American empire” (#). Russia sends warships to the Caribbean to conduct military maneuvers (#). North Korea assists Iranian scientists in improving capabilities on missiles that it sold to them (#). Syria and North Korea collaborate on nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons (#). China and Venezuela work out an “oil for warplanes” deal (#). Iranian sponsored HezbAllah operatives train on Margarita Island under the protective eye of complicit dictator Hugo Chavez (#). There is strong suspicion that these men are training to pass as Hispanic and infiltrate into the States.
There’s more. Russia announces that it will assist Chavez in building nuclear power capabilities while flouting Western European and U.S. pleas to cease assisting Iranian nuclear development (#). Nicaraguan authorities announce that Russia has offered to “replace” the obsolete weapons of its security forces (#). When Russia invades Georgia, Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega is among the first to recognize South Ossetia and Abkhazia as part of Russian territory (#). Chinese and Cuban governments agree to joint oil exploration – off the coast of Florida (#). Venezuela’s Chavez destabilizes neighboring Colombia by supporting FARC narco-terrorists (#).
The list continues, but you get the idea. While America’s enemies work seamlessly across national, cultural, religious, and ethnic lines, our institutions that are charged with oversight of these issues continue to treat them as separate incidents, the particular province of one or another departments, with no one apparently looking at the bigger picture.
For members of, say, the Latin America, Middle East, and East Asia bureaus to get together requires at the least an ongoing action that must be coordinated among various specialty bureaus or secretariats. Typically this is accomplished on a case-by-case basis, or, if the issue at hand is considered important, by an intra-departmental or inter-agency meeting. These meetings are ad hoc, temporary, and reactive. For the most part, meetings are viewed as time-consuming and distracting. The key issue on the table may be resolved to the group’s satisfaction but once accomplished the group usually dissolves. Until the next crisis boils up.
What is sorely missing is a pro-active, across-the-board approach to foreign policy challenges that may end up in America’s back yard. It is not too great a hypothetical to imagine Iranian-North Korean missiles appearing soon in Venezuela. All of the precursors are present: alliances between the three countries, backup by China and Russia, and a compliant Cuba that might be receptive to “stationing Venezuelan missiles for self defense” on the island. Then suddenly we face a new Cuban Missile Crisis, this time within the region.
We ought to anticipate that HezbAllah terrorists, trained to pass as Latinos on Margarita Island camps, using the conduit of the narco-terror groups to infiltrate the United States and set up cells inside the country. Then suddenly a seemingly international issue becomes a domestic threat. To counter the threat requires smooth coordination between agencies such as DEA, FBI, CIA, State, Defense, DIA and others. In theory oversight would come from the National Security Council and the Director of National Intelligence. There is little indication that such coordination is actually taking place despite great fanfare in launching the new office.
As a Special Forces officer I was trained to take a “red team” approach to operational analysis. In other words, to place myself in the enemy’s shoes and think what would I do in his position to exploit U.S. vulnerabilities. Generals are trained to attack seams between enemy units, to exploit the confusion that is natural when adjacent organizations are forced to coordinate in ways that add to their operational stress. That is exactly the approach taken by our opponents.
By taking advantage of our well-known institutional boundaries to slip under the radar, our enemies would be in a position to inflict maximum damage with little risk. – For example, HezbAllah operatives, infiltrated into the U.S. from Latin America, might not conduct direct action operations, but could develop cadres among disaffected domestic terrorist groups such as criminal gangs, drug dealing organizations, and animal rights/environmental extremists and use them to conduct terrorist acts.–A dirty bomb planted in a major city by domestic terrorists under HezbAllah direction would have no fingerprints leading back to the suppliers and instigators – Venezuela, Iran, or North Korea. Our ability to react and deter would be fatally hampered.
A final word on America’s legalistic approach to problem solving. We as a society are painfully legalistic. Our court of last resort, our ultimate fallback position, is to the judicial system. The quick answer to problems is typically “sue the bastards.” There is a giant cultural gap between those who consider terrorism and attacks on the U.S. to be criminal actions, suitable for resolution within the judicial system, and others who view such acts as war, appropriately resolved by military response.
The dilemma of the US detention facility at Guantanamo Bay is illustrative of this divide, as was the Clinton administration’s response to bombings of the World Trade Center and attacks on American embassies and the USS Cole. By contrast, in answer to the 9/11 attacks the Bush administration opted for a military response. Proponents of the legal approach argue that the military response is inappropriate. They seek to confer U.S. Constitutional rights on enemy combatants and argue for criminal trial and prosecution within the American judicial system.
Others see the military, charged with defending the country, as first responders to the threat and argue that national security preempts all other concerns. They see the U.S. Constitution as applicable only to citizens, and that protection of those citizens’ lives and the nation itself requires difficult but necessary choices.
This is a particularly virulent debate, one that will not be resolved easily. Perhaps further, most devastating attacks will occur here as a result of our inability to come to terms both with the nature and capabilities of our enemies and with our cultural proclivity to toss problematic issues into the laps of the courts.
Whatever the ultimate outcome may be, our failure at the highest levels to understand and confront our enemies is certain to lead to long-term weakening of our country.
— Gordon Cucullu
October 9, 2008
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