Archive for Counterterrorism

Book Review of WMD and Terrorism

Great review of my book WMD & Terrorism (co-edited with Russ Howard), from the Spring 2013 Journal of Strategic Studies. Click here:

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Political Violence and the Illicit Economies of West Africa

My article on West Africa, co-authored with Vanda Felbab-Brown, has been published by the journal Terrorism and Political Violence. A summary is available for free on the Brookings website [ Click Here ] and the full version of the article is available for free at the following link:


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Nigeria’s Boko Haram Attacks

My Op-Ed piece, co-authored with Vanda Felbab-Brown, is available online at the Brookings website [ Click Here ]

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John Brennan and James Forest on WMD

See page 7 of the attached conference report from the threat convergence summit in Zurich

Zurich Conference Final Report

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Thoughts on the Killing of al-Awlaki

So, Anwar al-Awlaki was targeted and reportedly killed by a drone this morning. Samir Khan, another American-born AQAP member (and allegedly the principal editor and architect behind the popular online magazine INSPIRE) may also have been killed in the attack. If this morning’s media accounts are accurate, this is a significant blow to the English-speaking segment of AQAP and the broader al-Qaida network. It’s also a good indication of the quality of intelligence we’re getting in Yemen, and how we have improved our own capabilities to find and eliminate high value targets like this.

One question that comes to mind is whether or not someone within AQAP (or AQ generally) may have had a role in this incident. Even before the demise of bin Laden earlier this year, we have been observing various AQ members trying to position themselves for power and influence within the network. From this viewpoint, it is entirely possible that someone may have seen al-Awlaki as a rival, a threat to their power within the network because of his increasing popularity, and chose to provide information about his whereabouts. Whenever we see this kind of competition for leadership of a terrorist organization, it usually coincides with an increase in violence and attacks, including the kinds of violence in which organizational rivals try to eliminate each other. Just a thought.

Overall, this is a good, symbolic victory in the long struggle against AQ. This is not really a huge hit to al-Qaida’s operational capabilities, but it is definitely important in terms of eliminating a popular source of radicalization. He was especially popular among Western jihadists because of the way he communicated the al-Qaida ideology in plain English. But it is important to remember that those messages are still out there on the Internet, and will likely be a source of inspiration for future al-Qaida wanna-bes. These could also inspire a revenge attack, as some members or supporters of the al-Qaida network will be angry that we targeted and killed a Muslim cleric who did not shoot or bomb anyone himself.

In the long run, though, al-Qaida will cease to be a threat. No terrorist organization of any kind has been around forever. Their attacks have already alienated an overwhelming majority of the Muslim world, which is al-Qaida’s primary audience. They’re constantly appealing for support, and trying to justify their actions to the Muslim world, but at the same time al-Qaida attacks over the last decade have killed 8 Muslims for every 1 non-Muslim. That kind of hypocrisy undermines their ability to sustain the movement over the long term – regardless of how charismatic their ideological messengers are or the language they speak.

– James Forest

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June 2011: National Counterterrorism Strategy

“We are bringing targeted force to bear on al-Qaeda at a time when its ideology is also under extreme pressure,” states the Obama administration’s “National Strategy for Counterterrorism.” Click here to download.

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Bin Laden’s Death

Bin Laden’s Death and the Implications for Jihadism
By Scott Stewart

U.S. President Barack Obama appeared in a hastily arranged televised address the night of May 1, 2011, to inform the world that U.S. counterterrorism forces had located and killed Osama bin Laden. The operation, which reportedly happened in the early hours of May 2 local time, targeted a compound in Abbottabad, a city located some 31 miles north of Islamabad, Pakistan’s capital. The nighttime raid resulted in a brief firefight that left bin Laden and several others dead. A U.S. helicopter reportedly was damaged in the raid and later destroyed by U.S. forces. Obama reported that no U.S. personnel were lost in the operation. After a brief search of the compound, the U.S. forces left with bin Laden’s body and presumably anything else that appeared to have intelligence value. From Obama’s carefully scripted speech, it would appear that the U.S. conducted the operation unilaterally with no Pakistani assistance — or even knowledge.

Read more

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Beware of bad “counterterrorism experts”

For anyone planning to go into law enforcement, or already working in that profession, this is an important article:

There are too many sham “counterterrorism experts” out there giving law enforcement professionals all kinds of bad information, often false assertions and outright lies. People need to be forewarned of this danger.

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Brachman Testimony

Jarret Brachman Testifies on AQAP Media

Earlier this week my colleague Jarret Brachman provided expert testimony to the Committee on Homeland Security’s Subcommittee on Counterterrorism and Intelligence. The hearing, which was entitled, “Terrorist Threat to the U.S. Homeland – Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP),” focused on AQAP’s use of new media for radicalizing, mobilizing and operationalizing American nationals.

Click here to view the video, download his testimony, etc.

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Can Al Qaeda Survive the Revolts in the Middle East?

Great commentary by Bruce Riedel.

“As the Arab world undergoes the most profound changes it has seen in over a half century, and the first-ever democratic revolutions in its history, al Qaeda has been caught off guard like everyone else. Now it is trying to regain its footing by looking for ways to gain advantage. So the stakes in Arabia’s earthquake include not just the outcome in each country, the price of oil, and broader regional security, they also involve a battle for the future of the global jihad.” Click here for more . . .

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DNI 2011 Threat Assessment

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Debates and Divisions within Al-Qaida

Self Inflicted Wounds

Here is an excellent example of the kind of research that definitely improves our understanding of al Qaida. “ Self Inflicted Wounds: Debates and Divisions within al-Qaida and its Periphery” was released earlier this week and is edited by Assaf Moghadam and Brian Fishman, two of my former colleagues at the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point. The report offers a systematic and comprehensive examination of the broad range of divisions that contribute to the weakening of the jihadi movement. To that end, it analyzes fissures dividing jihadis themselves as well as divisions separating jihadis from other Muslim and Islamist groups. Intra-jihadi divisions discussed in the report include those over strategic, tactical, and organizational issues. The report then addresses several important case studies of jihadi altercations with other Muslim and Islamist groups of non-jihadi persuasion, such as the Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas, and Shiis. The report addresses critical policy issues of relevance to the broader struggle against the global jihadi movement. The editors conclude that these divisions have and continue to weaken al-Qa’ida, but neither in an automatic nor in an exclusive fashion—for these divisions render the global jihadi movement simultaneously vulnerable and more resilient. Co-edited by Assaf Moghadam and Brian Fishman, the report includes contributions by Steven Brooke, Vahid Brown, Mohammed Hafez, Bernard Haykel, Brynjar Lia, Marc Lynch, Reuven Paz, Anne Stenersen, as well as the editors.

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Ryan Crocker, “Lessons from a Long War”

Click below to hear a speech by Ryan C. Crocker, former Ambassador to Iraq, Pakistan, Syria, Kuwait and Lebanon. He is currently Dean of the George Bush School of Government and Public Service at Texas A&M University, and he spoke to members and guests of the World Affairs Council of San Antonio on April 29, 2010. The title of his presentation is “Lessons from a Long War: The United States in the Middle East”. Charles Lutz, chair-elect of the World Affairs Council of San Antonio opens the program.Dean Crocker’s Speech.

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National Framework for Strategic Communication

Click Here to download
the National Framework for Strategic Communication,

President Barack Obama’s Report to Congress, March 16, 2010.

This 14-page report, described in the President’s transmittal letter as the “Administration’s comprehensive interagency strategy for public diplomacy and strategic communication,” was submitted in response to a requirement in Section 1055 of the Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2009.  The report seeks to clarify the meaning of strategic communication; present a strategy for “deliberate communication and engagement;” identify strategic communication priorities; and explain the roles and responsibilities of the National Security Council, embassies, the military’s geographic combatant commands, and executive branch departments, and agencies.  The report states also that the National Security Council staff “currently sees no need to establish a new, independent, not-for-profit organization” as recommended by the Defense Science Board’s Strategic Communication Task Force.  The NSC staff reasons that the Administration’s “existing enterprise either already meets or is working to meet the recommended purposes of the organization prescribed by the Task Force.”

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Fouad Ajami on Radical Islamists

Islam’s Nowhere Men


Wall Street Journal, May 10, 2010

‘A Muslim has no nationality except his belief,” the intellectual godfather of the Islamists, Egyptian Sayyid Qutb, wrote decades ago. Qutb’s “children” are everywhere now; they carry the nationalities of foreign lands and plot against them. The Pakistani born Faisal Shahzad is a devotee of Sayyid Qutb’s doctrine, and Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, the Fort Hood shooter, was another.

Qutb was executed by the secular dictatorship of Gamal Abdel Nasser in 1966. But his thoughts and legacy endure. Globalization, the shaking up of continents, the ease of travel, and the doors for immigration flung wide open by Western liberal societies have given Qutb’s worldview greater power and relevance. What can we make of a young man like Shahzad working for Elizabeth Arden, receiving that all-American degree, the MBA, jogging in the evening in Bridgeport, then plotting mass mayhem in Times Square?

» Continue reading “Fouad Ajami on Radical Islamists”

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