United States of Jihad.

Peter Bergen (1962- ) is an American, but he was raised in London and got his university education at Oxford with an MA in History. When he graduated, the Cold War was in flower, so, in 1983, he went to Pakistan to make a documentary about refugees fleeing the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. The film, “Refugees of Faith,” saw the light of day on British TV. This helped him land a job with ABC News (1985-1990). Then he moved to CNN (1991-1998). Here he won the Overseas Press Club Edward R. Murrow award for best foreign affairs documentary for the program “Kingdom of Cocaine” (1994); and produced Osama bin Laden’s first television interview, in which he declared war on the United States to a Western audience.

Since then, Bergen has bounced back and forth between journalism and teaching gigs at Johns Hopkins, Harvard, and lesser universities. In the gaps, he wrote Holy War, Inc. (2001); The Osama bin Laden I Know (2006); The Longest War: The Enduring Conflict between America and Al-Qaeda (2011); and Manhunt: The Ten Year Search for Bin Laden, from 9/11 to Abbottabad (2012). Now he has written a new book, based on his study of more than 300 cases of “home-grown” American militants.[1] What did he find?

Bergen organized his inquiry around a series of simple and direct questions.

First, what’s a “jihadist”? A jihadist is someone who embraces the idea of creating a conservative Sunni Muslim (Salafist) version of a “caliphate” that runs from Morocco to Indonesia. Thus, essentially it is a war for control of the “Dar al Islam,” rather than a war against the “Dar al Harb.” Why then terrorist attacks in the West? Because, the United States and other countries are seen as propping-up the existing order in the Muslim world.

Second, why do some Americans become jihadists? The social profile of American jihadists is puzzling. Most are well-educated, many have wives and children, and some are from middle or upper class backgrounds, rather than all of them being the “losers” often portrayed in the media. However, conservative Islam does not accept a distinction between church and state. So, to have become a Salafist for religious reasons can easily turn one toward political activism.

Third, how does the government seek to counter them? Here Bergen draws a distinction between earlier “leader-led” jihadists who were inspired and launched from abroad, and more recent “leaderless” or lone-wolf jihadists.

It is easier—although not easy—to disrupt terrorist attacks that begin abroad. Broadly, the attackers need visas and airplane tickets. This creates barriers to success. The State Department or the airline security screening might catch them before they board. More likely, there are flight attendants who didn’t sign up to get blown to shreds over the Atlantic by some psychotic misogynist, Thank You Very Much.

It’s more difficult to prevent attacks by domestic “lone wolves.” Many of them are “remotely-inspired” through the Internet.[2] Islamist web-sites have followed the same steep upward curve as have every other form of e-commerce since the 1990s. There were a dozen terrorist-affiliated web-sites in 1990; in 2006, there were more than 4,000; today, who knows? One of them is “Inspire,” started in 2010 by Samir Khan. It urges aspiring jihadists to launch attacks in their own country in order to short-circuit surveillance of people going abroad. Multi-lingualism—but especially the spread of English as the world’s second language—facilitates communication across national boundaries. Cosmopolitanism becomes its own enemy.

Fourth, how has terrorism changed American society? In a sense, this question is beyond Bergen’s ken—or his deadline. However, we can take as an indication his reliance on sources in the EffaBeEye and the National Counterterrorism Center, while critics point out his lack of consideration of the National Security Agency, the Department of Homeland Security, and the role of local police departments. In short, 9/11 spawned the growth a huge and intrusive national security bureaucracy.

[1] Peter Bergen, United States of Jihad: Investigating America’s Homegrown Terrorists (New York: Crown, 2016).

[2] Anwar al Awlaki was in touch with Major Nidal Malik Hassan, who murdered 13 fellow soldiers at Fort Hood.

Man Hunters.

Before the Second World War the United States possessed intelligence-gathering organizations that were derisory in comparison to those of the great powers. The War Department gathered information on the military capabilities of foreign states from military attaches; the State Department reported on political and economic developments; both War and State maintained signals intelligence (code-breaking) offices. However, the US possessed no “secret intelligence service” equivalent to the British MI-6 or the action services of other countries. During the Second World War, the US sought to make good this deficiency with the temporary Office of Strategic Services (OSS). After the Second World War, America’s new global role and the Cold War demanded an enhanced intelligence-gathering capability. In 1947, Congress created the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) to fill this role. Filled with wartime OSS veterans, the new agency had a predisposition to clandestine action, not just to intelligence gathering. Confronting the brutal Soviet KGB around the globe, CIA played a rough game. Eventually, CIA fell afoul of changed national values. The Church Committee hearings led to restrictions on CIA action like assassinations. From the mid-Seventies onward, CIA concentrated conventional intelligence-gathering and analysis.

Then came 9/11.[1] The scales fell from their eyes, or they had a Road to Damascus experience, or whatever other Biblical reference occurs to you. An executive order from President George W. Bush overturned the limits on action. CIA agents lashed out at Al Qaeda operatives wherever they came within reach. Some were killed, either by a rapidly-expanded paramilitary arm of CIA or by drone strikes. Some were captured and subjected to “enhanced interrogation.” In 2003, the US attacked Iraq, only to see early triumph turn into a gory insurgency that seemed to have no end. Soon, there came a backlash against both big wars and the use of torture.[2] A new consensus emerged: killing terrorists is acceptable, but torturing them is not. Certainly, it is less likely to get people keel-hauled by a Congressional committee. According to Mark Mazzetti, CIA “went on a killing spree.” Drones and commandos struck Islamists[3] in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia. While banning the use of torture, President Barack Obama has continued all the other programs begun by the Bush administration.

Arguably, the results have been as disastrous, if not quite so dramatic, for American intelligence as for the Islamists hit by Hellfire missiles launched from Predator drones. In an Econ 101 analysis, multiple needs compete for finite resources. Resources (money, manpower, attention) spent “man-hunting” can’t be devoted to other needs. Yet the US faces multiple current, latent, and potential threats.

The CIA already suffered from maladaptation between the end of the Cold War and 9/11. Its budget fell as part of the “peace dividend”; spending on new technologies further reduced the resources for human intelligence-gathering and analysis; and its former strengths in Soviet and East European issues could not easily be shifted to new areas. (Pashto and Polish both begin with a P, but there the similarity ends.)

America’s political culture is having a hard time discussing the choice between long-term trends and immediate action. The recent murder of five servicemen by what looks like an Islamist “lone wolf” will only make “man-hunting” seem more vital than ever.

[1] Mark Mazzetti, The Way of the Knife: The CIA, a Secret Army, and a War at the Ends of the Earth (New York: Penguin, 2013).

[2] In 2004, CIA’s Inspector General condemned some of the practices as “unauthorized” and “inhumane.”

[3] Including the occasional American renegade who declined to surrender himself to more formal American justice.

Terrorists in Palestine.

In the 1930s, which country posed the greater danger to the Jewish people? Was it Nazi Germany, which seemed bent on making the lives of Jews miserable in order to prompt their emigration? Or was it Britain, which seemed bent on blocking Jewish immigration to Palestine? In retrospect, with our knowledge of the Holocaust, the answer is obvious. At the time, however, some Zionists regarded Britain as the greater danger and more proximate enemy. In 1932 some of them found the Irgun to drive the British out of Palestine by force. When the Second World War broke out and, in Summer 1940, when German victories left the British standing alone, most Zionists saw Germany as the greater enemy. Most decided to support Britain in what amounted to an alliance-of-necessity. That included most of the members of the Irgun.

Most isn’t all: in August 1940 a small group splintered off under Avraham Stern formed a terrorist group called Lehi.[1] Stern tried publishing a newspaper, but his men also robbed banks to fund the organization. One of Stern’s chief subordinates was Yaakov Banai (1920-2009), who had recently arrived from Poland by way of Turkey. Banai took charge of the fighting organization. In January 1942, one of these bank robberies led to a shoot-out in which Jewish civilians were killed. Later that month, Lehi used a bomb to kill three policemen. This put the British police over the edge. In February 1942, British police killed Stern. Yitzhak Shamir (1915-2012) took over as leader of Lehi, then rebuilt it.

By early 1944 the Second World War appeared to be turning decisively against Nazi Germany, while news of the Holocaust had filtered out to the Jews in Palestine. The alliance-of-necessity with Britain began to be contested once again among the Zionists. Irgun decided to join Lehi in armed struggle against the British. Irgun’s early actions were essentially non-violent: they bombed government buildings when they were empty and seized weapons from police stations.

Lehi pursued a different course. Eliyahu Hakim (1925-1945) wasborn in Beirut, Lebanon, then under French rule. In 1932 his family moved south along the coast to Haifa, Palestine, then under British rule. In early 1943, Banai recruited Hakim. Soon, the organization ordered him to enlist in the British Army. After training, Hakim was posted to Egypt. He quickly deserted and went into hiding. On 8 August 1944, he formed part of a Lehi group that tried to kill Harold MacMichael, the High Commissioner for Palestine. On 29 September 1944 Lehi caught up with one of the policemen blamed for the death of Stern. Two gunmen shot him eleven times. In October 1944 the British began deporting hundreds of captured Irgun and Lehi men to camps in Eritrea. In November 1944, Lehi paired Hakim with Eliyahu Bet-Zuri (1922-1945) to kill Lord Moyne, the British Minister of State in the Middle East. The two young men shot Moyne on 6 November 1944.[2] The gunmen were captured, tried, and hanged in 1945.

Hard pressure from the British fell on all the Jews in Palestine. In response, the Jewish Agency quietly co-operated with the British, but also launched its own “hunting season” that targeted members of Irgun and Lehi. The “hunting season” warded off British action against the Jewish Agency, but it also thinned the ranks of the agency’s chief political rival. The “hunting season” came to an end in early 1945 and the Second World War in Europe ended soon afterward. All the Zionists began to focus their energies on the struggle to create the state of Israel. Quarrels of the past and of the future were put aside.

[1] Bruce Hoffman, Anonymous Soldiers: The Struggle for Israel, 1917-1947 (Knopf, 2015).

[2] One of the pistols used to kill the policemen was also used in the Moyne shootings, so it is possible that one of the gunmen had participated in more than one shooting. Or Lehi just hasd a small arsenal that had to be reused.

Munich.

In 1967 Israel lashed out against a gathering flock of vultures (Egypt, Syria, Jordan). In an astonishing triumph, this “Six Day War” put Israel in possession of the Sinai peninsula, the West Bank of the Jordan River, and the Golan Heights. It also put them in possession of a large population of Arabs and Palestinian refugees cast up by the agony of Israel’s initial creation in 1948. The problem became what to do with the conquered lands and people. Israel offered to “trade land for peace” with its neighbors. The neighbors showed little interest. Meanwhile, the Palestinians launched their own war on Israel through terrorism. In 1972, members of the “Black September” group kidnapped eleven Israeli athletes at the Munich Summer Olympics. Most of the captors and all of their captives died in a botched rescue operation by the Germans.

In revenge, Israel launched “Operation Wrath of God.” In theory, the objective was to kill eleven of the “Black September” leaders who were responsible for Munich. The operation went on for years. It killed many more than eleven men. Eventually, the operation wound down.

In 1984, Yuval Aviv, one of the assassination team leaders who then was living in New York and no longer working for Israel’s intelligence agency, became the source for a book about the operation.[1] Soon afterward, HBO brought out a movie based on the book.[2] Then the story languished for almost twenty years.

Then, early in the 21st Century, Steven Spielberg bought the rights to the book and made his own version, “Munich.” Why did Spielberg want to re-make somebody else’s movie? There are a couple of possible answers.

On the one hand, Spielberg has made a bunch of historical movies that can be thought of as grouped in pairs. The pairs deliver different perspectives on the large historical subjects. Thus “The Empire of the Sun” (1987) and “Saving Private Ryan” (1998) consider the legacy of surviving traumatic events in the Second World War; “Amistad” (1997) and “Lincoln” (2012) deal with the fight against slavery, a problem which continues to haunt America; and “Schindler’s List” (1993) and “Munich” (2005) turn on the struggle for survival by Jews in a hostile world. In the case of the latter two movies, “Schindler’s List” made an argument for Israel as a Jewish refuge; “Munich” asked how Israel differed from other states.

On the other hand, maybe the movie isn’t about Israel at all. Maybe it’s about America. At the end of “Munich” the World Trade Center’s “Twin Towers” are visible in the backdrop. On 9/1101 Al Qaeda terrorists attacked sites in Washington and New York, most famously the WTC. The United States responded by invading Afghanistan in an effort to get Al Qaeda’s leader, Osama bin Laden. Missing their punch, the Americans became bogged down in a long struggle that hasn’t yet ended.[3] Then, in 2003, the Americans invaded Iraq on the grounds that the country possessed a program for weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and that contact had been alleged between al Qaeda and Iraq’s dictator, Saddam Hussein. Here the Americans became embroiled in an even worse conflict than in Afghanistan.[4]

Where does vengeance lead? Does it lead to “justice” and “closure”? Does it lead to an open-ended conflict with an ever-rising death toll? Are we captives of our past experiences? Are we even conscious of how our views of the past shape our present actions and our future?

[1] George Jonas, Vengeance: The True Story of an Israeli Counter-Terrorist Team.

[2] “Sword of Gideon” (1986, dir. Michael Anderson). See: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rvemVhD_M3k

[3] See: “Zero Dark Thirty” (2012, dir. Kathryn Bigelow); “Lone Survivor” (2013, dir. Peter Berg).

[4] See: “Generation Kill” (2008, HBO); “The Hurt Locker” (2008, dir. Kathryn Bigelow); “Green Zone” (2010, dir. Paul Greengrass); “American Sniper” (2014, dir. Clint Eastwood).

The Islamic Brigades II.

In 2007, more than twenty men—most from the large Somali immigrant community in Minneapolis–went to join Al Shabab, the Somali Islamist militia. Federal authorities launched an investigation. They ended up prosecuting eight men as facilitators and recruiters.

In recent years, eight young men from the Norwegian town of Frederikstad have gone to Syria. Norwegian authorities have investigated the role of an Islamist group called Prophet’s Umma for its role in recruiting jihadis and facilitating their movement toward the battlefront.

Investigating the recruiters and facilitators is important to the fight against radical Islamism. So, too, is trying to understand why some people are open to recruitment. There aren’t any good answers here so far. Mostly, there are just some anecdotes about human beings. Can we learn anything from looking at them?

Two friends from the same neighborhood in Minneapolis; high-school drops outs; in minor trouble with the law; converts to Islam; and soldiers of jihad.[1]

Troy Kastigar (1981-2009) went from being a funny, energetic, boundary-testing kid to smoking weed, drinking, and failing his high-school classes.[2] He dropped out of high school, later got a G.E.D., and worked fitfully between bouts of unemployment. He went back to school to become an X-Ray tech, but he was told that it would be difficult for him to get a job in the field because of his criminal record. His friend, Doug McCain, also dropped out of high school, then had some run-ins with the law over drugs, moving violations, and theft.

In about 2004, both men converted to Islam. There is a large Somali community in Minneapolis, so Islam presented itself more prominently there than in many other American cities. After a while, they moved beyond Islam to Islamism. In November 2008, Kastigar went to Kenya. He said he was going to study the Koran. In fact, he soon crossed the border to join Al Shabab. He was killed fighting with the group in September 2009. In 2009, Doug McCain moved to San Diego. He had family out there, he worked in restaurants, and he took some classes at a community college. In 2014 he went to Syria. In August 2014 he was killed fighting with ISIS.

At least one other man from the same social circle also traveled to Syria. Abdirahmaan Muhumed, worked at the airport from November 2001 to May 2011. At different times he worked at refueling planes and on cleaning crews. Acquaintances had seen him as a more secular than a religious man. He worked out a lot and played basketball. Then he started to become exercised over the fighting in Gaza and in Libya. Muslim people suffering under assault from Western powers. Muslim or not, Muhumed drank—and to excess—on some occasions. Drinking just enflamed him all the more on the issues. He went to Syria and died in the same fight as did Doug McCain.

The little town of Frederickstad, Norway, is south of Oslo. It is a more diverse place than one might expect of a small town. The Muslim community is largely made up of Somali refugees, but there also are immigrants from Algeria, Pakistan, Kurdistan, and Chechnya.[3]

The Chaib family came from Algeria to Frederickstad. Their son Abdullah (1989-2012) grew into a popular figure in his school and neighborhood. His ability at soccer enhanced a general “cool guy” demeanor.   At some point and by some means, Abdullah Chaib became committed to jihad. A then-radical Norwegian Muslim who visited Frederikstad recalled Chaib as “a real fanatic…[who] talked about jihad all the time.” In November 2012 Abdullah Chaib went to Syria. In December 2012 he died fighting there.

Chaib’s death in battle set an example for some other boys in the town. Among them was Adu Edelbijev. His parents came to Norway from Chechnya in 2002. He attended the same school as Chaib and, like Chaib, was a good athlete. He didn’t feel estranged from Norway, but his hopes to join the army were foiled by bad eyesight. He began to take religion seriously. By 2013 he had begun to prepare to go to Syria. He left in August 2013. In November 2014, he died while fighting with ISIS near Kobani.

Rebecca Sanchez Hammer was a Filipina who came to Norway and married a Norwegian who later died. They had a son, Torlief Sanchez Hammer. A group of goofy dopers used Torlief Hammer’s basement as a place to bake their heads. For several years, the police regularly broke up their parties and confiscated their drugs and pipes.

When, before he left for Syria, Adu Edelbijev lectured Torlief Hammer about his bad habits, the boy listened. Hammer converted to Islam, took the new first name Abdul, and suddenly stopped using drugs. His run-ins with the police ended, but his satisfaction with life did not improve. “”I have no friends, no job, nothing,” he told his mother. This did not cause him to reject Islam however. It only deepened his commitment. In December 2013, the young man took the road to Syria.

The parents of Samiullah Khan (1991- ) came from Pakistan to Norway, but did not prosper. His father murdered someone, did a stretch in prison, then accidentally killed someone else while driving drunk. This background left Khan feeling marked and excluded by native Norwegians and Pakistani immigrants. He went to fight in Syria, was wounded, returned to Norway, and was arrested for belonging to a terrorist organization.

It is easy to write off these people as failures who made foolish—and fatal–decisions. But is it possible that there foolish and fatal decision reflected an aspiration for a more satisfying life than what the larger societies in which they lived could offer?

A friend of Kastigar and McLean argued that “They just wanted to be a part of something. They were just trying to find something that just accepted them for who they were.” A friend of Abdirahman said that “He always wanted to be a freedom fighter, he always wanted to be a hero,” recalled a friend.

“None of them ever even mentioned religion when we knew them,” recalled one policeman speaking about the group around Torlief Hammer. “The only thing they had in common is that they did not function in society. But they wanted to be able to do something, to be good at something.” Torlief Hammer told his mother that “he wanted to fix himself after too much disco, too many girlfriends and too much smoking.”

In March 1940, George Orwell published a review of Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf. In it, Orwell argued that Hitler “has grasped the falsity of the hedonistic attitude to life. Nearly all western thought since the last war, certainly all “progressive” thought, has assumed tacitly that human beings desire nothing beyond ease, security and avoidance of pain. In such a view of life there is no room, for instance, for patriotism and the military virtues. The Socialist who finds his children playing with soldiers is usually upset, but he is never able to think of a substitute for the tin soldiers; tin pacifists somehow won’t do. Hitler, because in his own joyless mind he feels it with exceptional strength, knows that human beings don’t only want comfort, safety, short working-hours, hygiene, birth-control and, in general, common sense; they also, at least intermittently, want struggle and self-sacrifice, not to mention drums, flags and loyalty-parades. However they may be as economic theories, Fascism and Nazism are psychologically far sounder than any hedonistic conception of life.”[4]

As the United States lugubriously embarks on the election campaign of 2016, will any of the candidates offer voters “struggle and self-sacrifice”? Or will they promise “ease, security and avoidance of pain”? That is an easy question to answer. But what if there are a lot of people who would never consider radical Islam, yet still feel some longing for something more ennobling than the next entitlement or the next tax cut?

[1] Jack Healy, “For Jihad Recruits, a Pipeline From Minnesota to Militancy,” NYT, 7 September 2014.

[2] I wondered if these were signs of Depression. His mother describes him as having had a “sadness and a darkness” move into his life.

[3] Andrew Higgins, “A Norway Town And Its Pipeline to Jihad in Syria,” NYT, 5 April 2015.

[4] http://genius.com/George-orwell-review-of-mein-kampf-annotated

What We Learned from the Report of the 911 Commission XXIX.

The tricky issue of Personality and Culture.

The foreign intelligence community did a pretty good job of centralizing information and analysis on threats to American interests abroad and of coordinating a response. However, there was no centralization of information and analysis on domestic threats, no co-ordination of response, and no adequate communication between foreign and domestic intelligence. No one seems to have realized that the domestic agencies had no formal plans or procedures for how to respond to terrorism; no one told the agencies to develop such plans and procedures. (pp. 378-379.) There was no central co-ordination of intelligence analysis or threat assessment. “The mosaic of threat intelligence came from the [CIA’s] Counterterrorist Center, which collected only abroad. Its reports were not supplemented by reports from the FBI.” (p. 294.)

“Beneath the acknowledgement that Bin Laden and al Qaeda presented serious dangers, there was uncertainty among senior officials about whether this was just a new and especially venomous version of the ordinary terrorist threat America had lived with for decades, or was radically new, posing a threat beyond any yet experienced.” (p. 491.) Richard Clarke failed in repeated efforts to get the Clinton administration to recognize al Qaeda as a first order threat, and he was still trying to get a decision on this from the new Bush administration in early September 2001. However, no one—even Richard Clarke—ever forced an open debate on the issue. (p. 491.)

NB: A point worth considering. The above analyses fairly frequently point out the deficiencies of the FBI, the CIA, and the State Department because all three of them privilege the local commanders (so to speak) over central authority. Local offices tend to have autonomy about what they do and how they do it within the broad outlines of general policy defined from the center. However, at the start of Chapter Five, “Al Qaeda Aims at the American Homeland,” there appears the following remark. “Bin Laden and his chief of operations,…, occupied undisputed leadership positions atop al Qaeda’s organizational structure. Within this structure, al Qaeda’s worldwide terrorist operations relied heavily upon the ideas and work of enterprising and strong-willed field commanders who enjoyed considerable autonomy.” (p. 210.) How could the same system work FOR al Qaeda and AGAINST the United States?

President Clinton apparently grew impatient with the inability of the United States government to make Bin Laden just go away. President Clinton once remarked to JCS Chairman (and Green Beret and former commander of all Special Forces) Hugh Shelton that “You know, it would scare the shit out of al-Qaeda if suddenly a bunch of black ninjas rappelled out of helicopters into the middle of their camp.” Shelton subsequently declared that he didn’t remember Clinton making the statement and former Secretary of Defense William Cohen said that he thought the President might have been making a hypothetical statement, however Clinton has repeatedly stated that he said this. (p. 272.) NB: It’s like listening to my 13 year-old—when he was younger.

“According to Clarke, [National Security Adviser Sandy] Berger upbraided DCI [George] Tenet so sharply after the Cole attack—repeatedly demanding to know why the United States had to put up with such attacks—that Tenet walked out of a meeting of the principals.” (p. 278.) In Summer 2001 Tenet engaged in a lot of hand wringing about ordering a lethal attack on Bin Laden. “Are America’s leaders comfortable with the CIA doing this, going outside of normal military command and control? Charlie Allen told us that when these questions were discussed at the CIA, he and the Agency’s executive director, A.B. “Buzzy” Krongard, had said that either one of them would be happy to pull the trigger, but Tenet was appalled, telling them that they had no authority to do it, nor did he.” (reported, p. 305.) NB: What would Dulles, or Helms, or Colby have said?

What We Learned from the Report of the 911 Commission XXVIII.

So, there were flaws in how the government professionals responded to the danger posed by al Qaeda. How did elected officials do?

 

The Carter administration began the practice of having counter-terrorism co-ordinated by an NSC staff member in the White House. A civil servant, Richard Clarke, took over the function of co-ordinating policies on trans-national crime, narcotics, and terrorism (“drugs and thugs”) in the Reagan administration after Olly North’s “arms for hostages enterprise ran aground. The Clinton administration kept Clarke on. Beginning in 1995 the Clinton administration took a considerable interest in resisting terrorism: the anti-terrorism budget of the FBI was substantially increased and the budgets of the CIA ceased to decline; the US leaned on foreign countries to stop providing shelter to terrorists; and Richard Clarke was promoted to be “national coordinator for security, infrastructure protection, and counterterrorism.” (pp. 144-150.) In theory, Clarke was supposed to report through the Deputies Committee; in practice Clarke reported directly to a restricted sub-group of the Principals. (p. 288.)

However, Osama Bin Laden declared war on the United States in February 1998, but neither Bill Clinton nor George W. Bush went to Congress for a corresponding declaration of war against Osama Bin Laden. This limited the possibilities for action against Bin Laden. (NB: On the other hand, how do you declare war against one guy living in a cave in the most backward place on earth?)

 

In the wake of the Watergate scandals, Congress created House and Senate select committees to over-see the work of the intelligence agencies (and to keep them from making a mess on the carpet). However, the Armed Services committees have real authority over the intelligence agencies, so the intelligence budgets rise and fall with the over-all levels of defense spending.

The grab for a “peace dividend” in the 1990s by cutting defense budgets also drove down intelligence budgets; Congress wasn’t interested in terrorism as a problem; and Congress has become progressively less capable of exercising over-sight of the executive branch in recent decades. Instead of carefully reviewing the implementation of laws and programs, Congressional committees have shifted to “a focus on personal investigations, possible scandals, and issues designed to generate media attention.” (Quoted, p. 155.) They certainly did nothing to push the executive branch to reorganize itself to deal with the post-Cold War world. (pp. 150-157.) NB: The general coarsening of American public life showed up here as well.