Merchant of Death
Money, Guns, Planes, and the Man Who Makes War Possible

Blood from Stones

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Two Interesting Trends
There are two stories today that point to ongoing problems and the future contours of the conflicts in which we will be emerged in coming years.

The first is the extensive New York Times piece on who lack of resources, bureaucratic infighting and lack of unified vision (coupled with a high tolerance for Pakistan's game-playing) has helped allow al Qaeda to regroup in the tribal regions.

Perhaps the most disturbing item in the piece, which chronicles numerous disturbing elements that show how much the inter-agency process is returning to its pre-9/11 mindset the further the memories recede, is the following:

Just as it had on the day before 9/11, Al Qaeda now has a band of terrorist camps from which to plan and train for attacks against Western targets, including the United States. Officials say the new camps are smaller than the ones the group used prior to 2001. However, despite dozens of American missile strikes in Pakistan since 2002, one retired C.I.A. officer estimated that the makeshift training compounds now have as many as 2,000 local and foreign militants, up from several hundred three years ago.

Radical Islamist groups (as well as most radicalized groups) desperately need areas where they can gather to mutually reinforce their beliefs, weed out unbelievers and build a joint narrative that allows them to tell their stories to themselves in which they are doing the will of Allah.

Without that, members grow in doubt, drift away from the core beliefs and lessen in their ardor for the cause. Joint experiences are also vital to forging the kind of comraderie that needs to exist among groups that are prepared to kill and be killed.

To allow these camps to be reconstituted is perhaps one of the single most dangerous failures we face. Part of the failure, is, of course, the moving of all assets to Iraq while Afghanistan slowly smoldered back into a full-blown threat. All the intelligence operatives with field experience were shuttled over there, and few with any depth of knowledge or experience were left minding the Afghanistan/Pakistan store.

A second story is of the Pentagon's expanding reach into counter-drug activity in West Africa.

The rationale given by Joseph A. Benkert, the nominee to become the first assistant secretary of defense for global security affairs is one that I have argued is valid in several previous writings on the criminal terrorist nexus:

"Global illegal drug trade has connections to terrorism, financial crimes, corruption of governmental systems, weapons smuggling, human trafficking, major gang networks, insurgency and instability in many places worldwide."

As a general premise, he added that "trafficking, whatever the commodity . . . provides trans-national criminal organizations and terrorists revenue to purchase weapons and plan operations that threaten U.S. security interests" and that "by widening the [Defense] Department's role to trafficking networks -- drugs, weapons, people or money -- the Department provides critical support to undermine trans-national networks that threaten the nation."

The contradiction I see is that while the Pentagon certainly can have a role to play, particularly in areas like West Africa, because ultimately these criminal activities tie back to terrorism.

But that role should not be to the exclusion of other USG organizations, particularly the Drug Enforcement Administration, with years of experience in tracking these groups and knows, far better than the military can or should, the possible relationships among different trafficking organizations, their methods, money movements etc.

This propensity to throw everything on the military highlights, to me, the weakness of traditional institutions such as the State Department and other branches of government.

Drug trafficking in West Africa, is not, at its heart, an issue for the military to assume a leadership position on. The State Department should, along with DEA and others. But State, in the new world order, is not much of a player in counter-drug policy.

While the DEA has the largest foreign presence of any non-Pentagon agency, its mother ship, the Department of Justice, is not particularly good at the bureaucratic infighting and does not have the budgetary and bureaucratic heft that DOD does.

DOJ does not have the budget, in the end, to expand the DEA to deal with the new areas of threat. DOD does. It is much better than nothing, but, at a time of deep institutional strain, perhaps one should be thinking more about the military focusing on its core missions and not casting about for new fields of endeavor.
A New Look at the Demise of the FARC
More on the Growing Criminal-Terror Nexus
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