Inside the glass house: by Thalif Deen

16th September 2001

Blunders behind black Tuesday

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NEW YORK _ The tragedy that hit the United States last week has devastated a nation which has long remained immune from military attacks from the outside.

The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour, one of the few exceptions, killed about 2,400 people back in December 1941.

But the death toll following the wave of terrorist attacks in New York and Washington last week is expected to reach beyond 4,000 _ the largest on any single day in contemporary history.

In an op-ed piece in the New York Times, Ronald Steel, a Professor of International Relations at the University of Southern California, draws a parallel with Sri Lanka.

Terrorists, he says, cannot defeat a state in war. They can only weaken it from within by attacking its most vulnerable point: ordinary people.

"All modern terrorist movements _ the Irish Republican Army, the Tamil Tigers, the Muslim militants inspired by Osama bin Laden - use this tactic."

The tragedy of it all is the number of civilians deaths. And no religion condones the death of civilians_ irrespective of the political cause.

The newspapers and TV networks have been flooded with "expert" analyses from pundits and talking heads expressing their opinions as to why there is so much hatred against the United States.

An underlying theme in these discussions traces the anger to US policy in the Middle East and the continued "blind support" for Israel.

At a press conference last week, US Secretary of State Colin Powell played down that angle, although he admitted that the Arab-Israeli conflict was "in the background."

But terrorism itself, he said, has continued irrespective of how the peace process progressed in the Middle East.

The widespread acts of terrorism, he added, are not just an outgrowth of the Arab-Israeli conflict but were specifically targeted at the United States, irrespective of the Middle East conflict.

But everyone agrees that the coordinated attacks and the multiple hijackings were clearly a black eye for American intelligence.

Speaking on network television, former Secretary of State James Baker pointed out that US expenditures on human intelligence has been declining since the 1970s.

Although he did not provide figures, Baker said that one of the reasons for American intelligence failure was because "we got out of the dirty, messy business of human intelligence."

Asked to amplify, he said the US had long given up the practise of planting American intelligence agents among various terrorist groups overseas for a specific reason.

He said the US has remained averse to deploying such agents because they are usually called upon to prove their bona fides by murdering someone: a practice successive US administrations have refused to condone.

Baker also called on the Bush administration to revoke a longstanding Executive Order which forbids US intelligence agents from assassinating world leaders and heads of terrorist organisations.Michael Khatana, a military analyst, and author of a soon-to-be-released publication, "Global Insurgents/Terrorist Groups: Their Aims and Philosophies," points out that while the US spends hundreds of billions of dollars on conventional warfare every year, it spends a pittance, roughly about $10 billion Annually, on combating terrorism.

"And its budget on human intelligence is even lower, much too lower to be significant," he added.

On Wednesday, US lawmakers announced plans to approve some $20 billion in emergency funds to cope with last week's destruction.According to Khatana, US spending on anti-terrorism (including research and development) amounted to about $6.7 billion in 1997 rising to $10 billion in 2000 and a projected $10.5 billion in 2001 compared with a total US military budget of over $343 billion this year.

This is "peanuts," he said, considering what Washington is planning to spend on the proposed missile defense system.

Addressing the National Press Club in Washington DC last week, Senator Joseph Biden, chairman of the powerful Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said the cheapest system could cost about $60 billion over 20 years, but could eventually rise to as much as $120 billion.

He said he had opposed the unilateral US withdrawal from the Antiballistic Missile Treaty which forbids building a defensive shield. "Are we willing to end four decades of arms control agreements, and go it alone, a kind of bully nation, sometimes a little wrong-headed, but ready to make unilateral decisions in what we perceive to be our self interest?', he asked.

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