LAW ENFORCEMENT AND TERRORISM
International Cooperation in Law Enforcement and Intelligence Translates
into the Most Effective Strikes Against International Terrorists
Brigitte L. Nacos
In the minds of most Americans the "war against terrorism"
is first of all associated with the military actions in Afghanistan against Al Qaeda
and the Taliban and, more recently, against Saddam Hussein's regime in Iraq. This is hardly surprising because the military efforts in the multifaceted fight against international terrorism have made the headlines day-in, day-out at the expense of other approaches, namely the first-rate work in the law enforcement and intelligence communities and extraordinary international cooperation between U.S. agencies and their counterparts abroad. As a result, the progress made in this area has gotten far less public attention than it deserves.
To be sure, whenever a "big fish" of Al Qaeda is caught abroad, there is a media frenzy to establish what the arrest of one influential associate of
Osama bin Laden means for the potency of the terrorist organization and the terrorist threat against the United States. This was certainly the case, when Walid Ba'Attach, believed to be prominently involved in planning the terror of 9/11 and the attack on the USS Cole the previous year, and Khalid Shaikh Mohammed
, Al Qaeda's chief of operations, were arrested in Pakistan in late April and early March respectively. But less well known but equally dangerous terrorist operatives are investigated, arrested, indicted, tried,
and sentenced all the time in many dozens of countries around the world--more often than not because intelligence and law enforcement agents have closely worked together in bilateral or multilateral fashion.
As counter-terrorism experts know, intelligence sharing even among seemingly friendly countries and allies, was not the norm before 9/11. This changed fundamentally after the destruction of the World Trade Center
and the partial destruction of the Pentagon, when FBI and CIA found far more cooperative attitudes and actions abroad--not everywhere, to be sure, but even from governments that had been soft on terrorism before or
even sponsored this sort of political violence.
Since 9/11 more than 3,000 persons known or thought to belong to the Al Qaeda organization or its network of like-minded groups and cells were caught--most of
them overseas. While a large number of suspected Al Qaeda adherents were captured during the Afghanistan war, most of the leading figures of Al Qaeda and their active followers in terrorist cells were arrested as
the result of solid work by police and intelligence circles. Hardly a day has gone by without such arrests in Pakistan, a country that faces a large number of bin
Laden followers within its own borders and in the mountains of neighboring Afghanistan. But as the Department of State's most recent issue of its yearly publication
"Patterns of Global Terrorism"
details, success stories have been plentiful all around the world and especially in western Europe, where many countries were targeted by Al Qaeda followers as well and, according the report, "European countries forged closer cooperative links with their neighbors. As a result, European authorities arrested a significant number of terrorists, disrupted planning for terrorist attacks, and intercepted funds destined for terrorist organizations."
While anti-French sentiments remain strong in the United States because of France's opposition to the Iraqi war, the fact is nevertheless that there has been extraordinary cooperation between American and French law enforcement since 9/11--not only with respect to the joint American-French investigation that was instrumental in bringing the would-be shoe bomber Richard Reid to justice or the sharing of evidence in the case of Zacarias Moussaoui, the would-be 9/11 hijacker. Similar
cooperative efforts led to the capture and trial of terrorists in the United Kingdom, Spain, Italy, Germany, the Netherlands, Turkey, and a host of other European countries.
Unfortunately, when reporting on the fruits of good intelligence and police work the news media tend to focus
narrowly on a relatively small number of particularly prominent cases, ignore the larger picture and fail to provide the American public with a full account and understanding of the significant accomplishments of
the law enforcement and intelligence communities at home and abroad (1) in preventing many terrorist incidents since the events of 9/11 and (2) in apprehending an ever increasing number of terrorist leaders and foot
soldiers. Consequently, most people are unaware that international cooperation in the area of criminal justice and intelligence has so far been the most effective weapon in the long fight against the perpetrators of
the most lethal terrorism of all times.
Copyright © 2003 Brigitte L. Nacos
The author is Adjunct Professor of
Political Science at Columbia University. Before she began teaching at Columbia, she was a correspondent for newspapers in Germany. She is the author of several important books:
"The Press, Presidents, and Crisis"
(Columbia University Press, 1990)
"Terrorism and the Media: From the Iran Hostage Crisis to the World Trade Center Bombing"
(Columbia University Press, 1994)
"From Bonn to Berlin: German Politics in Transition" (Columbia University Press, 1998)
"Mass-Mediated Terrorism: The Central Role of the Media in Terrorism and Counterterrorism"
(Rowman & Littlefield, 2002)
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