Tom Diaz

Archive for the ‘Terrorism and counter-terrorism’ Category


In bad manners, Crime, Informants and other sophisticated means, Intelligence and Counter-Intelligence, Terrorism, Terrorism and counter-terrorism, undercover investigations on September 22, 2009 at 12:29 pm

Never Forget

Never Forget

Enigmatic Quote for Today

The native hue of resolution

Is sicklied o’er with the pale cast of thought;

And enterprises of great pitch and moment,

With this regard, their currents turn awry,

And lose the name of action.

William Shakespeare, Hamlet.

Prosecutors in the case of the suspected transit-bomber Najibullah Zazi have served notice in the federal court in Denver that they intend to use provisions of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (“FISA”) that will protect sensitive information from public disclosure.  [See later post here with more filings.]

What follows is an overview of some of the relevant filings, law, and controversies around FISA.

The Government’s Notice

The United States of America … hereby provides notice to defendant Najibullah Zazi and to the Court , that pursuant to Title 50, United States Code, Section 1806(c) and 1825 (d), that [sic] the United States intends to offer into evidence, or otherwise use or disclose in any proceedings in the above-captioned matter [United States v. Najibullah Zazi], information obtained and derived from electronic surveillance and physical search conducted pursuant to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978 (“FISA”), as amended, 50 U.S.C. SS 1801-1812 and 1821-1829.

“Notice of Intent To Use Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act Information,” United States v. Najibullah Zazi, U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado, Docket No. 09-cr-03001-CBS, September 21, 2009.

Different Views of FISA

Law enforcement, intelligence community view:

Virtually all counter-terror and counter-intelligence agents in the United States regard FISA and its various amendments as essential to their work:

FISA has since its enactment been a bold and productive tool in this country’s fight against the efforts of foreign governments and their agents to engage in intelligence-gathering aimed at the U.S. government, either to ascertain its future policy or to effect its current policy, to acquire proprietary information not publicly available, or to engage in disinformation efforts. With the enactment of the USA PATRIOT Act FISA has been expanded and broadened to make it a useful tool in exposing and combating foreign terrorist groups’ efforts to target the United States.

James G. McAdams, III, “Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA): An Overview,” Federal Law Enforcement Training Center, U.S. Department of Homeland Security, March 2007.


The American Civil Liberties Union — not surprisingly — has a much different view of FISA:

The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), born after the Watergate scandal, establishes how the government can secretly eavesdrop on Americans in their own country in intelligence investigations. It was originally passed to allow the government to collect foreign intelligence information involving communications with “agents of foreign powers.”

On July 10, 2008, President Bush signed the unconstitutional FISA Amendments Act of 2008 (FAA), supposedly aimed at “updating” the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). Unfortunately, the law meant to “update” FISA instead gutted the original law by eviscerating the role of the judicial oversight in government surveillance. The law also gave sweeping immunity to the telecommunications companies that aided the Bush administration’s unconstitutional warrantless wiretapping program by handing over access to our communications without a warrant. On the same day the FAA was signed into law, the ACLU filed a lawsuit challenging its constitutionality.

This is not the first time that Congress has undermined FISA. The USA Patriot Act, passed in 2001 and re-authorized in 2006, amended FISA to make it easier for the government to obtain the personal records of ordinary Americans from libraries and Internet Service Providers, even when they are not suspected of having connections to terrorism.

Congressional leadership has promised to address the issues surrounding the FISA Amendments Act before it sunsets in 2012 during the 2009 debate over reauthorization of USA Patriot Act provisions. Until then, the ACLU will fight in the courts to block the law from taking effect.

More information about the ACLU’s lawsuit to block the FAA is available online at:

How Often Is FISA Used?

An annual report to Congress from the Justice Department contains statistics about FISA use, as well as discussion of some of the topical issues surrounding it. Here are the statistics:

During calendar year 2008, the Government made 2,082 applications to the Foreign Surveillance Court (hereinafter “FISC”) for authority to conduct electronic surveillance and physical search for foreign intelligence purposes. The 2,082 applications include applications made solely for electronic surveillance, applications made solely for physical search, and combined applications requesting authority for electronic surveillance and physical search.

During calendar year 2008, the FISC approved 2,083 applications for authority to conduct electronic surveillance and physical search (two applications filed in calendar-year 2007 were not approved until calendar-year 2008). The FISC made substantive modifications to the Government’s proposed orders in two of those applications. The FISC denied one application filed by the Government during calendar year 2008.

Letter from Assistant Attorney General Ronald Weich, Office of Legislative Affairs, to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, May 14, 2009.

Some of the Statutory Provisions

For the wonks still with us, here are excerpts from the basic law.  There are many more provisions that should be reviewed to get a complete understanding, which eludes even the most nimble legal minds in Washington and Kabul, but these seem most relevant to the moment:

50 U.S. Code 1806

(c) Notification by United States

Whenever the Government intends to enter into evidence or otherwise use or disclose in any trial, hearing, or other proceeding in or before any court, department, officer, agency, regulatory body, or other authority of the United States, against an aggrieved person, any information obtained or derived from an electronic surveillance of that aggrieved person pursuant to the authority of this subchapter, the Government shall, prior to the trial, hearing, or other proceeding or at a reasonable time prior to an effort to so disclose or so use that information or submit it in evidence, notify the aggrieved person and the court or other authority in which the information is to be disclosed or used that the Government intends to so disclose or so use such information.

50 U.S. Code 1825

(d) Notification by United States

Whenever the United States intends to enter into evidence or otherwise use or disclose in any trial, hearing, or other proceeding in or before any court, department, officer, agency, regulatory body, or other authority of the United States, against an aggrieved person, any information obtained or derived from a physical search pursuant to the authority of this subchapter, the United States shall, prior to the trial, hearing, or the other proceeding or at a reasonable time prior to an effort to so disclose or so use that information or submit it in evidence, notify the aggrieved person and the court or other authority in which the information is to be disclosed or used that the United States intends to so disclose or so use such information.

§ 1801. Definitions

As used in this subchapter:

(a) “Foreign power” means—


(4) a group engaged in international terrorism or activities in preparation therefor;

(b) “Agent of a foreign power” means—

(1) any person other than a United States person, who—

(C) engages in international terrorism or activities in preparation therefore…

(f) “Electronic surveillance” means—

(1) the acquisition by an electronic, mechanical, or other surveillance device of the contents of any wire or radio communication sent by or intended to be received by a particular, known United States person who is in the United States, if the contents are acquired by intentionally targeting that United States person, under circumstances in which a person has a reasonable expectation of privacy and a warrant would be required for law enforcement purposes;

(2) the acquisition by an electronic, mechanical, or other surveillance device of the contents of any wire communication to or from a person in the United States, without the consent of any party thereto, if such acquisition occurs in the United States, but does not include the acquisition of those communications of computer trespassers that would be permissible under section 2511 (2)(i) of title 18;

(3) the intentional acquisition by an electronic, mechanical, or other surveillance device of the contents of any radio communication, under circumstances in which a person has a reasonable expectation of privacy and a warrant would be required for law enforcement purposes, and if both the sender and all intended recipients are located within the United States; or

(4) the installation or use of an electronic, mechanical, or other surveillance device in the United States for monitoring to acquire information, other than from a wire or radio communication, under circumstances in which a person has a reasonable expectation of privacy and a warrant would be required for law enforcement purposes.

§ 1821. Definitions

(5) “Physical search” means any physical intrusion within the United States into premises or property (including examination of the interior of property by technical means) that is intended to result in a seizure, reproduction, inspection, or alteration of information, material, or property, under circumstances in which a person has a reasonable expectation of privacy and a warrant would be required for law enforcement purposes, but does not include

(A) “electronic surveillance”, as defined in section 1801 (f) of this title, or

(B) the acquisition by the United States Government of foreign intelligence information from international or foreign communications, or foreign intelligence activities conducted in accordance with otherwise applicable Federal law involving a foreign electronic communications system, utilizing a means other than electronic surveillance as defined in section 1801 (f) of this title.

Excerpts from Title 50, Chapter 36 — Foreign Intelligence Surveillance at Cornell University Law School website.

Alas, Poor Yorick

Alas, Poor Yorick


In bad manners, Informants and other sophisticated means, Intelligence and Counter-Intelligence, Terrorism, Terrorism and counter-terrorism, undercover investigations on September 20, 2009 at 12:27 pm
Victim of 2005 London Transit Bombings

Victim of 2005 London Transit Bombings

Najibullah Zazi just learned a golden rule.

Never, ever lie to the FBI.

Zazi, the principal local suspect in the ongoing and unfolding international terrorism investigation that came into public view with raids in New York last week, has been charged with making false statements to the FBI.  So has his father and another person. The thrust of the alleged plot seems to be that Zazi and others may have been cooking up a transit bombing somewhere in the United States similar to those in Madrid in 2004 and London in 2005.

2004 Madrid Train Bombing

2004 Madrid Train Bombing

A few self-critical kumbaya speeches have not and cannot erase the threat from radical forces who hate the United States and want to make things go bang here.

A careful reading of the affidavits filed in support of criminal complaints and arrest warrants reveals that — as usual in such cases — the FBI, the Joint Terrorism Task Force in New York, and without a scintilla of doubt, the U.S. intelligence community know a lot more about Mr. Zazi than has been publicly revealed. The U.S. Department of Justice is spooling out just enough rope to arrest and detain Zazi and his alleged co-conspirators.

The government is, of course, not going to reveal all of its sources and methods, but it is pretty clear that we have come a long way from September 11, 2001.  Our counter-terrorism investigators are reading the labels on some of the bad guys’ underwear. [See details of later government filings in posts here and here.]

Zazi’s pitiful attempt to lie his way out of his possession of handwritten notes about bomb-making — in the context of a mother lode of backpacks and a scale useful for mixing bang-bang chemicals –are central to the false statement charge.  In brief, Zazi claimed in interviews with the FBI that he unintentionally downloaded the instructions from a “religious book” [must be an interesting religion, what?] and immediately erased the book when he saw that it discussed jihad.  But various means of intelligence revealed that he actually emailed the damning instructions to himself.


London Transit Bombing 2005

London Transit Bombing 2005

What follows is an excerpt from the FBI affidavit filed in Colorado.  Keep in mind that Zazi is, of course, entitled to his presumption of innocence at law, and that the evidence the government refers to in this affidavit is certainly not all of the evidence in its possession.  Moreover, this is no doubt a holding action as the investigation continues. [The complete affidavits can be downloaded from the U.S. Department of Justice website here.]


United States District Court for the District of Colorado, September 19, 2009

15. On or about September 11, 2009, FBI agents conducted a legally-authorized search of the defendant ZAZI’s rental car, which was parked near the Queens residence. During the search of the car, a laptop computer was found containing a jpeg image of nine-pages of handwritten notes (the “handwritten notes”). The handwritten notes contain formulations and instructions regarding the manufacture and handling of initiating explosives, main explosives charges, explosives detonators and components of a fuzing system.

16. Rental records reflect that the defendant ZAZI was supposed to return his rental car in New York on September 14, 2009. However, on September 12, 2009, the defendant ZAZI flew from La Guardia Airport in Queens, New York to Denver, Colorado.

17. On or about September 14, 2009, FBI agents executed a court-authorized search warrant on the Queens residence. Among other items, the FBI seized a black scale containing several double A batteries. Fingerprint testing revealed that the defendant ZAZI’s fingerprints were found on both the scale and the batteries.


18. On or about September 16, 2009, the defendant ZAZI was interviewed by members of the JTTF at the FBI [sic] in Denver, Colorado. The defendant ZAZI had voluntarily appeared at the offices of the FBI and agreed to answer questions. During this interview, the defendant ZAZI was questioned about, among several other topics, the handwritten notes found on his computer. During the interview, the defendant was show the handwritten notes. The defendant stated that he had never seen the document before. He further stated that if the handwritten notes was [sic] found on his computer, he must have unintentionally downloaded it as part of a religious book he had downloaded in August 2009. He stated that he had immediately deleted the religious book within days of downloading it after realizing that its contents discussed jihad. He stated that he had not handwritten the notes.

19. During the same interview, the defendant was asked about his email accounts, and listed three accounts, including an account known to law enforcement (“Account A”). The investigation has determined that the password for Account A is a nine-digit number.  The investigation has revealed the existence of two email accounts known to law enforcement (“Account B” and “Account C”). A search of Account B registered to a “Kado Khan,” reveals that another email account known to law enforcement (“the originating account”) sent a message to Account B with the handwritten notes included as an attachment on or about December 2, 2008. The password for the email account is the same nine-digit password at [sic, probably “as”] the password for Account A. A search of the Account C, registered to a “kado gul” in Peshawar, Pakistan, reveals the originating account also sent an email with the handwritten notes as an attachment to Account C on or about December 3, 2008. Account C can be opened with a six-digit password that has the same first six digits of the passwords for Accounts A and B. Based on the similarity of addresses and identity of passwords, I believe that the defendant controlled Account A as well as Accounts B and C, both of which received the handwritten notes by email on early December 2008.

20. The document was analyzed by a handwriting expert from the FBI who said that, although a final conclusion could not be made until the expert examines the original document, the expert was able to assert that there were characteristics common to both the document found on the defendant ZAZI’s computer and the defendant’s handwriting exemplars. An FBI agent without training as a handwriting expert, who was able to compare the handwriting notes with the original handwriting exemplars stated that it appeared to be consistent with the handwriting as it appeared in the document.

Pentagon, September 11, 2001 -- Never Forget, Never Forgive

Pentagon, September 11, 2001 -- Never Forget, Never Forgive


In Drugs, Obama, Terrorism, Terrorism and counter-terrorism, Transnational crime on June 23, 2009 at 8:49 pm

My position coming into this office has been that the United States has core national security interests in making sure that Iran doesn’t possess a nuclear weapon and it stops exporting terrorism outside of its borders.

President Barack Obama, Press Conference, June 23, 2009

One of the principal tools by which Iran has exported — and continues to export — terrorism is through its Lebanese surrogate, the terrorist para-state Hezbollah.

The Shiite organization has often been described as the “A-team” of terrorism because of its ability to inflict mass casualties in synchronized, rolling bomb attacks on multiple targets.  Some experts believe that Osama bin Laden learned the concept of synchronized shock and awe terror attacks from Hezbollah’s late terrorist-in-chief, Imad Mugniyah.

According to Richard A. Falkenrath Deputy Commissioner for Counterterrorism, New York Police Department, Hezbollah ranks at the top of the NYPD counter-terrorism worry list—just a notch below the predominantly Sunni al Qaeda.  Speaking at The Washington Institute for Near East Policy on Tuesday (June 23, 2009) Falkenrath said that Hezbollah has more or less decided not to attack the United States directly.  But, he warned, “our assessment is that if they changed their mind they have the capacity to inflict terrible damage on the United States.”

Since at least the early 1990s Hezbollah’s leaders — most particularly its secretary general, Sayyid Hassan Nasrallah — have assiduously constructed an infrastructure-in-place in the Western Hemisphere.  My co-author and I described that infrastructure and the bloody history of Hezbollah in Lightning Out of Lebanon: Hezbollah Terrorists on American Soil (Random House 2005).  We focused on the operations of a Hezbollah support cell in Charlotte, North Carolina, but also describe in some detail Hezbollah’s terror bombing attacks on Israeli and Jewish targets in Argentina.

In the years since Lightning‘s publication, Hezbollah’s operations and capabilities in the Western Hemisphere have grown even stronger, according to widespread public reports.  For example, last year the Los Angeles Times reported on one particularly troubling aspect of Hezbollah’s growth–its deepening alliance with the anti-American regime of Venezuelan caudillo Hugo Chavez:

As part of his anti-American foreign policy, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has established warm diplomatic relations with Iran and has traveled there several times. The Bush administration, Israel and other governments worry that Venezuela is emerging as a base for anti-U.S. militant groups and spy services, including Hezbollah and its Iranian allies.

“It’s becoming a strategic partnership between Iran and Venezuela,” said a Western anti-terrorism official who spoke on condition of anonymity because the issue is sensitive.

Building infrastructure and ties with governments like that of Chavez and perhaps others in the Andean region is important to the terrorist para-state Hezbollah.  Perhaps equally important is its criminal fund-raising efforts.  We reported in Lightning on the vast sums Hezbollah raised through illegal cigarette trafficking from North Carolina to Michigan.  We also described a panoply of schemes for raising funds in the so-called Tri-Border Area.

In recent years, it appears that Hezbollah has also moved into the drug trade.

According to a report in The New York Times on October 22, 2008, “Colombian authorities said…that they had broken up a drug and money-laundering ring in an international operation that included the capture of three people suspected of shipping funds to Hezbollah guerrillas.” (See also, Agence France Presse report in English on October 22, 2008, “Colombian authorities have arrested three men with alleged links to the Shiite militant group Hezbollah as part of an international drug sting that has netted close to 100 suspects.”)

On the same date as these two snippets, the Los Angeles Times provided a much more complete description of the operation and Hezbollah’s involvement:

Chekry Harb, who used the alias “Taliban,” acted as the hub of an unusual and alarming alliance between South American cocaine traffickers and Middle Eastern militants, Colombian investigators allege.

Authorities accuse Harb of being a “world-class money launderer” whose ring washed hundreds of millions of dollars a year, from Panama to Hong Kong, while paying a percentage to Hezbollah, which is designated as a terrorist group by the United States and Israel. Harb was charged with drug-related crimes in a sealed indictment filed in Miami in July, but terrorism-related charges have not been filed.

The suspects allegedly worked with a Colombian cartel and a paramilitary group to smuggle cocaine to the United States, Europe and the Middle East. Harb traveled extensively to Lebanon, Syria and Egypt and was in phone contact with Hezbollah figures, according to Colombian officials.

“The profits from the sales of drugs went to finance Hezbollah,” said Gladys Sanchez, lead investigator for the special prosecutor’s office in Bogota, in an interview. “This is an example of how narco-trafficking is a theme of interest to all criminal organizations, the FARC, the paramilitaries and terrorists.”

These reports are the tip of an iceberg of evidence of Hezbollah’s growing presence, according to more or less well-informed U.S. officials.  New York City has hands-down the best counter-terrorism structure of any city in the United States, and its experts worry that these developments have only enhanced Hezbollah’s ability to project power into the United States.

Generally, when Hezbollah decides to flip the switch and exercise its power, things explode and people die.

Asked what he thought might prompt Hezbollah to attack the United States directly, Falkenrath suggested a direct U.S. attack on Hezbollah or an attack on Iran.  Both of these seem most unlikely.  But, unlikely or not, Hezbollah’s ability to attack the United States with bloody effect remains an Iranian pistol to America’s head.

One wild card remains.  Hezbollah has not yet apparently retaliated for the assassination last February of its late terrorist-in-chief, Imad Mugniyah.  It is a well known fact that Hezbollah always extracts revenge for such killings.  The only open question is when and where will it strike.


In Corruption, politics, Terrorism and counter-terrorism on June 16, 2009 at 2:49 pm

If you have an opinion about President Barack Obama’s speech to the Muslim world, you should also read the following report, posted by the kind permission of The Washington Institute for Near East Policy.  It can be found in the original at this link:

PolicyWatch #1534: Special Forum Report

Strategic Challenges in a Changing Middle East

Featuring Moshe Yaalon

June 12, 2009

On June 9, 2009 Lt. Gen. (Ret.) Moshe Yaalon of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) delivered the second annual Zeev Schiff Memorial Lecture on Middle East Security at The Washington Institute. General Yaalon is vice prime minister and minister of strategic affairs in the government of Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu. From 2002 to 2005, General Yaalon was IDF chief of the general staff.

The Washington Institute established the Zeev Schiff Memorial Lecture to honor the late Israeli journalist and longtime Institute associate Zeev Schiff, who passed away in 2007. The inaugural Zeev Schiff Memorial Lecture was delivered by IDF Lt. Gen. (Ret.) Amnon Lipkin-Shahak in June 2008.

Once mainstream media believes something to be true, it becomes extremely difficult for anyone thereafter to question the veracity of the purported “fact.” This phenomenon is manifest in Middle East news coverage in the Iranian issue, the tensions between pragmatists and radicals, and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The Iranian Issue

The way in which the media frames the Iranian issue is problematic. First, the media portrays the problem as primarily a conflict between Iran and Israel.

Second, there is a recurring suggestion that sincere dialogue and nonmilitary sanctions will persuade the Iranians to peacefully give up their military nuclear program. The media does the world a disservice by framing the issue as such, because failure of dialogue and nonmilitary sanctions may necessitate a military solution.

Third, although the media treats Iran as a rational actor whose primary concern is American behavior, Iran has a completely different agenda and motivations, many of which are very troubling to the West. Key Iranians consider the destruction of Israel as just the first step on the way to changing the entire American-led world order. Tehran is interested in turbulence and instability, since stability characterizes the very world order it wants to replace.

Israel does not claim that the military option should be the first to be exercised — if anything, it should be the last. Effective political isolation and economic sanctions are big steps before any realistic military option and were successful in pressuring Libya to suspend its nuclear programs following the U.S. invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq.

Moderates vs. Radicals

The media has almost unanimously adopted two flawed approaches in addressing the tension between radicals and pragmatists in the Middle East: the dramatically nonempirical notion that the vast majority of Muslims embrace the same principles of peace, prosperity, and coexistence that the West exalts; and that the Western policy of confrontation has weakened the pragmatists, leaving radicals as the true representatives of Middle Eastern society.

This second notion errs by suggesting that radicals are ascendant primarily because of Western behavior and therefore can be stopped through engaging them in dialogue while granting pragmatists concessions. Both radicals and pragmatists take full advantage of the Western response to avoid accountability and expect more money and concessions, especially those that come at Israel’s expense.

Therefore, it is counterproductive for the West to “regretfully” make more concessions, since this plays into the hands of the radicals and strengthens their claims. The West expects that concessions and apologies will lead to reciprocal moves on their part. In the Middle East, it just strengthens their convictions of victimhood and their resolve to restore honor.

One case that illustrates the dangers of this media-promoted approach is the claim that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the most important issue for Middle Easterners and must be solved to convince pragmatists to overcome radicals and help the West and Israel in confronting Iran. A serious look at that claim shows that radicalism in the Middle East predates the establishment of Israel and has always been characterized by anti-Western feelings.

Iran is the main reason for instability in the region. The strengthening of radicals and progress on the Iranian nuclear project are the main threats to Israeli and American security and regional interests. As long as radicals feel that they are marching toward victory, there can be no signs of weakness. This would only make the job more difficult.

The Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

When it comes to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, there is again a set of so-called facts that have gone largely unchallenged: that the issue is primarily a territorial conflict and that a solution can therefore be achieved within a short period of time through conceding territory; that the only possible solution is a two state solution; and that Israeli “occupation” and settlement activity are major obstacles for moving toward this inevitable solution.

These assumptions were the basis of the Oslo process, and its failure indicates that they deserve reexamination. While the Israelis were ready for this kind of solution, the Palestinians did not accept that the two-state solution refers to two states for two peoples. In their view, Israel should remain undefined, so that in the future it can become a Palestinian state as well. The Palestinians refuse to accept Israel as a Jewish state because for them this is not a territorial dispute, but an existential conflict. The media’s failure to report this most basic point creates a dangerously misleading portrayal of the situation and the prospects for its resolution.

The Palestinians have yet to remove the real obstacles to peace: accepting Israel as a Jewish state, stopping terror activity and incitement, and addressing the Palestinian Authority’s (PA) lack of preparedness to assume the responsibilities of a state — governability, monopoly over the use of force, security, and economic stability. Unless these issues are fully addressed, the creation of a Palestinian state will lead to the establishment of an unstable terror entity that will threaten not only Israel but the stability of moderate regional states.

The goal of substantial progress toward a Palestinian state in two years is not realistic. If there is a political settlement in two years, there will be a “Hamastan” in the West Bank. Israel will not allow a repeat of the terror attacks after Oslo or a launching pad after the disengagement plan.

When the previous Israeli government engaged in talks with Syria, it spoke with now deceased president Hafiz al-Asad, who was clear about severing the relationship with Iran, dismantling all the militias in Lebanon, and prohibiting any Palestinian terrorists to operate from Damascus. But his son and current president, Bashar al-Asad, has honored none of these commitments. He will not commit to cutting the relationship with Iran or Hizballah, and he has made the status of Palestinians part of the deal. In addition, Bashar has said that even if there is peace, there will not be normalized relations.

Bottom-Up Approach

Israel has no intention or will to govern the Palestinians, and is ready to consider ways to disengage and contribute to the ability of the PA to control the territories under its responsibility. The top-down approach that characterized the Oslo and Annapolis processes should be replaced by a performance-based, bottom-up approach, focusing on building the necessary infrastructure for peace.

This approach should include five reforms within the Palestinian authority, which at this stage can be performed only in the West Bank:

* educational reform, whereby the PA stops educating its people to deny any connection between the Jewish people and the land of Israel;

* economic reform that would focus on strengthening the role of the private sector and fight corruption;

* political reform that would promote an adequate governing culture by strengthening civil society and emphasizing universal values;

* law and order reform, which should lead to the implementation of the concept of “one authority, one law, one weapon” ; and

* security reform, under which there will be a unification of the security apparatus and a full range of activities against terrorism.

Success depends primarily on the Palestinian leadership, which until now has failed to establish an accountable political entity. It could take two, three, or five years; it is up to them. But once they reach it, final status issues can be discussed. The international community should encourage the Palestinians to make progress in this direction through the use of carrots and sticks and not by unconditional economic aid and blanket political support. Only when Palestinians give up the hope of destroying Israel and accept Israel’s right to live in peace as a Jewish state will there be a chance to have a lasting peace.

This rapporteur’s summary was prepared by Max Mealy.

© 2009 The Washington Institute for Near East Policy


In Nuclear Weapons, Terrorism, Terrorism and counter-terrorism on June 2, 2009 at 4:50 pm

Last refuge of All Desperate Arguments

If you’re worried that the Taliban or some other equally malevolent group of half-baked nitwits are going to seize power and stuff a suitcase full of Pakistani nuclear weapons, you can relax.

Pakistani Army Gen. Ashfaq Kayani, chief of army staff

Pakistani Army Gen. Ashfaq Kayani, chief of army staff

According to Lawrence Korb, writing in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, the Pakistani armed forces have the situation well under control.  Korb was Assistant Secretary of Defense in the Reagan Administration from 1981-1985 and is now senior fellow at the Center for American Progress.  Here is an excerpt, or you can read the whole article here:

Pakistan has a great many political, economic, and social problems that prevent it from achieving its full potential. But the majority of the population wants the duly constituted government to fulfill its responsibilities to promote the general welfare and provide for the common defense. They aren’t looking to some outside force such as the Taliban to assume control of the country and solve these problems. Unlike Afghanistan in the 1990s, the Taliban in Pakistan isn’t seen as a group capable of imposing order on a chaotic situation. Rather, the Taliban is seen as an organization trying to upset the existing order. For instance, the majority of the Pakistani population urged the government to take forceful action against the Taliban when it reneged on its agreement in the Swat District.

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Navy Adm. Mike Mullen reviews Pakistani troops during a ceremony honoring Mullen's arrival to Islamabad, Pakistan, Feb. 9, 2008.

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Navy Adm. Mike Mullen reviews Pakistani troops during a ceremony honoring Mullen's arrival to Islamabad, Pakistan, Feb. 9, 2008.

Moreover, at this time, the Pakistani Army has no desire to seize political power, nor will it let the Taliban take control of Pakistan proper or seize Pakistan’s nuclear weapons. The Pakistani Army jealously guards its reputation. In fact, it places a higher priority on its reputation and its interest than that of the country. The army knows that if it staged a coup at this time, it would become responsible for all of the country’s economic and social problems.

Likewise, the Pakistani military, which numbers about 1 million soldiers, has enough brute force to prevent the Taliban from breaking out of the rural areas of the frontier provinces and into the heart of Pakistan, even if it keeps a large contingent on the border with India. Since the army knows that the collateral damage–including creating refugees–would be significant if it uses force, it won’t take action until ordered to do so by the prime minister and the Parliament.

The security of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal By Lawrence J. Korb, 19 May 2009

There.  Feel better?

Not Convinced -- More Waterboarding!

Not Convinced -- More Waterboarding!


In Intelligence and Counter-Intelligence, Terrorism, Terrorism and counter-terrorism, Transnational crime on May 28, 2009 at 3:26 pm

“I’m beginning to think it’s possible that Hizbollah put a mole in our government. It’s mind-blowing.”

Richard Clarke, former NSC official, comment posted on website of  The Centre [sic] for Counterintelligence and Security Studies.

The latest edition of the Transnational Threats Update from the Center for Strategic and International Studies devotes a section to the expanding global reach of the terrorist para-state Hezbollah.  Here is the introduction:

Hezbollah, founded in 1982 following the Israeli invasion and subsequent occupation of southern Lebanon, has expanded into a global organization spanning several continents. Although Hezbollah is concerned primarily with domestic Lebanese affairs, it has been tied to international acts of terror and is now said to be operating throughout the globe, including in the Americas, Africa, and the Middle East.

“Hezbollah’s Global Reach,” Center for Strategic and International Studies,  Transnational Threats Update, April 2009

There is more of interest from this report — especially about Hezbollah’s operations in the Western Hemisphere — to be read below, but at the outset the CSIS update sets the stage for a review of the intriguing case of FBI special agent and CIA operative Nada Nadim Prouty:

On June 24, 2003, NADA NADIM PROUTY, while employed as a Special Agent of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, an agency of the U.S. Department of Justice, intentionally accessed the FBI Automated Case Support (ACS) computer system to obtain information from a national security investigation being conducted by the FBI’s Detroit, Michigan field office. The case number was DE-74791. The subject matter of the investigation was the designated foreign terrorist organization, Hizballah. Defendant was not assigned to work on Hizballah cases as part of her FBI duties, and she was not authorized by her supervisor, the case agent assigned to the case, or anyone else to access information from the investigation in question. At the time, defendant PROUTY knew that she was permitted to access information from the ACS system for official business only and that the information was available only to persons having a legitimate need to know.

“Factual Basis for Guilty Plea” in Rule 11 Plea Agreement filed on November 13, 2007 in the case of United States of America vs. Nada Nadim Prouty, U.S. District Court, Southern District of Michigan, Docket No. 07-20156

The criminal case of former FBI Special Agent and CIA employee Nada Nadim Prouty is intriguing — to say the least.

Nada Nadim Prouty

Nada Nadim Prouty

The excerpt from her plea agreement (above) describes what some observers suspect was the ultimate act of  a breath-taking penetration of the most sensitive areas of the U.S. government by the Lebanese Shiite terrorist para-state Hezbollah. Anyone who thinks that Prouty’s plea agreement is all there was (or is) to this case might reflect on the stakes here — for both sides.  By copping to three counts (conspiracy, immigration fraud, and unauthorized computer access), Prouty saved herself the inconvenience of a jury trial on all counts and a potentially harsher judgment and sentence.  Her plea also saved the government the embarrassment of airing in public how Hezbollah — through this otherwise obscure Lebanese illegal immigrant — appears to have eaten the lunches of the then-Immigration and Naturalization Service watchdogs, and the counterintelligence arms of the CIA and the FBI.  Trying a case on more serious charges quite likely also would have involved the risks of using classified information that might expose intelligence sources, the methods used, and the information they have yielded about Hezbollah and its leaders. But, it wasn’t just Prouty who was part of the alleged conspiracy.  Here is a relevant excerpt from a short article in Newsweek (“A Tale of Two Women,” November 17, 2007):

The story has a familiar ring: a Lebanese woman arrives in the United States on a student visa, obtains citizenship through a fake marriage, lands a security job with access to government secrets and ends up in court. In November, it was Nada Prouty, who worked for the FBI and CIA and illegally tapped into computer files detailing investigations into Hizbullah activities (her brother-in-law was a suspected Hizbullah fund-raiser) until she was arrested. Last week, in almost identical circumstances, Samar Spinelli, 39, was brought before a Michigan judge for marriage fraud. She joined the Marines after arriving from Lebanon in 1989 and served two tours in Iraq. Coincidence? According to court papers and Justice Department sources, the two women studied together in Lebanon, came to the United States and paid two Detroit brothers, Chris and Jean Paul Deladurantaye, to marry them for citizenship. When agents began investigating Prouty, they contacted her FBI employment references. One was Spinelli.

In other words, two illegal immigrants, exploiting marriage fraud, were backstopping each other’s penetration of — or innocent employment by — U.S. military and government agencies.  Nothing on the public record confirms that Prouty was a Hezbollah mole.  And, of course, it must be said that it is possible that when Prouty peeked into those highly classified and ultra-sensitive files she was merely acting to satisfy her own passing curiosity.  Okay, maybe she admittedly did enter into a fake marriage, did conspire with others to conceal her illegal status, did lie to the INS, did lie to the CIA, and did lie to the FBI.  But being a serial liar who sneak peeks into secret national security investigation files doesn’t necessarily make her a spy for Hezbollah.

On the other hand, there is a series of dots that, if connected, draw at the least a disturbing picture.

Some Dots to Connect

1.  Hezbollah has a world class counterintelligence service. Hezbollah’s apologists like to emphasize the social good works it undoubtedly does in Lebanon for its Shiite constituency.  They either don’t know or choose to ignore the fact that Hezbollah is also one of the best and most feared terrorist organizations in history — in addition to having fashioned a formidable paramilitary force with which to confront not only its sworn enemy, Israel, but anyone else who gets in its way.  Its operatives have bloodied their hands in Iraq helping to kill U.S. military personnel by means of improvised explosive devices, one of Hezbollah’s strong points.  Some observers have opined that Hezbollah has the best light infantry in the world.  Hezbollah’s deep and singular relationships with Syria — which historically sees Lebanon as part of Greater Syria — and Iran, whose militant mullahs created Hezbollah in the early 1980s and of whose terrorist force Hezbollah is an elite appendage, add more layers of potential to its sinister designs.  It is in and through Iran that Hezbollah is killing American soldiers today in Iraq. A blood-stained organization like Hezbollah has lots of enemies.  It is thus in need of good counterintelligence.  The classic functions of counterintelligence are (1) to keep enemy intelligence agents and infiltrators out of one’s business, using both physical and intellectual means, and (2) to penetrate one’s enemies to learn their secret plans, using both infiltration and technological methods. “Hezbollah has a very robust counterintelligence capability,” retired FBI agent Ken Piernik — who was once in charge of the unit monitoring Hezbollah in the United States — told me when I was researching Lightning Out of Lebanon: Hezbollah Terrorists on American Soil with my co-author, television producer Barbara Newman. We cited in the book the example of the secret visit of a small team of counterterrorism agents from the FBI’s New York field office to the Tri-Border Region of South America (recounted to us by one of the agents who is now a senior counterterrorism official):

There was no official welcoming party for the FBI agents. Only the minimum advance notice had been given to the host country’s officials. This was to be a quiet surveillance of Hezbollah operatives in the region, done with a level of discretion only one notch above undercover work. Before the agents could complete the short walk across the tarmac to the terminal building, however, the chirping of their pagers joined the drone of the buzzing insects. Someone in New York urgently needed to talk to them.

The news was sobering. A fax had just arrived at the New York field office. It contained only a picture of the agents–as they left their plane minutes before. The implicit message was clear: We know you’re here. We’re watching. It was a classic example of Hezbollah’s superb counterintelligence, another reason why American officials consider the group to be so dangerous.

Lightning Out of Lebanon, Pages 93-94

Hezbollah’s counterintelligence program is backed up by the worldwide service of the Iranian diplomatic and intelligence services.  Their diplomats provide in-country points of contact, expertise, and use of the diplomatic pouch privilege, and constantly seeks to exploit or enlist the aid of the Lebanese diaspora.

2.  “Friends of Theirs” — A Connected Gang of Three

Friends of Theirs Number One: Nasrallah and Ahmedinijad

Friends of Theirs Number One: Hassan Nasrallah and Iran's Holocaust-denier-in-Chief Mahmoud Ahmedinijad

Friends of Theirs Number Two:  Ahmedinijad and Syria's Assad

Friends of Theirs Number Two: M. Ahmedinijad and Syria's Bashar al-Assad

3.  Nasrallah has personally directed a wave of Hezbollah infiltrators into the United States in the past. No later than the early 1990s, Nasrallah and other Hezbollah shot-callers decided to flood the United States with operatives.  Their primary mission would be to raise funds — principally through criminal schemes — and to obtain “dual use technology” — technology that has  both military and civilian uses and is restricted for export. These operatives would use or manipulate members of the Lebanese diaspora.  The cells they created would also be available as infrastructure in place should the day come when Hezbollah and its friends, Iran and Syria, decide to unleash a terrorist attack within the United States.

A Young Mohammed Hammoud and Nasralllah (With Beard)

A Young Mohammed Hammoud and Nasralllah (With Beard)

It appears that Nasrallah was personally involved in the decision and with the operatives selected to go to the United States.  The leader of the Hezbollah cell in Charlotte, North Carolina, Mohammaed Hammoud, about whom we wrote in Lighting Out of Lebanon, personally knew Nasrallah since his early teens at least.  Hammoud placed direct calls to Nasrallah from the United States. Among the items that the FBI seized when it took down the cell (on charges of providing material support to a terrorist organization) were apparently “dual use” photographs.  These were pictures taken at such sites as the White House — useful as mementos and as surveillance tools for attack planning.

Souvenir or Surveillance?  Hezbollah Cell Leader Mohammed Hammoud (Right) and Cousin at the White House

Souvenir or Surveillance? Hezbollah Cell Leader Mohammed Hammoud (Right) and Cousin at the White House

The CSIS Transnational Threats Update summarizes another infiltration that we wrote about at length in Lightning Out of Lebanon:

To date, there have been no confirmed cases of terrorists transiting the U.S.-Mexican border to carry out attacks within the United States. Hezbollah members and supporters are known, however, to have entered the United States via Mexico, including Salim Boughader Mucharrafille and Moahmoud Youssef Kourani.  Mucharrafille was arrested in 2002 for smuggling 200 people, including some suspected Hezbollah supporters, into the United States, while Kourani illegally crossed the border in 2001 and was later charged with and convicted of providing “material support and resources…to Hezbollah.”

Please note the qualifying phrase “to carry out attacks within the United States.”  If and when the Hezbollah-Syria-Iran terrorist consortium decides to attack within the United States, it will have at least some infrastructure and long experience in penetrating our borders through a variety of means.

Nada Prouty's brother-in-law Talal Chahine sitting in a place of prominence to the right of Hezbollah Spiritual Leader Sheikh Modhammed Fadlallah, who issued the fatwa authorizing the Marine Corps barracks bombing of October 1983. At the time of the above photos, Prouty was a FBI Special Agent.  (Caption and photo from Centre

Nada Prouty's brother-in-law Talal Chahine sitting in a place of prominence to the right of Hezbollah Spiritual Leader Sheikh Modhammed Fadlallah, who issued the fatwa authorizing the Marine Corps barracks bombing of October 1983. At the time of the above photos, Prouty was a FBI Special Agent. (Caption and photo from Centre for Counterinelligence and Security Studies)

4. Nada Nadim Prouty also had family connections to Hezbollah. According to the criminal information filed in Prouty’s case, her sister and brother-in-law (a fugitive) not only appeared at a Hezbollah fund-raiser in Lebanon, but her brother-in-law spoke at the event:

In August 2002, Elfat El Aouar and Talal Khalil Chahine … attended a fund raising event in Lebanon. The keynote speakers for the event were Chahine and Sheikh Muhammad Hussein Fadlallah…Sheikh Fadlallah had previosuly been designated by the U.S. Department of Treasury’s Office of Foreign Asset Control as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist based upon his status as a leading ideological figure with Hizballah.

We wrote in considerable detail about Fadlallah in Lightning Out of Lebanon. Suffice it to say that his fatwahs have meant death for many of Hezbollah’s enemies, including U.S. servicemen killed in the 1983 bombing of the Marine Corps barracks in Beirut.

Are these family connection mere coincidence?

5.  As European Union Dithers About Continuing to Fund Terrorist Para-state, Hezbollah’s Foreign Service Traffics in Drugs. Hezbollah seems poised to realize its long-held dream of dominating Lebanon’s “legitimate” government.  One would hope that the United States would cease sending aid to Lebanon should that happen.  After all, would we help New York City if La Cosa Nostra seized formal control?  But the European Union, on cue, can be expected to dither. Meanwhile, Hezbollah’s “foreign service” continues to generate funding for the para-state, in large degree through global criminal enterprises.  Here is the CSIS report on Hezbollah’s ongoing operations in the Western Hemisphere:

Hezbollah has long been involved in narcotics and human trafficking in South America, particularly along the tri-border region of Argentina, Brazil, and Paraguay. The organization’s reach, however, appears to be spreading beyond the tri-border area and into Mexico. Evidence suggests that Hezbollah is developing ties to Mexican narcotics syndicates that control transit routes into the United States. These ties worry U.S. officials in light of the ongoing and increasingly violent war between Mexican authorities and narcotraffickers, which appears to be destabilizing Mexico. Current and former U.S. law enforcement, defense, and counterterrorism officials believe that Hezbollah is using narcotics trafficking routes to smuggle drugs and people into the United States — operations that not only finance the group’s activities but also threaten to increase Hezbollah’s ability to smuggle operatives and weapons into the United States.

Taking this all together, it seems apparent to many that Hezbollah has become a true terrorist para-state.  Not quite a national entity de jure nor recognized as a nation by the civilized world, but de facto operating as a dark state.  It can be expected to continue to position itself in the Western Hemisphere, trafficking drugs, “partnering” with cartels and other traffickers, piggy-backing on Iran’s tightening bonds with Hugo Chavez’s Venezuela and perhaps other leaders antithetical to democratic governance, and infiltrating the United States homeland — establishing clandestine infrastructure and perfecting means and channels of covert entry.

Other than that, dear readers, have a nice day.


In Crime, Gangs, Latino gangs, Mexico, Terrorism, Terrorism and counter-terrorism, Transnational crime on April 6, 2009 at 10:17 am

Instead of being run by a handful of massive, price-fixing ‘cartels’, the Colombian drug trade, then and now, was characterized by a fluid social system where flexible exchange networks expanded and retracted according to market opportunities and regulatory constraints.

Abstract, “The Architecture of Drug Trafficking: Network Forms of Organisation in the Colombian Cocaine Trade,” in journal Global Crime, by Pennsylvania State University professor Michael Kenney,  author of From Pablo to Osama: Trafficking and Terrorist Networks, Government Bureaucracies, and Competitive Adaptation.

American officials attributed the delays to cumbersome U.S. government contracting requirements, negotiations over exactly what equipment is needed, and the challenges of creating an infrastructure to deliver an aid package that spans four dozen programs and several U.S. agencies.

“U.S. Aid Delays in Drug War Criticized; Mexicans Seek ‘True Solidarity’,” Washington Post, April 5, 2009.

Look at almost any law enforcement organization — from local police to the U.S. Department of Justice — and you will see a classic bureaucratic structure not overly different from that of the Social Security Administration, the Postal Service, or the Boy Scouts.  Responsibility, authority, and funds flow downward through a series of boxes.  The bureaucracy’s being branches from the head of the agency or department at the top of a vertical pyramid down to the unit or squad at the bottom.

Add in the invisible external forces of the executive (president, governor, mayor) and legislative (council, legislature, Congress) decision-making process and you have a cumbersome beast.  That beast then has to coordinate what it does with the other beasts thrashing around in the law enforcement underbrush, all of whom have historically been reluctant to share their turf.

U.S. Census Bureau

U.S. Census Bureau

U.S. Department of Justice

U.S. Department of Justice

A case in point is the implementation of the Merida Initiative, under which the United States is supposed to be helping Mexico fight its drug trafficking organizations (DTOs) to the two countries’ mutual benefit.

Last June, Congress appropriated $400 million.  According to the Washington Post (April 5, 2009), the State Department announced in December 2008 that $197 million of that funding had been “released.” But the paper’s close examination “shows that just two small projects under Merida — the delivery of high-speed computer servers in December and an arms-trafficking workshop attended by senior U.S. officials at a Mexican resort last week — have been completed.”

Here’s one bureaucrat’s explanation quoted by the Post:

“We are moving as fast as we can, but we also have to do this right,” said Roberta S. Jacobson, who, as deputy assistant secretary for Western Hemisphere affairs, helped negotiate the Merida Initiative. “We are creating a $1 billion program essentially from scratch, and if we try and move faster than our own procedures — and those of Mexico — can manage, we risk the careful oversight and monitoring that we and Congress expect.”

Agility and speed are not strong points of such bureaucracies.

“Tom Diaz has worn out some shoe leather—much like a good detective—in gathering facts, not myths or urban legend. “

—Chris Swecker, Former Assistant Director of the FBI’s Criminal Investigative Division.

“Few people know more about the subject than Tom Diaz and no single book tells the whole story better than No Boundaries. If you really want to know what organized crime in America looks like today, then read this alarming book.”

—Rocky Delgadillo, former City Attorney of Los Angeles

Order No Boundaries from

Drug Traffickers Cash and GunsSeized by DEA and Mexican Police in 2007

Drug Traffickers Cash and Guns Seized by DEA and Mexican Police in 2007

Contrast the speed and agility with which the DTOs operate.  These guys move this kind of money — and more — around in suitcases.  The $400 million Congress appropriated is chump change to drug barons.  A former senior official of a federal law enforcement agency told me last week about a case in which the agency seized a suitcase with $250 million in cash.  Monitoring of drug bosses’ conversation later revealed that they didn’t blink an eye–they took it as just a cost of doing a much bigger business.

Part of the difference between transnational criminals and bureaucracies is ruthlessness.  Any DTO underling who took this long to deliver the proceeds would get a terminal headache — from a couple of bullets in the back of the head.

But the more important difference in the view of many experts is the way drug trafficking organizations — and many other transnational criminal organizations — are…well, organized.

West Texas High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA)

West Texas High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA)

Here, for example, is a description of drug trafficking organizations in the El Paso/Ciudad Juarez plaza, “a principal smuggling corridor and staging area for drug transportation to markets throughout the United States,” according to the April 2007 West Texas High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area Drug Market Analysis, published by the National Drug Intelligence Center:

Over the past few years, the structure of Mexican DTOs operating in the El Paso/Juárez plaza has changed from traditional hierarchical organizations to much more efficient organizations composed of decentralized networks of interdependent, task-oriented cells. For example, one cell may be responsible for transporting drug shipments across the U.S.-Mexico border, another for transporting drugs to U.S. markets, and another for laundering drug funds. The variety of relationships that these individual cells can have with one another as well as their insular nature, particularly for organizational heads, renders these DTOs more difficult for law enforcement to dismantle than DTOs with a traditional hierarchical structure. In addition, if the head of the DTO or cell leaders are identified and arrested, the decentralized, interdependent nature of these DTOs ensures that they can continue to operate unimpeded.

Bureaucratic Model Slower Than Bullet-to-the-Head Model (Model from Ariel Zellman's Wordpess blog)

Bureaucratic Model Slower Than Bullet-to-the-Head Model (Model from Ariel Zellman's WordPress blog)

This segmented but integrated network is “flat,” compared to the Christmas tree bureaucratic structure.  Yet, it still lends itself to the severely authoritarian rule of the narco bosses.  “The leaders of these organizations…give the orders and expect them to be followed.” (Gregory D. Lee, Global Drug Enforcement: Practical Investigative Techniques, p. 288.)   It’s like a giant, global LEGO factory set — the pieces can be custom designed, moved around, plugged in, and shifted to different shapes to meet different needs and respond to law enforcement pressures, all the while preserving operational security.

Here is how Michael A. Braun — former assistant administrator of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) — described it in his March 12, 2009 statement before the U.S. House of Representatives Subcommittee on National Security and Foreign Affairs, Committee on Oversight and Government Reform:

The Mexican cartels’ ‘corporate’ headquarters are set up South of our border, and thanks to  corruption, cartel leaders often times carry out their work in palatial surroundings. The cartel leaders manage and direct the daily activities of ‘command and control cells’ that are typically located just across the border in our Country. Those command and control cells manage and direct the daily activities of ‘distribution, transportation and money laundering cells’ all across our Nation.

The cartels operate just like terrorist organizations, with extremely complex organizational structures, consisting of highly compartmentalized cells: distribution cells, transportation cells, money laundering cells, and in some cases assassination cells or ‘hit squads.’ Many experts believe Mexican and Colombian drug trafficking organizations are far more sophisticated, operationally and structurally, then Middle Eastern terrorist organizations. In fact, some experts   believe that Middle Eastern terrorist organizations actually copied the drug trafficking cartels’ sophisticated organizational model for their advantage. This sophisticated organizational model continues to thwart law enforcement and security services around the globe. Cell members are so compartmentalized that they possess little, if any knowledge of the greater organizational model that encircles and supports their nodes; therefore, they can share little of value when apprehended.

The DEA has long noted the intersection of terrorist organizations and drug trafficking:

For many years the…DEA special agents have recognized that terrorist organizations rely on drug traffickers as a straightforward, easy source of income to finance their political agendas.  Drug traffickers, in turn, rely on terrorists to provide protection for their laboratory and drug distribution endeavors.  Through protection rackets, extortion, or “taxation” of drug traffickers, terrorists receive the funds necessary to carry out their violent acts.  (Lee, p. 287)

Nimble, quick, deadly — and aimed at you.


In Corruption, Crime, Guns, Mexico, Terrorism, Terrorism and counter-terrorism, Transnational crime on March 25, 2009 at 1:22 pm
Snort Coke, Kill Babies:  World-Class Terrorist Group Hezbollah Has Been Linked To Drug Traffickers in Latin America

Snort Coke, Kill Babies: World-Class Terrorist Group Hezbollah Has Been Linked To Drug Traffickers in Latin America

Terrorist groups like Lebanon’s blood-drenched Hezbollah are exploiting the wretched of the earth — whom they claim to represent — through drug-trafficking for three main reasons:

  • The decline of state sponsorship for terrorist groups — the Soviet Union has collapsed, smaller players like Libya have been whipped into line (although Iran still deals blood cards to its friends like Hezbollah).
  • The success of government agencies — like the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Terrorism and Financial Intelligence — in disrupting private funding for terrorist groups.
  • The fact that nothing brings in the cash like drug trafficking. It is simply the most lucrative criminal trade in the world.
Nicaragua's President Daniel Ortega, right, U.S. DEA regional director David Gaddis, center, U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration chief of operations Michael Braun, speak during a meeting in Managua, Monday, Feb. 4, 2008.

Odd Fellows: Nicaragua's President Daniel Ortega, right, U.S. DEA regional director David Gaddis, center, U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration chief of operations Michael Braun, met in Managua, Feb. 4, 2008.

Michael Braun ought to know.  Then assistant administrator for operations for the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, Braun spoke at length last year on the relationship between terrorist groups and drug trafficking.  You can listen to his fascinating presentation here.  Among other interesting points, Braun told his audience that terrorist operations per se cost relatively little — the September 11th attacks, he said, are estimated to have cost about $500,000, which is less than the one year’s bonus of a middling officer in a failed financial insitution these days.  The big ticket is the quotidian daily cost of any group’s clandestine operations:  e.g., recruiting, training, procuring arms, corrupting public officals, obtaining documents, and transportation.

Braun — now a principal at the private security group Spectre Group International — more recently touched on the similarities and affinities of terrorist groups and drug-trafficking organizations in testimony before the Subcommittee on The Western Hemisphere of the U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee:

The cartels operate just like terrorist organizations, with extremely complex organizational structures, consisting of highly compartmentalized cells: distribution cells, transportation cells, money laundering cells, and in some cases assassination cells or ‘hit squads.’ Many experts believe Mexican and Colombian drug trafficking organizations are far more sophisticated, operationally and organizationally, then Middle Eastern terrorist organizations. In fact, some experts believe that Middle Eastern terrorist organizations actually copied the drug trafficking cartels’ sophisticated organizational model for their advantage. This sophisticated organizational model continues to thwart law enforcement and security services around the globe. Cell members are so compartmentalized that they possess little, if any knowledge of the greater organizations that encircle and support their nodes; therefore, they can share little of value with law enforcement when apprehended.

The Mexican cartels rely heavily on three of their most important tradecraft tools to maintain power: corruption, intimidation and violence the ‘hallmarks of organized crime.’ If they can’t corrupt you, they will intimidate you; if that doesn’t work, they will turn to brutal violence. Without the hallmarks of organized crime, the cartels simply cannot effectively operate. The Mexican cartels spend hundreds of millions of dollars to corrupt each year, and they have succeeded in corrupting virtually every level of the Mexican government. If anyone believes for one minute that these powerful syndicates are not looking north into the United States to corrupt they’re obviously blind. We are already experiencing a spillover of drug related violence, and it’s not just in communities along our SWB. It’s also playing out in places like Atlanta, Chicago, Omaha, Seattle, Maui and Anchorage.

That’s a lot of information packed into two paragraphs.

Terrorist Attacks on September 11th Said to Cost About $500,000 -- Chump Change in the Wall Street Bonus World

Terrorist Attacks on September 11th Said to Cost About $500,000 -- Chump Change in the Wall Street Bonus World

Terrorist Bombing of Trains in Madrid Said to Have Been Financed By Sale of Hashish and MDMA

Terrorist Bombing of Trains in Madrid Said to Have Been Financed By Sale of Hashish and MDMA

Terrorist Groups in Criminal Enterprises Generally

Here is what terrorism-financing expert and former Treasury official Matt Levitt has written recently about the nexus between terrorist groups and drug trafficking in general:

While terrorist groups are involved in a wide variety of criminal activity, ranging from cigarette smuggling to selling counterfeit products, the nexus between drugs and terror is particularly strong. According to the Drug Enforcement Administration, 19 of the 43 U.S.-designated Foreign Terrorist Organizations are definitively linked to the global drug trade, and up to 60 percent of terror organizations are suspected of having some ties with the illegal narcotics trade.

Terrorist groups are particularly attracted to the drug trade because of the potential profits. The United Nations estimates that the international drug trade generates $322 billion per year in revenue, making drugs by far the most lucrative illicit activity. Beyond just selling the product, drugs provide many different avenues of revenue, including taxing farmers and local cartels, and providing security needs for all aspects of production, trade, and distribution. Groups like the Afghan Taliban, the Columbian FARC, and the Lebanese Hezbollah generate significant resources from the extortion fees they collect from drug cartels and poppy or coca farmers operating in their “territory.”

Hezbollah and Other Middle Eastern Terrorist Groups Active in Latin American Drug Traffic

The Lebanese terrorist group Hezbollah has a long record of engaging in criminal enterprises to raise funds.  Barbara Newman and I wrote at length about this history of Hezbollah in our book Lightning Out of Lebanon:  Hezbollah Terrorists on American Soil.  We focused on the cigarette-trafficking operations of one cell in Charlotte, North Carolina, but also addressed the history of Hezbollah and its criminal and terror operations, including those in Latin America.

Wild West Tri-Border Region Is Ideal Interface for Terrorist Groups and Criminal Schemes, Including Drug Trafficking

Wild West Tri-Border Region Is Ideal Interface for Terrorist Groups and Criminal Schemes, Including Drug Trafficking

Hezbollah is among other terror groups on the bloody terror tit of Iran.  In testimony before the Senate Finance Committee in April 2008 then-Treasury Undersecretary Stuart Levey stated, “we have an estimate that Iran provides between $100 million and $200 million a year to Hezbollah alone.”  But $200 million doesn’t nearly meet Hezbollah’s needs.  So it operates as vast, world-wide criminal enterprise to raise funds.  One obvious place is the wild-west Tri-Border Region where Paraguay, Brazil, and Argentina come together.  Notorious for its lawlessness, the region has become a major interface between Andean cocaine Land and Middle Eastern Terror Land.

Here is Levitt on the point [he prefers the official spelling of Hizballah, I like Hezbollah.  You say, “tomato” . . . etc.]:

In South America, Hizballah operatives engage in a wide range of criminal enterprises, including mafia-style shakedowns of local Arab communities, sophisticated import-export scams involving traders from India and Hong Kong, and small companies that engage in only a few thousand dollars worth of actual business but help transfer tens of thousands of dollars around the globe. The Tri-Border Area is especially important to Hizballah; according to the U.S. Naval War College, the group raises nearly $10 million per year there.

And on the broader point of terrorists and drug traffickers, here is an excerpt from the “Posture Statement 2009” of Admiral James G. Stavridis, United States Navy Commander, United States Southern Command, given before House and Senate Armed Services Committees:

One specific area of increasing concern is the nexus of illicit drug trafficking — including routes, profits, and corruptive influence — and terrorism.  In the Western Hemisphere, the illicit drug trade historically has contributed, and continues to contribute, significant financial resources to known terrorist groups like the FARC in Colombia and the Shining Path in Peru.  Another threat to the United States is the nexus within Islamic radical terrorism.  In August of last year, U.S. Southern Command supported a Drug Enforcement Administration operation, in coordination with host countries, that targeted a Hizballah-connected drug trafficking organization in the Tri-Border Area of Argentina, Brazil, and Paraguay.  Last October, we supported another interagency operation that resulted in the arrests of a several dozen individuals in Colombia associated with a Hizballah-connected drug trafficking and money laundering ring.  Identifying, monitoring, and dismantling the financial, logistical, and communication linkages between the illicit trafficking groups and terrorist sponsors are critical to not only ensuring early indications and warnings of potential terrorist attacks directed at the United States and our partners, but also in generating a global appreciation and acceptance of this tremendous threat to security.


“Tom Diaz has worn out some shoe leather—much like a good detective—in gathering facts, not myths or urban legend. “

—Chris Swecker, Former Assistant Director of the FBI’s Criminal Investigative Division.

“Few people know more about the subject than Tom Diaz and no single book tells the whole story better than No Boundaries. If you really want to know what organized crime in America looks like today, then read this alarming book.”

—Rocky Delgadillo, former City Attorney of Los Angeles

Order No Boundaries from


In Terrorism, Terrorism and counter-terrorism on February 11, 2009 at 11:37 pm
The Late Imad Mugniyah

The Late Imad Mugniyah (Hezbollah Photo)

Israel’s IDF remains on high alert on the anniversary of Imad Mugbniyah’s death.  The following is the full text of private intelligence organization Stratfor’s analysis. (  For background about Hezbollah’s operations in the United States, see the book I wrote with Barbara Newman, Lightning Out of Lebanon: Hezbollah Terrorists on American Soil (Presidio Press, Random House 2005).  For a contemporaneous account of Mugniyah’s death and background on his life see this Times Online story from 2008.   The Weekly Standard blog this week recounts a story floated in an Israeli newspaper that credits information leading to Mugniyah’s assassination to capture of a Hezbollah operative by U.S. forces in Iraq.  According to this report, the operative provided details about the secretive Mugniyah’s routine.  There is no way to confirm this account directly, of course.  But go here for story of capture of Hezbollah operative Ali Mussa Daqduq in Iraq (along with a bonanza of diaries, computer files, and “pocket litter”) and here for background on Mugniyah’s terrorist history and his links to the Mahdi Army in Iraq.  Bottom line: somebody got information that enabled somebody to get to Mugniyah, one of the most cautious men in history.  And what goes around, comes around in the Middle East.

Retribution for Mughniyah: A Dish Served Cold?
February 11, 2009
Global Security and Intelligence Report
By Fred Burton and Scott Stewart

Feb. 12 will mark the one-year anniversary of the assassination of Imad Mughniyah, one of Hezbollah’s top military commanders. The anniversary certainly will be met with rejoicing in Tel Aviv and Washington – in addition to all the Israelis he killed, Mughniyah also had a significant amount of American blood on his hands. But the date will be met with anger and renewed cries for revenge from Hezbollah’s militants, many of whom were recruited, trained or inspired by Mughniyah.

Mugniyah Reported Killed in This Bombing

Mugniyah Reported Killed in This Bombing (Lebanon Times)

Because of Hezbollah’s history of conducting retaliatory attacks after the assassination of its leaders, and the frequent and very vocal calls for retribution for the Mughniyah assassination, many observers (including Stratfor) have been waiting for Hezbollah to exact its revenge. While the attack has not yet happened, threats continue. For example, in a Jan. 29 news conference, Hezbollah General Secretary Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah left no doubt about the group’s intention. “The Israelis live in fear of our revenge,” he said. “The decision to respond to the killing is still on. We decide the time and the place.”

Initially, given the force of the anger and outcry over the assassination, we anticipated that the strike would come soon after the 30-day mourning period for Mughniyah had passed. Clearly, that did not happen. Now a year has passed since the killing, but the anger and outcry have not died down. Indeed, as reflected by Nasrallah’s recent statement, the leadership of Hezbollah remains under a considerable amount of internal pressure to retaliate. Because any retaliation would likely be tempered by concerns over provoking a full-on Israeli attack against Hezbollah infrastructure (similar to the attack in the summer of 2006), any Hezbollah strike would be conducted in a manner that could provide some degree of plausible deniability.

It is important to remember that Hezbollah retains a considerable capacity to conduct terrorist attacks abroad should it choose to do so. In fact, we believe that, due to its high degree of training, vast experience and close ties to the Iranian government, Hezbollah retains a more proficient and dangerous terrorism capability than al Qaeda.

22004838Repeated calls for revenge and Hezbollah’s capabilities have combined to ensure that the Israeli government maintains a high state of awareness. Even though a year has passed, Israelis, too, are waiting for the other shoe to drop. On Feb. 1, Elkana Harnof of the Counterterrorism Bureau in the Israeli Prime Minister’s Office told The Jerusalem Post that, “Based on our information, we believe the organization is planning one large revenge attack close to the anniversary of [Mughniyah’s] death.” Harnof added, “All we can say publicly is that [Hezbollah] has gone to enormous effort to prepare various kinds of terror attacks, and the big one is likely going to take place soon.” Like Stratfor, the Israelis also believe that the attack will be directed against Israeli or Jewish targets outside of Israel.

Busy Bodies

There are a number of indications that Hezbollah has not been idle in the year since Mughniyah’s death. First, there has been a good deal of preoperational activity by Hezbollah militants in several countries, including the United States. This activity has included surveillance and other intelligence-gathering for targeting purposes. At one point last fall, the activity was so intense inside the United States that law enforcement officials believed a strike was imminent – but it never came. Additionally, there are credible reports that Hezbollah plots to strike Israeli targets in Azerbaijan and the Netherlands have been thwarted. (Although, from information we have received, it does not appear that either of these plots was at an advanced stage of the attack cycle.)

We have no reason to doubt the reports of Hezbollah preoperational activity. It is simply what they do and what they are. Even though the group has not conducted a successful attack overseas since 1994, it does maintain a robust network of operatives who stay busily engaged in operational activities. While many of these operatives are involved primarily in financial and logistical activities, we believe it is worth noting that Hezbollah has never conducted or attempted an attack in a country where it did not have such a support network in place. They use these networks to assist their militant activities in a number of ways, but perhaps the most significant way is in the conduct of preoperational surveillance.

Hezbollah, a creature of the Iranian Islamic Revolution, also has a long history of receiving aid from Iranian embassies in its overseas operations, including its terrorist strikes. Almost inevitably, Hezbollah’s overseas attack plans are found to have murky links of some sort to the Iranian embassy in the country where the attack was to occur, and to the Iranian Ministry of Intelligence and Security or Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) officers stationed there.

Hezbollah utilizes an “off the shelf” method of planning its terrorist attacks. This is very similar to the way major national military commands operate, where they make contingency war plans against potential adversaries in advance and then work to keep those plans updated. This style of sophisticated, advance planning provides Hezbollah’s senior decision makers with a wide array of tactical options, and allows them to assess a number of attack plans in various parts of the world and quickly select and update a particular attack plan when they make the decision to launch it. When they do decide to pull the trigger, they can strike hard and fast.

This type of planning requires a great deal of intelligence-gathering, not only to produce the initial plans but also to keep them updated. Because it requires a lot of collection activity, this effort likely accounts for much of the operational activity that has been observed over the past year in the United States and elsewhere. These ongoing surveillance operations are not just useful for planning purposes, but they are also good for sowing confusion, creating distractions and causing complacency. If Hezbollah operatives have been seen periodically conducting surveillance around a facility and no attack has followed that activity, over time it becomes very easy for security personnel to write off all such activity as harmless – even when it might not be this time.

Not Crying Wolf

There are some who argue that the lack of an attack by Hezbollah since the Mughniyah assassination, combined with the fact that the group has not used its terrorist capability to conduct an attack for many years, signifies that Hezbollah has abandoned its terrorist ways and instead focused on developing its conventional warfare capability.

We do not buy this argument. First, it ignores the existence and purpose of Hezbollah’s Unit 1800, which, among other things, recruits Palestinians for anti-Israeli terror operations inside Israel and the occupied territories. Second, if Hezbollah had abandoned its terrorist arm, there would be no need for the preoperational planning activity noted previously, and in our opinion, reports of such surveillance activity are too frequent and too widespread to be discounted as false sightings. Granted, such activities do cause jitters and have some effectiveness as a psychological warfare tool, but we do not believe that those limited benefits justify the time and effort being put into Hezbollah’s intelligence-collection program. There is also that pesky problem of explaining the thwarted attack plots in Azerbaijan and the Netherlands. Because of this, we do not believe that the U.S. and Israeli governments (among others) are crying wolf when they provide warnings of pending Hezbollah attacks.

We continue to believe that if there is an attack by Hezbollah, it will likely come in a country where there is an existing Hezbollah support apparatus and an Iranian embassy. (Although, in a confined geographic area, operations could be supported in a third country that lacked one or both of those elements.) We also believe that such an attack is more likely in a country where there is ready access to weapons or explosives, and where there are poor law enforcement and intelligence capabilities. We wrote an analysis discussing this in some detail during the 2006 conflict between Israel and Hezbollah. In that piece, we provided a matrix of the places we believed were most likely to be the site of a Hezbollah attack against Israeli targets, and one of the important criteria we considered was the presence of both an Iranian embassy and a local Hezbollah support network. When we discuss these two elements, it is important to note that in past attacks, the attackers were brought in from the outside in order to provide plausible deniability – but they did receive important support and guidance from the network and embassy.

Since we wrote that analysis in July 2006, there has been a significant increase in Iranian influence in parts of Latin America, including Venezuela, Nicaragua and Bolivia, and Hezbollah has not been far behind. In addition to claims by the U.S. Treasury Department that Venezuelan nationals and organizations are supporting Hezbollah financially, there have been persistent rumors of Hezbollah militants and IRGC officers conducting training at camps in the Venezuelan jungles.

These reports are especially noteworthy when combined with a recent rise in anti-Semitism in Venezuela and an outright hostility toward Jews demonstrated by pro-Chavez militia groups. A pro-Chavez militia is believed to have been involved in the vandalism of the main synagogue in Caracas on the night of Jan. 30-31, 2008. We are among many who don’t buy the government’s official explanation that the vandalism was motivated by robbery. To us, the fact that the intruders remained in the building for several hours, made the effort to scrawl anti-Israeli graffiti inside the building and stole databases containing personal information on congregational members seems very unusual for a simple burglary. Our suspicion is magnified by the extensive anti-Semitic statements made on the Web sites of some of the pro-Chavez militia leaders. All of this raises serious concerns that the Venezuelan government could turn a blind eye to Hezbollah efforts to conduct an attack on Israeli or Jewish interests in that country.

There are many who believe that the anti-Semitic attitudes of the Argentine government in the early 1990s helped embolden Mughniyah and his followers to attack Israeli and Jewish targets there. The anti-Semitic environment in Venezuela today is even more overt and hostile than it was in Argentina.

In keeping with Hezbollah’s history, if an attack is launched, we anticipate that it will have to be fairly spectacular, given the fact that Mughniyah was very important to Hezbollah and its Iranian sponsors – although the attack must not be so spectacular as to cause a full-on Israeli attack in Lebanon. Hezbollah can weather a few airstrikes, but it does not want to provoke an extended conflict – especially as Hezbollah’s political leadership is extremely focused on doing well in the upcoming elections in Lebanon.

Given Hezbollah’s proclivity toward using a hidden hand, we suspect the attack will be conducted by a stealthy and ambiguous cell or cells that will likely have no direct connection to the organization. For example, in July 1994, the group used Palestinian operatives to conduct attacks against the Israeli Embassy and a Jewish nongovernmental organization office in London. Also, as we have seen in prior attacks, if a hardened target such as an Israeli embassy or VIP is not vulnerable, a secondary soft target might be selected. The July 1994 bombing of the Argentine Israelite Mutual Association in Buenos Aires is a prime example of this type of attack. It should serve as a warning to Jewish community centers and other non-Israeli government targets everywhere that even non-Israeli Jewish targets are considered fair game.


In Crime, Gangs, Latino gangs, Mexico, Terrorism, Terrorism and counter-terrorism, Transnational crime on February 4, 2009 at 3:20 am
F/A-18C Hornet)

"Conyo, Homes, The Navy Has Arrived!" (US Navy Photo: F/A-18C Hornet Dropping Flares Over the Pacific)

Salinas, California Mayor Dennis Donohue is fed up with gang-related violence. “Frankly, after three or four decades, we’re no longer interested in coexistence side-by-side with this subculture that has become embedded in our community,” Donohue vented last week to The Salinas Californian.  So he did the only reasonable thing a man in that spot can do — he called in the United States Navy.  More specifically, the U.S. Naval Postgraduate School in nearby Monterey, a sweet spot on the coast of central California.

No, there won’t be any submarine-launched cruise missiles or F-18 air strikes raining down on problematic neighborhoods in Salinas, home town of John Steinbeck and now infested with a variety of violent street gangs.  But the city and its problems will be getting some heavy caliber thinking from a flight deck full of scholars specializing in counter-terrorism and counterinsurgency studies at the Postgraduate School’s Center for Homeland Defense and Security.  As Herodotus observed, “Force has no place where there is need of skill.” (An aphorism quoted, I might add, at a convenient place in my forthcoming book, No Boundaries: Transnational Latino Gangs and American Law Enforcement, University of Michigan Press, 2009).  The case at hand ensures that there will be some interesting skills applied to this project.

Dr. Hy Rothstein will lead a team of from 10 to 15 faculty members.  If anything, Dr. Rothstein’s vita understates his apparently considerable practical and intellectual experience in the world of violent groups.  His academic credentials are book-ended by a 1974 BA from the United States Military Academy and a 2003 PhD from Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University.  A retired Army colonel, he served for more than 20 years in a number of the Army’s Special Forces postings — including an early tour as military adviser to the El Salvadoran armed forces in 1987 to 1989, where he was decorated for valor.  He is the author of Afghanistan And the Troubled Future of Unconventional Warfare.

The New Yorker‘s high-toned muckraker Seymour M. Hersh dragged Rothstein reluctantly into the public light via an article in the magazine’s April 12, 2004 edition, “The Other War: Why Bush’s Afghanistan Problem Won’t Go Away” (still unsettling reading).  Hersh obtained a copy of an internal report that Rothstein had been asked to write critiquing the fracas in Afghanistan.  According to Hersh, “The report describes a wide gap between how Donald Rumsfeld represented the war and what was actually taking place.”  The report apparently upset ranking officials  in Donald Rumsfeld’s Pentagon — Rothstein was told to chop it back and tone it down, which he was disinclined to do.  In the event his opus thus was swallowed up by inertia and disappeared into the maw of the Puzzle Palace, until it was leaked to Hersh.

Salient to his current endeavor, Rothstein — an advocate for greater and better use of Special Forces in unconventional conflict — wrote this of the kind of special warfare he had in mind for Afghanistan:

Unorthodox thinking, drawing on a thorough understanding of war, demography, human nature, culture and technology are part of this mental approach … Special Forces soldiers must be diplomats, doctors, spies, cultural anthropologists, and good friends — all before their primary work comes into play.

How does this business of “unorthodox thinking” and special warfare relate to gangs?  Mayor Donohue and the Postgraduate School’s spokespersons make it clear that the project is in its formative stages — but is expected to produce different perspectives on a problem that, frankly, has proven resistant to the current approach of being dumped into the laps of “law enforcement,” writ narrowly.  What is being sought is a broader, more informed, more “holistic” approach.  Warfare in Rothstein’s view is not just about bang-bang.

This business of unorthodox thinking (the bigger the better) is precisely what is needed — not just in Salinas, but nationally.  In several years of interviewing cops, prosecutors, federal agents, and Justice Department lawyers, I never talked to a single one who did not acknowledge that — as important as gang-busting is — in the long run it is impossible to “arrest our way out” of a problem that implicates virtually every one of the most vexing of our social, political, and economic problems.

We can pay now or pay later, but if we continue to roll along as we are now, new gangsters will be minted faster than we can take old ones off the streets — in spite of the valiant efforts of state, local, and federal law enforcement.  That is just a fact of life.  (Go here for the story of one man’s flight from California to escape gang rot, only to find it spreading to Utah.)

Some will perhaps protest that this is “militarization.”  Some will find applying counter-terror and counterinsurgency thinking to gangs to be “unorthodox” in the extreme– especially many among any who don’t yet grasp the reality of the transnational criminal violence machines that the larger of today’s gangs have become.  But there is a developing line of thought connecting the dots between gangs and warfare (broadly defined) among more thoughtful and better informed thinkers.  Moreover, to repeat the point, “warfare” does not have to be all about shooting — it may be about a local form of “nation building,” as in education, social services, and economic opportunity.

One of the seminal essays in this general area was Street Gangs: The New Urban Insurgency, by Max G. Manwaring, another retired Army colonel and Professor of Military Strategy at the U.S. Army War College, published in March 2005.  Manwaring further developed his theme in  A Contemporary Challenge To State Sovereignty: Gangs And Other Illicit Transnational Criminal Organizations In Central America, El Salvador, Mexico, Jamaica, And Brazil.

In Street Gangs, Manwaring discussed the evolution of gangs from the “first generation” barrio-based agglomerations that many observers still romanticize to the transnational “third generation” gangs affiliated with organized criminal groups, well-armed, and in it for territory and money.  (See this Congressional Research Service report also for a discussion of gang “generations” and the meaning of “transnational” gangs.) The essays are worth reading, but the following paragraphs sum up a point that Fairly Civil has been hammering at about the role of gangs in the drug war in Mexico:

The annual net profit from gang-related activities is estimated to be in the billions of dollars. The precise numbers are not important. But the enormity of the amount of money involved is important, together with the additional benefits these financial resources can generate when linked to utter ruthlessness of purpose and no moral or legal constraints. In this connection, a third generation gang can afford the best talent-whether accountants, computer specialists,extortionists, or murderers-and the best equipment and technologies. With such extensive resources, a gang can bribe government officials, hire thugs to intimidate those who cannot be bought, and kill those who cannot be intimidated. Bottomless pockets mean that gangs can move, shift, diversify, and promote operations at will-and, most significantly, they can outspend virtually any legal political jurisdiction. Consequently, a gang can establish acceptance, credibility, and de facto legitimacy within and among the sovereign states where its general organization operates.

In short, the gang phenomenon represents a triple threat to the authority of a given government and to those of its neighbors. First, through murder, kidnapping, intimidation, corruption, and other means of coercion, these violent nonstate actors undermine the ability of a government to perform its legitimizing functions. Second, by violently imposing their will over the elected officials of the state, these actors compromise the legitimate exercise of state authority. Third, by taking control of portions of the national territory (including the borders), the various components of the gang phenomenon are directly performing the tasks of government and acting as states within a state.

It’s perhaps easier to think of these grim processes of gang dominance and failed statehood as happening in Mexico or El Salvador rather than in the United States.  But there are neighborhoods —  and in addition to geographical neighborhoods, zones of enterprise from sidewalk taco stands in Los Angeles to drug trafficking everywhere — wherein the writ of the gang has supplanted the writ of the legitimate government.  And, by the way, exactly who or what entity controls our borders when it comes to illicit traffic in drugs, guns, human beings, and the cash derived from such criminal enterprises?

What is the solution?  Here is an overview from Manwaring’s second monograph:

The power to deal with these kinds of threats is not hard combat firepower or even more benign power. It involves soft, multidimensional, multilevel, multilateral, political, psychological, moral, informational, economic, and social efforts, as well as police and military activities that can be brought to bear holistically on the causes and consequences, as
well as the perpetrators of violence. Ultimately, then, success in contemporary unconventional conflict comes as a result of a unified effort to apply the full human and physical resources of the nation-state and its international allies to achieve the individual and collective well-being that can lead to sustained societal peace.

Complex.  Yes, it would be alarmist to say that things are as bad here as they are in, say, Mexico.

Unless, of course, one has the misfortune to live in one of those neighborhoods where a single hard stare from a gangster is enough to keep the residents in line, mouths shut.

“Tom Diaz has worn out some shoe leather—much like a good detective—in gathering facts, not myths or urban legend. “

—Chris Swecker, Former Assistant Director of the FBI’s Criminal Investigative Division.

“Few people know more about the subject than Tom Diaz and no single book tells the whole story better than No Boundaries. If you really want to know what organized crime in America looks like today, then read this alarming book.”

—Rocky Delgadillo, former City Attorney of Los Angeles

Order No Boundaries from


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