If the Intelligence Community (IC) and the Department of Homeland Security cannot adequately defend against a lone Nigerian college student with exploding underwear, what chance will they possibly have against the emerging nexus of South American drug cartels and Islamic extremists? According to the Reuters news service, a U.S. government official says that, “Colombian guerrillas have entered into ‘an unholy alliance’ with Islamic extremists who are helping the Marxist rebels smuggle cocaine through Africa on its way to European consumers.” The insurgent/drug smuggler-terrorist network extends from Colombia and Venezuela through West Africa to Europe and the Middle East. What is unclear, but potentially very frightening, is the possible role of the Venezuelan government in this “alliance.”
The apparent relationship between the Colombian guerrillas and Al Qaeda should finally put to rest the misconception that radical groups with different ideologies and political agendas don’t cooperate. Some analysts have even claimed that Al Qaeda and the Taliban are not cooperating because they have different agendas. We heard this about Al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein’s regime in the run up to Operation Iraqi Freedom and again with regard to support for that group by the Shia regime in Teheran. In the latter case it was recently revealed that much of Osama bin Laden’s extended family has been living in safety in Iran. There is a growing link between the radical socialist regime of Hugo Chavez in Venezuela and that of Shia extremist and Iranian President Ahmadinejad. When it comes to pursuing their objectives, all these groups and countries have the same attitude which was best expressed by Michael Corleone in the Godfather, “It’s not personal. It’s strictly business.”
The 9/11 Commission accused the IC of a failure of imagination with respect to the evolution of Al Qaeda’s plan to use airplanes as weapons. Apparently, after eight and half years and the reorganization of the IC, it still lacks imagination. In addition, there are structural impediments to the sharing of ideas as distinct from information that inhibits the IC’s ability to keep up with the evolution of relationships in the world of terrorism.
Initially, the Obama Administration based much of its terrorist policy on the twin ideas that by being less offensive to Muslims in general and more even-handed, even legalistic, in its approach to combating terrorism, the threat could be diminished to the level that would constitute more criminality than war. That was and remains the rationale behind closing Guantanamo, withdrawal from Iraq and even the president’s Cairo speech. The resurgence of the Taliban in Afghanistan, the rise of new centers of Al Qaeda terrorism, the internet “chats” between Major Hassan and the Al Qaeda imam in Yemen and the connections between insurgent groups, drug smugglers and Islamic radicals that extend across half the globe appear to have undermined the Administration’s initial strategy.
Like its predecessor before 9/11, the Obama Administration had warnings about a terrorist plot emanating from Yemen. Yet, it failed to connect the dots. The problem is the string of dots is getting longer and more complicated. Moreover, the rules by which chains of dots are created are being revised by the bad guys in real time.
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