DICK MORRIS’ PLAY-BY-PLAY
Volume 1, #40
January 9, 2009
A PREDICTION: TERRORISM IN 2009
Three weeks ago, I sent out my predictions to paid subscribers of my Play-By-Play for what the politics and economics of 2009 would be like. Now I want to turn the crystal ball to the war on terror and foreign affairs and make my predictions for the New Year.
Obama has given power to men and women who really don’t believe terrorism is much of a problem. They implicitly share the European view that an attack here or there is not worth turning what they regard as constitutional guarantees on their heads. The result is that we will be vastly more vulnerable and have a good chance of being hit again soon.
1. Obama will dissolve the Homeland Security Council, a White House group of cabinet officers and staff, set up after 9-11 to focus on domestic anti-terror precautions and protections. He will fold the Council’s operation back into the National Security Council (NSC), the umbrella group charged with conducting foreign policy. The NSC is focused abroad, on foreign affairs. As Ohio’s director of its Emergency Management Agency, Nancy Dragani, observed "The NSC is focused outside [the US]. They’re not going to be consumed with worrying about what’s happening in Ohio." We can expect homeland security to be put on a back burner as foreign crises and diplomacy keeps center stage at NSC deliberations.
2. The attacks in Mumbai, India suggest that al Qaeda and other terrorist groups are moving away from the big target approach they have followed before and since 9-11. Because of aggressive U.S. homeland security protections, these attacks have become less feasible over the past eight years. But the terrorists seem to be getting the message that they can wreck havoc by sending commando squads armed with machine guns and grenade launchers into heavily populated cities to kill as many civilians as possible. This style of terror attack seemed to lack the glamour and potential for publicity of a 9-11 style hit. But the global reaction to Mumbai indicates that al Qaeda can put the world on edge with such tactics. In 2007, terrorists planned an assault on Ft. Dix, New Jersey a plot that called only for the use of small arms. While the attack was discovered – and the attackers found guilty recently – we cannot always hope for such good luck. The likelihood is that 2009 will bring such attacks to the West and possibly to the United States.
3. As President Obama, Attorney General Eric Holder, and Office of Legal Counsel director Dawn Johnsen curtail wiretaps operated without FISA warrants, the National Security Agency (NSA) will increasingly be unable to trawl through billions of phone calls to look for anomalous patterns. No longer will words like "Brooklyn Bridge" jump out at them and be highlighted by their computers for closer attention. As a result, we will be less able to anticipate terrorist attacks and will be increasingly constrained to spot them early on.
4. The likely closing of the Guantanamo prison will lead to the release of 250 hardened terrorists who will be repatriated, at our expense, back to Afghanistan or their country of origin. There, most of them will join the more than fifty of their colleagues who went right from the Guantanamo holding cells to the mountains of Afghanistan to resume their armed struggle against us.
5. Obama, Holder, and Johnsen all are on record as opposing "rough" interrogation techniques and favor using the Army Field manual to govern the questioning of terror suspects. The manual not only prohibits torture but also bans making the target feel "uncomfortable" or bringing psychological pressure on him to answer questions. As a result, our interrogation of terrorists will be defanged and will likely be increasingly ineffective.
6. As a Senator, Obama sponsored legislation to require notification of a group suspected of terrorist activities within seven days of opening an investigation. Since he will presumably hold to the same view as president, terrorist groups under investigation will have plenty of warning to cover their tracks, erase evidence, and warn co-conspirators.
7. As Senator, Obama voted to toughen the standard investigators had to use to seize business records of suspected terror-sponsoring organizations. Currently, the standard is whether the search would be "relevant" to a terror investigation. Obama wanted to require the government to "provide specific evidence to support the suspicion that an individual has links to terrorism" before records could be seized. How the government is to obtain this information without access to the records is a tough question to answer. The inevitable result will be fewer investigations.
8. Obama also advocated stricter criteria for granting FISA warrants for tapping telephones. Currently, the feds have to tell the FISA court why they think a given telephone may be used to promote terrorism. Obama proposed that federal investigators be required to "identify with particularity the person under scrutiny." Again, the feds may only have a phone number and not be able to name the suspected terrorist. In such cases, under Obama: no warrant.
9. During the campaign, Obama advocated lifting the "gag order" on groups under investigation for terrorism. Under current law, these groups may only discuss the investigation with their attorney in the process of challenging the subpoena. The attorney is bound to keep it in confidence. But Obama advocated lifting the ban and letting the terrorist suspects speak to anyone in public or private about the investigation. Will this change let them warn other terrorists with whom they may have been in touch? Yes, it certainly will.
Afghanistan and Pakistan
While the problems we faced in Iraq could be and were solved by changing our approach, the difficulties in policing the border area between Afghanistan and Pakistan are far more difficult. (Suggested reading: a brand new book The Strongest Tribe by Bing West explaining how we prevailed in Iraq).
Pakistan, nominally an ally in the war on terror, has been ineffective, and at times unwilling, to deny al Qaeda safe have within its borders. Just as in Vietnam where the enemy could use Cambodia as a sanctuary, so in South Asia, American ground troops have had to observe the border and stay on the Afghan side even when in hot pursuit. While Pakistan has turned a blind eye to unmanned Predator air strikes within its borders, it aggressively resists the introduction of American ground forces. Without a U.S. presence on the ground on the Paki side of the border, it is unlikely that we can crimp al Qaeda’s operations or find bin Ladin.
The problem Obama and Hillary Clinton will face is that the terrorists have decided to do all they can to destroy the nation of Pakistan. By assassinating leaders like Mrs. Bhutto, they have sought to disrupt democracy. And their attacks on Mumbai in India were obviously designed to provoke a war between Pakistan and India which the Pakis would likely lose. By trying to tie up Pakistan with a war in the east against India and in the west against al Qaeda, they hope to drag the nation down and permit a Taliban-like takeover.
Any U.S. effort to impinge on Paki sovereignty to hunt down al Qaeda makes it harder for the government to remain credible with its own people. But by letting al Qaeda grow stronger on its western borders, the government also undermines its own position.
Whether Obama and Clinton can change Paki attitudes and permit U.S. ground penetration remains to be seen. The rumored appointment of America’s best foreign policy hand, Richard Holbrooke, as a special envoy to Pakistan and Afghanistan would be a big step in the right direction. It was Holbrooke who negotiated our way out of the impasse between the Bosnian Serbs and Muslims in 1995.
But one thing is certain: Pakistan will be the central theater in the war on terror and 2009 will usher in graver and more frequent efforts by al Qaeda to take over the country and topple its newly elected democratic government.
In our next play by play, we’ll examine other foreign theaters including North Korea, Iran, the Middle East, Russia and Latin America and what changes they may hold in 2009.
***COPYRIGHT EILEEN MCGANN AND DICK MORRIS 2009. REPRINTS WITH PERMISSION ONLY***