The Intelligence Wars get Ugly as Threat Perceptions Diverge – Implications of the December 30th Attack on the CIA Base in Khost and Terrorism 2.0

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Context

The attack by an informer on Forward Operating Base Chapman in eastern Afghanistan raises a number of disturbing questions, each carrying serious ramifications for the stakeholders. The motives and interests of each party involved in the conflict once again stand questioned; gauging which is the key function around which the world of espionage revolves. In this article, we take a closer look at the incident and its implications.

Analysis

The most striking aspect of extremist behavior now is the trend towards attacking the personnel and offices of the intelligence agencies of the countries allied in the war against terror. The first instance of this was the attack on Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) offices.

The recent surfacing of the video of the Jordanian informer and double agent Humam Khalil Abu-Mulal al-Balawi sitting with Hakimullah Mehsud has added another twist. The video and other messages emerging since the incident have pinpointed the reason for the attack: to avenge the death of the Tehrike Taliban Pakistan (TTP) leader, Baitullah Mehsud, who was killed in a drone attack on August 5, 2009. The TTP has thus demonstrated a capability and reach it was previously not given credit for.

It should be added that prior to the death of Baitullah, Pakistan had quarreled with the US over why the latter had failed to pursue Pakistan’s Enemy Number One: Baithullah Mehsud. Pakistan’s theory was simple: the US was in bed with him. After all, Pakistan said, even when supplied with Baitullah’s exact location, the US had not targeted him.  Subsequently, The US and Pakistan appeared to have arrived at a quid pro quo: the US would target the TTP leadership while Pakistan would assist in the fight against the Afghan Taliban.

The attack on FOB Chapman reveals that although the US ultimately did successfully target and kill Baitullah Mehsud, it is now facing another enemy, with potentially lethal consequences. This is the result not only of its cooperation with Pakistan, but also with Israel and India. Based on collaboration with Israel and India, US now realizes that Al Qaeda, the Afghan Taliban, the TTP and the Kashmiri jihadists are increasingly overlapping entities and thus must be confronted; it is only a matter of how and when. However, PoliTact has previously pointed out the US Escalation in Afghanistan cannot achieve the above objective by 2011 without significantly widening the scope and reach of the Afghan war.

Pakistan, on the other hand, has a different threat perception. It has consistently maintained that it does not feel threatened by the Afghan Taliban, which has never targeted the state of Pakistan, nor by the Kashmiri jihadists, whose objective is the Indian occupation of Kashmir. Most important, the Pakistanis are now making the case that Afghanistan’s territory is being used a setting for attacks on them; this accusation is directed not only at India but at the US, which with NATO controls Afghanistan. It is important to note the similarity of the accusation to the one placed by Iran against Iraq. The Pakistanis say there are two possibilities: 1), these attacks are occurring with the consent of the US, or 2), the US is not fully aware of what is going on in Afghanistan and that India is taking advantage of this to carry on the attacks against Pakistan.

The involvement of the Jordanian intelligence and informer in the FOB Chapman incident also points to the stakes in Af-Pak conflict for Gulf countries in general and Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Jordan in particular. The Jordanian intelligence (GID) works very closely with Mossad and Mukhabarat Al A’amah (General Intelligence Directorate – GID) of Egypt and Saudi Arabia. In order to diminish a direct threat to their authoritarian governments, these Arab countries would want to deal with the extremist leadership in the Af-Pak region or face the prospect of facing them directly in their own respective countries. This dynamics also helps to pressure Pakistan in extending its operation against extremists, as Saudi Arabia in particular is an influential financial backer of Pakistan. Thus in the present environment the threat perception of these Arab countries aligns more with United States and Israel. These Arab countries cannot defend themselves against the threats from extremists and Iran without the help of United States and this makes them dependent. In the wake of recent events related to Yemen, Somalia and Nigeria, the dynamics of war against terror has taken a new turn.

If it can be proven to the Arab world that threat it confronts from Iran and extremists is greater than the one from Israel, achieving peace related to Arab-Israeli conflict becomes easier. Similarly, if it can be impressed upon Pakistan that the threat it faces from extremists is larger than the one from India, resolving Kashmir dispute becomes attainable and a paradigm shift could occur as it relates to the prevailing threat perceptions of the Islamic world.

Yemeni-Somali Hot Spot
Yemen-Somalia Hot Spot

Furthermore, the attack on FOB Chapman proves that the drone attacks carry a significant cost. It has demonstrated that although mistakes may have been due to not following proper safety procedures or perhaps, to mere inexperience, the most sophisticated intelligence agency in the world is quite vulnerable. It is also important to note that the attack was preceded by an attempt by Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab to blow up a Northwest Airline flight bound for Detroit on Christmas day – which has been blamed on an oversight by the US security apparatus.

In addition, a series of recent incidents involving the US Muslim community point to a troubling pattern. These include:

  • Up to 20 young Minnesotans of Somali descent joining Al Qaeda-linked Al-Shabaab in Somalia.
  • Major Nidal Malik Hasan, of Palestinian origin, allegedly was the culprit in the Fort Hood shooting in Texas on November 5th, and that it was allegedly instigated by a Yemeni cleric.
  • The arrest of Najibullah Zazi, of Afghani origin, for alleged participation in a bombing plot linked to Al Qaeda.
  • Two men, David Headley and Tahawwur Hussain Rana, both of Pakistani origin, are accused of allegedly playing a role in the Mumbai attacks and of having ties to Lashkare Tayiba.
  • The arrest of five American students in Sargodha, Pakistan for attempting to join Al Qaeda-linked jihadists.

We at PoliTact have dubbed this pattern “Terrorism 2.0” and intend to discuss it further in our soon to be released Annual Forecast (Global Intelligence Political Security and Economic Estimate – GIPSEE) for 2010. The forecasts notes among other things that although war against the extremists is presently being fought in the farthest corners of South Asia and the Middle East, 2010 will see things heating up in Africa and the Pacific realm and truly becoming global in reach, accompanied by heightening ethnic tensions in Europe and the United States.

The differences regarding threat perceptions discussed above eventually lead to suspicions among the actors about the motives and interests of each party, while providing openings for Al Qaeda and other extremist groups. PoliTact has already pointed to the growing divergence of interest between the US and Pakistan with respect to the Afghan conflict. The Pakistani public and media increasingly believe that the US is trying to weaken their country, a perspective which in their view gains support from the provisions of the Kerry-Lugar Law. This has lead the Pakistani government to deny, delay or impose restrictions on issuing visas to US aid workers, security personnel and contractors trying to enter in the country. Thus, the deadly FOB Chapman incident will provide another reason for contention between the US and Pakistan, as well as additional fodder for media-savvy extremists. In the meantime, Pakistan is undergoing a slow process of realignment, which, if continues its current course, will result in stronger ties with China.

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