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

Blood from Stones

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My Lessons in Five Years
Like most people who cover terrorism issues, I have had a steep learning curve since 9-11. I, like many, was forced to go from knowing almost nothing to trying to make sense of the new world and the new (to me, but not to the smarter ones) threat. Here are some of the main lessons I have learned:

1) The wahhabis and other radical Islamists of both Sunni and Shi'ite beliefs have a long-terms strategy for dealing with us (U.S., Israel, Europe-the Big Satans), as well as the each other (Little Satans-apostate regimes, and the other sects of Islam).

2) One of the traditional backbones of these plans has been the international Muslim Brotherhood, whose leaders provide vision, money, strategic thinking and tactical advise to the Islamist groups across the board. The role and nature of the Ikwan is still rarely understood in intelligence, diplomatic and law enforcement circles. The role is to establish a Muslim caliphate by whatever means necessary.

3) After an initial shock, things tend to go back to the way they were. In the U.S., this has meant an unhealthy return to a lack of intelligence sharing, a creation of larger and less responsive bureaucracies, a return to dealing with "moderate" Muslim groups often tied to the Ikwan who we do not know or properly identify, and a continued inability to understand and develop a strategy for dealing with stateless areas and non-state actors. The concept of networks and how to attack them, while part of academic debates for several years, is only now being revisited by DOD and the DNI.

4) Tactical alliances that seem highly improbable, often occur: Shi'ite-Sunni financial dealings in diamonds, weapons and training; alliances of Islamists with criminal organizations such a that of Dawood Ibrahim and Viktor Bout; alliances between Islamic financial centers and Western banks. Because these trends were not seen before they tend to be dismissed as impossible or unimportant.

5) Our dislike of reading and the inability to take seriously what our enemy says, from the days of al Qaeda's founding in Afghanistan, through Bosnia to the present, is a crippling weakness. The enemy-holy warriors doing what they believe Allah has called them to do-write extensively and explicitly about what they want to do and how they will do it. They are not crazy, marginal figures who can be defined as we (the West) wish they would be defined. They define themselves for us, yet we often want to pretend they cannot even get that right. Except for a few notable exceptions (the West Point project on reading and translating al Qaeda and radical Islamist works) this work of reading and understanding is largely left to academics and think tanks, and the lessons seldom filter up the policy chain.

Al Qaeda's Changing Strategy and Warnings of Attacks
Islamists Have 20-Year Plan: Do We?
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