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

Blood from Stones

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Rays of Hope in Recent Operations
I have been rightly described as extremely pessimistic about the way our intelligence and law enforcement communities-with the exception of isolated pockets-are facing (or not) the challenges I see as most pressing for the 21st century.

These include the growing and spreading threat of non-state armed actors, the criminal-terrorist nexus, the spreading narco mini-states across Central and northern South America, and the world of shadow facilitators that tie disparate networks together.

In my experience, most of the problems center on a lack of understanding of how the world really operates, and a distinct inability to see things beyond how we have experienced them for ourselves, meaning the world is often viewed as operating according to our cultural and political experience, rather than operating as it operates.

But a string of recent successes (two by the Drug Enforcement Administration and one by the Colombian army with U.S. military support) show rays of hope. Some of the risk-aversion is being overcome, creative thinking is being more welcomed and human intelligence is again the key.

The cases are the arrest of Viktor Bout; the successful arrest and extradition of Monzar al Kassar; and the freeing of the FARC hostages.

What these cases have in common is the creativity with which the operations were conceived, the flexibility in the implementation of them, the correct identification of high-value targets, and the extensive use of human intelligence to develop the operations and carry them out successfully.

Each plan was audacious in its conception, bold in its execution, and blessed by officials despite the inherent risk each posed.

As the Washington Post noted today, the United States signed off on the Colombian operation because it involved the possible rescue of three U.S. citizens.

The operation could have been stopped there. It was unconventional, planned by others and high-risk. But it was given the green light.

This would not always have been the case. It is worth rereading this piece by my friend and former colleague Richard Shultz to see just how bad things had gotten.

Things changed since 9/11, but in many respects have fallen back to the old pattern of doing business, both among government agencies and in the shrinking strategic perception of the global threat environment.

But some things have changed, pushed in part by Attorney General Mukasey and his new focus on this nexus. The DEA, which has always done good human intelligence, has found new and creative ways to engage in this battle.

How deep the change goes remains to be seen, and whether it will be fostered by the next administration is a crucial question. For now, pessimistic as I am, I can see some rays of hope.
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