CRUSH THE CELL….Michael Sheehan, an NSC staffer and counterterrorism professional under both George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton, has a new book out called Crush the Cell: How to Defeat Terrorism Without Terrorizing Ourselves.In Newsweek, Christopher Dickey talks to him about al-Qaeda and global terrorism:
Before September 11, said Sheehan, the United States was “asleep at the switch” while Al Qaeda was barreling down the track. “If you don’t pay attention to these guys,” said Sheehan, “they will kill you in big numbers.” So bin Laden’s minions hit U.S. embassies in Africa in 1998, they hit the Cole in 2000, and they hit New York and Washington in 2001 — three major attacks on American targets in the space of 37 months. Since then, not one. And not for want of trying on their part.
What changed? The difference is purely and simply that intelligence agencies, law enforcement and the military have focused their attention on the threat, crushed the operational cells they could find — which were in fact the key ones plotting and executing major attacks — and put enormous pressure on all the rest.
….”Even in 2003, less than two years after 9/11, I told [counterterrorist colleagues in New York City] that I thought Al Qaeda was simply not very good,” Sheehan writes in his book….”I said what nobody else was saying: we underestimated Al Qaeda’s capabilities before 9/11 and overestimated them after.”
….That’s part of what makes Sheehan so refreshing. He knows there’s a big risk that he’ll be misinterpreted; he’ll be called soft on terror by ass-covering bureaucrats, breathless reporters and fear-peddling politicians. And yet he charges ahead. He expects another attack sometime, somewhere. He hopes it won’t be made to seem more apocalyptic than it is. “Don’t overhype it, because that’s what Al Qaeda wants you to do. Terrorism is about psychology.” In the meantime, said Sheehan, finishing his fruit juice, “the relentless 24/7 job for people like me is to find and crush those guys.”
Note the absence of large scale wars in this prescription. We need to crush the bad guys where we can, but we also need to leave the “war of civilizations” talk in the ash heap where it belongs. Not only is it wrong, but it makes our fight against actual terrorists harder than it needs to be. We need help from the other 99% of the Islamic world, not their eternal enmity.