Great Seal of the United States National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States

First public hearing of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States

Statement of Magnus Ranstorp to the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States
March 31, 2003

Honourable Members of this Panel, Distinguished Members of the Senate, Members of Congress, Ladies and Gentlemen and Honoured Guests:

I am honoured to submit for your review the following report, outlining what I perceive to be the future of the global terrorist threat, as well as prescriptive initiatives which should form the bedrock of a comprehensive response to the international scourge of terrorism.


The response of the United States to al-Qaida has been focused and highly successful, both visibly and otherwise. I laud President Bush's 'Four D' approach to fighting terror-defeat, deny, diminish and defend-and believe this strategy strikes the requisite balance of offence and defence necessary to counter terrorism with a global reach. Further, the recent establishment of the Terrorist Threat Integration Center is a powerful testament to the progressive strategy of the Administration and sends a commanding signal to terrorists and their supporters that the United States will continue to bring to bear the full measure of its intelligence capabilities to thwart their plans.

My expertise lies not in assessing or critiquing the structures or responses of the U.S. intelligence community, counterterrorism bodies, or other institutional bureaucracies, or in pinpointing precisely their alleged shortcomings prior to 11 September 2001. Better equipped to speak to these issues are others present here today who are more familiar with such institutions. Given my expertise as a foreign scholar of militant Islamism and terrorism issues, my testimony will focus instead on the difficult path ahead with the desired objective of highlighting those areas upon which it is necessary to focus in order to prevent another attack upon the interests of the United States at home or abroad.

It is essential that the United States in this global war on terrorism continues to craft and evolve comprehensive new strategies and tactics that balance a changing adversary with a rapidly changing global environment. Counter-terrorism policy cannot be divorced from other strands of foreign policy, regional initiatives, or fail to take into account, for example, the nuances and significance of the Israeli-Palestinian crisis. Yet, as Vice-Admiral Thomas R. Wilson indicated, even the resolution of this conflict will not bring to an end the the systemic problems inherent to the global landscape that foment terrorism and enable organisations such as al-Qaida to thrive. Countering al-Qaida depends upon understanding its true character, as well as the environment in which violent jihadism operates. Only then can prescriptive solutions be applied, and the flow of capabilities- and threat-based intelligence be translated into building effective countermeasures within a strategic framework.


A year after the seismic events of September 11, it is worthwhile to take stock of the many lessons learnt, successes and the challenges of the global anti-terrorism roadmap ahead. Already back in 1795, Immanuel Kant pointed out that the global community had shrunk to the point at which 'a right violated anywhere is felt everywhere'. The seismic events of 11 September marked a transition from terrorism as a form of low intensity conflict to mass destruction terrorism on an unprecedented scale felt and watched from around the world. The suicide hijackers who in synchronised fashion crashed their seized airliners into to towers of the World Trade Center caused more civilian deaths in one hour than the Northern Ireland conflict caused in the past half century or collectively all those that perished in Pearl Harbour. Mass destruction terrorism on this scale has become a permanent 'clear and present danger' - a strategic threat not only to the security of the United States but to peace and security and economic well being of the entire international community. With no more than five dollar box cutters, the al-Qaeda terrorist network shattered our conventional assumptions of homeland security and the state's monopoly on the means of mass destruction with an hitherto mounting costs of over $70 billion in direct physical damages and with an almost incalculable global psychological impact.

In many ways, 11 September symbolises the ultimate expression of the expansion of terrorism's global reach as an instance of what Mary Kaldor has termed 'wild' globalisation. This 'new terrorism' has harnessed the instruments of globalisation - the extension and improvement of cross-cultural communications and transportation; the continual migration of peoples - to transform itself into a multinational non-state enterprise, an infinite range of networks and constellations that stretches across the globe. Terrorist acts can now be controlled by remote-control from any distance or remote corner. The uniqueness of this new terrorism is that it has hijacked globalisation through riding the so-called techno-web, creating infinite new vistas of communication and attack modes, limited only by their imagination in the target acquisition and execution. Modern satellite and communications technology and global mass media provides not only the vehicle for the creation of a 'cyber-umma', a platform for like-minded extremists, but also the laud megaphone for further inspiration for violence and the mobilisation of a broader constituency. The same ingenuity applies to their entrepreneurial creativity in harnessing and hiding subterranean modes of finance for their activities whether through transnational criminal networks or diaspora communities. It is clear that the so far over $100 million dollars in terrorist assets frozen worldwide by 160 countries and jurisdiction have made it difficult for terrorist networks to move around and hide finances. However, in the greater scheme of things it represents a small dent in the overall war against the entrepreneurial terrorist. They continue with great skill to rely on a network of underground hawalha networks or continue to perfect the art of the lucrative triad of criminal financial enterprise, involving identity theft, credit card and bank fraud, within states and across borders.

This hijacking of globalisation has led to a terrorist battlefield that is truly global in nature. The world is truly a global village today and it has been made even more real than ever with September 11th. Among the first lesson is that the global community cannot allow conflict in one part of the world to fester - principally because, sooner or later, it has the propensity to reach around the globe and produce violence in any corner of the global village. The prospects of an attack against one of our nuclear facilities, rendering vast geographical or economic centres uninhabitable for hundreds of years, are no longer fiction but a possible future apocalyptic reality. Above all, the September 11th showed that when globalisation meets extremist violence anything is possible for the future with threats of violence that can occur anywhere and anytime within our homelands with incalculable and unimaginable consequences.

September 11th also showed, despite our information and open societies and comparative advantage in the digital age, that the terrorists clearly understand our society and our inherent weaknesses better than we understand them and that they are well-equipped to operate undetected and disguised for long periods. Above all, the September 11th demonstrated that we stand almost impotent in preventing and detecting terrorist with a suicidal mindset becoming human airborne missiles - magnifying our collective sense of vulnerability and representing incomprehensible human behaviour that violates at the very core the fundamental norms and values of Western society.

In a written congressional testimony by Vice-Admiral Thomas R Wilson in 1999, the Head of the U.S. Defence Intelligence Agency issued an unusually precise warning that terrorists would use Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD), not within the customary projected timeframe of five or ten years but rather in two years. That day came sooner than expected as the events of 9/11 changed the world and the threat level from a trans-national terrorist network forever.

As the world scrambled to pre-empt another 'mega-terrorist' attack with an unprecedented coalition waging a global war on terrorism and as the U.S. unleashed its military against the Taliban regime and al-Qaeda camps within Afghanistan, CNN's investigative team in Kabul located a manual entitled 'Super bomb' - a manual that contained the words 'nuclear fission, isotopes and heating temperatures for uranium-235 and 238.' This 'Super bomb' was not a manual for a workable nuclear fissionable device, though al-Qaeda had received extensive scientific assistance from Pakistani nuclear physicists according to intelligence sources. Instead the manual contained al-Qaeda's blueprint for the detonation of a radiological device - a so-called 'dirty bomb.'

In the summer of 2002, CNN's senior international correspondent Nic Robertson retrieved 64 videotapes from the collection of a senior al-Qaeda leader. This tape collection provided the first visual confirmation of al-Qaeda's use of nerve-agents (on two dogs) possibly in the Durunta training camp and provided chilling evidence that Bin-Laden's network had not only left no stone unturned in preparing the building-blocks of terrorism, mayhem and destruction. Al-Qaeda's scientists had also moved far beyond just thinking about weapons of mass destruction - the network had been actively moving towards acquiring and producing the capability to possess and deploy these weapons. In fact, al-Qaeda's longstanding interests in chemical and biological agents are evident in the 11th and 12th manuals, auxiliary manuals to the 7,000-page leather-bound Encyclopedia of Jihad discovered first in 1998 by the Jordanian intelligence service, the Muhkbarat. These three critical discoveries by CNN are complemented by other supplementary evidence of al-Qaeda's interest in CBRN weapons gleaned from media and intelligence sources and interrogation reports of senior and junior al-Qaeda operatives. The arrest of Jose Padilla in Chicago in July 2002, allegedly scouting for targets for a dirty bomb plot, and the extensive network of 116 al-Qaeda operatives arrested in various ricin plots across Europe, both show an extensive interest by the senior al-Qaeda network in CBRN weapons. Even the secret al-Jazeera interview with Ramzi Binalshib revealed that al-Qaeda had considered attacking a nuclear power plant but abandoned the plans as they feared the attack could produce unintended and possibly uncontrollable consequences. Although al-Qaeda shows no compunction of using terrorism to cause mass casualties, by account of Ramzi Binalshib's own admission there is a certain element of restraint how far al-Qaeda is prepared to go in striking against their self-confessed infidel enemies. This perceived element of self-restraint in using CBRN is based on the major difference between their current focus of their strategy and their technical capabilities to use CBRN as an agent of mass disruption rather than as an agent of mass destruction. As prophesised by an al-Qaeda operative, the primary focus is on striking at the heart of the West's strength - the interconnectivity of their economies. As such, al-Qaeda is focusing on an extremely patient strategy, preparing synchronised tactical attacks to invoke a response that will enable it to eventually topple so-called 'godless' regimes, whether it focuses on recapturing Afghanistan or a complete take-over of targeted states like Pakistan or Saudi Arabia. At the same time, it focuses on inflicting 'a thousand cuts' against the West with varying degrees of opportunism, focused intensity and mass casualties. Whilst the prevailing wisdom among security officials in the West is that it is a question of when rather than if the al-Qaeda network may use CBRN weapons, it is more likely that any such future attack will seek to invoke psychological and societal mass disruption rather than destruction.

Despite our asymmetry in power projection both militarily and economically, the reality is that modern, high-tech and complex societies can be brought to its knees by simple attacks against critical nodes that constitute their very strength. Attacking a highly populated, densely built, 'global city' or the tourism industry not only damages people and property but also creates a global contagion of fear as it engulfs millions of more people and has the potentially to cause widespread economic rupture and political instability. A main lesson of September 11 is that in an interdependent world, no one is invulnerable, no one is immune. Each day we do not act to address and contain these problems increases their very potential to do more and greater harm in the future.

Diagnosing the Threat before Applying the Cure:

Before proceeding to the main themes about problems and prospects, let me take the opportunity to offer five salient points worth reflecting about - challenging the assumptions we make about the problem of transnational terrorism and how we approach the perceived problem of al-Qaeda and its broader consequences:

  1. 'They Understand Us Much Better than We Understand Them.'
    It is very clear that in order to effectively apply the cure against a multidimensional threat along several axis we have to understand the nature of the disease, how it mutates, how it changes according to vastly different circumstances and pressures exerted upon its leadership, its members, its foot soldiers. There is, however, in the West an unfortunate tendency to comprehensively structure and box-in our adversaries into definable hierarchies and top-down structures. Of course, this is clearly applicable at times, especially in intensifying our intelligence terms focusing in on identifying the operational bomb-designers or masterminds at large while identifying potential sleeper cells and strike action teams dispersed across the world. However, our conception about how al-Qaeda is structured is probably yesterday's way in which they actually organised themselves. As such, there is a need to constantly evaluate and re-evaluate our adversary, to think outside the box and tailor our response options accordingly to be able to face the evolving threat posed by networks and increasingly a move towards decentralised structures. This is a necessity as al-Qaeda is re-grouping and re-constituting under different conditions and contexts.
  2. 'Leaving No Stone Unturned - The Role of the Manuals.'
    According the 7000-page leather-bound Encyclopaedia of Jihad, it is very clear that al-Qaeda truly left no stone unturned in the tradecraft of death and destruction. Versions of the military manual, from 'Military Studies in the Jihad Against Tyrants' or 'Muslim Rebels Stationed in America', have been distributed far beyond Afghanistan to local operatives, on CD-roms; computer-discs; videos and through human mules. In this way, al-Qaeda's art of 'war' has been replicated like an uncontrollable virus and harnessed by those locally plotting and planning. A case in point is the Strasbourg plot against the Jewish synagogue where one of the indicted visited 44 different pharmacies to purchase chemical ingredients used for explosives. The existence of these military manuals and chemical 'laundry' lists eliminates the need to transport explosives across frontiers, minimizing the risk of detection by law enforcement. These manuals also reveal the extent to which al-Qaeda understand how to operate in concealed mode; how to resist interrogation and avoid surveillance and detection. The fundamental challenge becomes how to craft pre-emptive strategies and tactics against a sophisticated and concealed network - not just reactive law enforcement responses once violence is actually perpetrated. This challenge becomes even more pressing as the lesson of September 11th is that unless we take the war to them, in a global village they sooner or later will come to us.
  3. 'They Use New Information Technologies and In Combination With Traditional Means for Target Acquisition and Command-Control-Communication' - creating infinite constellations.
    Today, terrorism is increasingly characterised by a move towards ad hoc constellations and networks, away from hierarchical structures, national contexts and traditional modes of state-sponsorship, legitimating their struggles through ethnic and religious extremist ideology, flourishing in zones of chaos and anarchy in near or already failed states. This multi-headed hydra or trans-national phenomenon uses mercenaries, organised crime cartels, sophisticated weaponry and modern communications to operate from, through and into various countries across the globe. These galaxies of like-minded extremists, alongside the more conventional and identifiable groups of yesterday, have been quick to attach themselves to and thrive like parasites on the advantages of globalisation in creating cross-national networks - enhancing command, control and communication and sources of financial revenues - that enable them to survive, flourish and expand - at times far beyond the conflict zone itself.
  4. 'The Wave for the Future - the Problem of Suicide-Attacks.'
    As outlined by Dr Ayman Zawahiri in his book, Knights of the Prophet, the method of suicide attack has been adopted as the ultimate strategic weapon. This strategic choice has been made by other groups and in different contexts. It is clear that there is a concerted move or trajectory towards greater lethality in these suicide missions, whether trying to create catastrophic terrorism inside of Israel (as shown by the fuel truck explosion at the Tel Aviv Pi Glilot fuel depot) or the suicide gas tanker mission against the Jewish synagogue on the island of Djerba). These hyper mobile human guidance systems are extraordinarily difficult to defend against as it increases timing, location and target range, according to the prevailing circumstances and tactical innovation. As shown in the case of Palestinian Hamas, each attack reinforces the legitimacy of group and cause, leading to a culture of 'martyrology.' These suicide missions serves as inspiration as an acceptable mode of 'warfare' with civilians as a legitimate target to the wider Muslim community. As observed by RAND's Bruce Hoffman, they also have an immense psychological impact on society and media. It is critical to address the issue of suicide bombings, not merely on the individual or psychological level but rather on the organisational and societal level. It is critical to address through education and institute a reversal of what has become 'normal.'
  5. 'Al-Qaeda is as much an organisation as it is a movement.'
    It is important to understand that there is more to al-Qaeda than an hierarchical structure. There are many inspired or operating regionally or locally in the service of al-Qaeda, being mobilised by the forces of ideas and ideology. Most of these constituent groups and networks have been inspired and follows the ideas promoted by Bin-laden's mentor Azzam, his book Caravan of Martyrs and the idea that 'one hour in the path of jihad is worth more than 70 years of praying at home.' Interestingly, Azzam advanced a four-stage process of jihad, the third being the most interesting ribat - placing oneself at the frontlines where Islam was under siege, reinforcing their perception of a civilizational war between Islam and the West. Al-Qaeda is more than organisation, it is also an idea - using violence in combination with psychological warfare, trying to sow inter-civilisation discord and conflict between the West and Islam and within societies. Immediately following September 11th we saw how Bin-Laden, a skilful Islamist radical opportunist, appealed to followers in Pakistan to rise up against their leader who had aligned himself with the West against the Taliban, trying to reach far beyond his natural constituency to mobilise and unleash radical hatred against the West and the United States in particular. In many ways Bin-Laden is trying to re-write geopolitics in his own fashion. The lesson is that al-Qaeda understand how to use violence in combination with psychological warfare in generating conflict.

What are then the lessons of these five insights? Quite simply that we are facing a continuously evolving threat, a multidimensional threat that requires a multi-pronged, multi-tiered approach through multi-agencies and through multinational cooperation for an extensive duration, lasting many years and not just a few months. It is a mirage to believe this war on terrorism can be won - at best we can hope to degrade and diminish the capability of al-Qaeda to wreck mayhem and destruction on the same scale as September 11th or even worse.

The Problems Ahead in Forging An Effective Global Anti-Terrorism Strategy

It would be a mistake not to mention the tremendous global anti-terrorism achievements to date in confronting this new type of terrorism since September 11th. Unprecedented international cooperation has been forged to disrupt the operation of al-Qaeda terrorist cells; thousands of arrests have been made globally and national legislation passed to increase states' capacity to deal with the problem. Equally, unprecedented international cooperation has occurred in detecting and freezing terrorist financing and mechanisms to share intelligence more effectively across the international community. Globally, over 100 million dollars of alleged terrorist funds have been frozen in 160 countries or jurisdictions while over ten million dollars has been frozen in the United Kingdom alone. Regionally, existing regional and security cooperative structures have been strengthened from the ASEAN to OAU and NATO to coordinate and share intelligence more effectively, to block terrorist funding and tighten border and immigration controls. In the European Union, a European arrest warrant was introduced, alongside national emergency legislations, the official identification and banning of terrorist-related organisations, the seizure of terrorist assets and the creation of a Europol terrorist unit. The role of Interpol has been strengthened, illustrated by an increase of this year's budget with almost 25 percent. Globally, the United Nations has played an instrumental role in passing UN Security Council Resolution 1373, setting out obligations for member states which assisted in the framing of national policies. Equally, the United Nations Counter-Terrorism Committee has served as a steering committee in the review of over 150 member states on measures to deal with the financing of terrorism. The Security Council's Sanctions Committee also undertook the task of listing states and organisations to be subject to sanctions and the freezing of assets suspected to support or reach terrorist organisations. Additionally, the United States and its allies were largely successful in eliminating Afghanistan as an undisturbed zone of sanctuary for terrorism. All these measures are commendable and have yielded notable successes. However as illustrated by the score of terrorist atrocities since September 11th, from the Djerba suicide attack in Tunisia and the latest Bali attack which claimed 181 lives to the maritime attack on the Limburg of the shores of Yemen, the threat from al-Qaeda still persists to a high degree. Many of al-Qaeda's high-ranking operational masterminds are still at large and it is widely recognised that al-Qaeda has a covert presence in over 92 countries. A host of continued problems still plague the international community in forging a sustained and effective response to further degrade the al-Qaeda network and avert future terrorist operations like 9/11 or even worse. These problems clearly impact on U.S. counterterrorism policy as the U.S. and close allies are dependent on multilateralism and cooperation from over 90 countries. Some of the most pressing problems are:

  1. The Blind Spots of Terrorism
    The problems of more comprehensively and effectively tackling the numerous geographical blind areas that exist in more remote areas of the world where local government lack the ability or experience in effectively policing the hinterland. These problems persist whether in the Indonesian archipelago, the remote hinterland in Yemen, the triborder area between Argentina, Paraguay and Brasil and beyond, fusing terrorism with organised crime, or they may be greatly complicated by the local conflicts as in Chechnya or Kashmir that contain al-Qaeda elements. Compounding these problems is the fact that certain states of concern have facilitated the transit of al-Qaeda members and is even harbouring them. Focusing on certain key states within continental regions may be absolutely key in identifying bilateral capacity enhancing policing and intelligence measures. For example, large portions of Africa is becoming increasingly lawless and the future incubators of security problems on a potentially regional and transnational level. Identifying cooperative 'key states' in geographical regions will be essential in coordinating regional support for counter-terrorism coordination and efforts.
  2. Sustained Reconstruction of War-Thorn Countries
    The problem of supporting and sustaining the necessary reconstruction and development efforts in Afghanistan, as in other war-thorn countries, to ensure that these countries do not slide back into anarchy and become a renewed refuge for terrorists. Currently, elements of Taleban and al-Qaeda forces are flooding back into many areas in Afghanistan where the central authority lack effective law enforcement control.
  3. Definition of Terrorism
    The lack of an internationally agreed definition of terrorism has compounded efforts to initiate UN action as to whether groups are 'terrorists' or 'freedom fighters.' While the existing 12 UN-based treaties on various aspects of the methodology of terrorism have been useful, the question remains whether it is desirable and even feasible for the UN to forge an overall anti-terrorist convention and whether the mechanisms to enforce such a treaty will be effective. Inherent in this question is the issue of effective enforcement mechanisms, actually moving beyond just prioritising the collection of signature over finding effective and binding enforcement mechanisms.
  4. Anti-Americanism and Anti-Democratic Approach
    Different perception and approaches exists among allies about actually dealing with their own 'terrorist' problem on their respective doorsteps. The Russian approach towards Chechnya as a terrorist problem while other support the Chechens right to national liberation illustrate the complexity of the problem. Many regimes have used September 11th as an opportunity to institute new anti-terrorism drives and legislation to silence opposition. This may adversely affect general democratising efforts. Similarly, the perception that the West supports dictatorships generates further anti-Americanism and hostility that may facilitate recruitment by the terrorists. As such, there is a widespread belief that treating the campaign as a 'war' with military deployment and open threats, foster resentment that in turn feeds support for the terrorists. It also promotes the perception that the U.S. is using the September 11th attacks as a pretext to reshape geo-politics and enhance its own access to oil and gas resources. It also compounds the issue of perceived contradictory policies of the U.S. towards various regions and raises uneasy questions about the overall promotion of human rights policies.
  5. Politicisation of Intelligence-Sharing
    Intelligence-sharing between states is still plagued by the politicisation of intelligence as it remains restricted and limited to ensure security and protection of 'sources.' More problematic is the reduced effectiveness of putting intelligence resources into practise within states' with more restrictive national legislation, curbing the freedom of surveillance on suspects which affects efforts to provide sufficient evidence that stands up in a court of law. Furthermore, intelligence-gathering is still difficult given the nature of international terrorism across national frontiers and given the blurred lines between terrorism and organised crime. There has been tremendous progress in seamlessly harnessing the over 90 countries who cooperate within the framework of the bilateral and multilateral intelligence framework, especially harnessing key 'states of concern' in assisting with intelligence collection, collaboration and dissemination. The role of states, such as Syria, Pakistan, Iran, Egypt and Jordan are critical in this respect, specifically not only due to their rogue status but also the key role they have played in this respect.

    Intelligence collection yields a high volume of information and it is still difficult to separate out the facts from the level of 'noise' picked up. For example, the National Security Agency (NSA) collects an approximate average of 2 million pieces of intelligence intercepts per hour. Problems still persists how to disseminate real-time intelligence between agencies and allies. Equally, further improvements needs to be made in the inter-agency coordination within states - not just bigger budgets, more personnel and possibly new structures but something more focused, disciplined and coordinated. Unspecified threats and frequent national alarms may be useful over time to remind the public at large over the strategic challenge of terrorism but generally undermine public confidence generally over time and sows divisiveness between allies' national publics and generate xenophobia of minority ethnic and religious communities.

  6. 'Crying Wolf' Syndrome
    Different threat perceptions exist between various states, even among allies, about the scale and scope of the actual threat that can serve to adversely affect international cooperation. Some states are less alarmed than other states as they perceive themselves to be less of a likely target for terrorist actions. Some states argue that existing legal provisions are adequate to deal with terrorism and many have refrained from invoking emergency legislation. Other states would argue that the effectiveness of national responses without these provisions is gravely undermined as a result. There are also profound differences whether 'official' parties linked to terrorist organisations should be proscribed even within the European Union. Determining where a terrorist organisation begins and ends in relation to front parties is extremely difficult if not in some cases impossible. Witness, for example, the difference in approach between the United Kingdom in allowing Sinn Fein legal status while Spain has banned ETA-related parties.
  7. Financing of Terrorists Through Crime Rather Than Donations
    The fact remains that many groups or individuals affiliated to al-Qaeda are financed increasingly by crimes rather than philanthropic donations from certain states and individuals. The existence of diverse hawahla systems as an informal method of money transferring internationally circumvent the overall efforts to expose, isolate and incapacitate the financial network of terrorists.
  8. Protection Against Apocalyptic Terrorism
    Insufficient degree of physical protection and security of chemical and biological facilities in the former Soviet Union and elsewhere, coupled with the availability of free-lance scientific expertise, increases the spectre of 'catastrophic' terrorism. This is particularly worrying given our discovery of al-Qaeda's 11th volume of the Encyclopaedia of Jihad, revealing their substantial interest in developing and deploying chemical and biological agents in future terrorist operations. Furthermore, al-Qaeda had even a manual entitled 'Superbomb', devoted in detail to the construction and dispersal of radiological weapons. The prevailing view among security officials in the West is that it is not a question of 'if' but rather 'when' these weapons of mass destruction are used.
  9. Unilateralism versus Multilateralism
    The perception of U.S. unilateralism over a military confrontation with Iraq may adversely affect international consensus and multilateral cooperation in the war against terrorism. As other issues rise to the top of the international political agenda, there is concern that multilateral cooperation may dissipate over time. There have been suggestions that it not only diverts attention away from the global war on terrorism but may lead to an overstretching of already stretched anti-terrorism and intelligence resources. The tendency to link Iraq with the issue of al-Qaeda remains unhelpful, as there exist limited credible evidence to suggest any active operational linkage exists or that it should constitute a real cause for immediate danger and concern. Mixing the two separate issues together have lead to confusion and divisions how to best respond and the likely consequences any U.S. military action may have in maintaining the quality of the global or regional coalition in the war against terrorism.
  10. Addressing the Root Causes of Terrorism
    Real differences exist between the United States and its European allies about where the strategic emphasis on anti-terrorism should be focused. The European countries stress the importance of addressing the systemic causes of terrorism to complement the current focus on shorter-term military and intelligence policies, otherwise the threat remains temporarily contained.

Towards A More Effective Anti-Terrorism Strategy?

It is very clear that the complexities of this new form of transnational terrorism, as encapsulated by the al-Qaeda phenomenon, requires a broader, more nuanced, more pre-emptive and proactive strategy beyond relying on the punitive instruments of traditional military statecraft. Most would probably agree that the real 'solution' to the problem cannot be exclusively in the military or intelligence domain. The scale and scope of the challenge of this transnational terrorism require more creativity and vision as the international community is facing a global faceless enemy who is remarkably innovative, flexible and dangerous. Today's hybrid form of transnational terrorism is part-time terrorist, part-time criminal and requires the international community to increasingly 'think outside-the-box' in global as well as tactical and strategic terms. It will require more investment in intelligence capabilities as the first frontline of defence and perhaps a partial or complete restructuring of individual states' intelligence architectures away from a cold war mindset to at least match the technological and financial savvy of today's terrorist operative. It may even lead someday to the creation of a multi-national intelligence architecture to overcome problems in intelligence-sharing and coordination. The nature of the terrorist problem requires the ability and willingness of host governments to mount surveillance and reconnaissance on organisations and operatives while it underscores the need for not only greater harmonisation of their anti-terrorist laws but also their anti-terrorist policies and practices. A useful way forward in this respect has been regional capacity-building structures and measures such as the Shanghai Group, composed of the six Central Asian countries, the Peoples Republic of China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan, or the 2001 ASEAN Declaration on Joint Action to Counter Terrorism, designed to enhance the effectiveness of investigation, detection and response to terrorism while strengthening cooperation at the bilateral, regional and international level.

  1. Understanding the Threat
    Before applying the cure to this multi-headed hydra it is essential for policymakers, the public and the media to better understand the nature of the 'disease' beyond their national boundaries or region. It is critical for policymakers and legislators to understand the regional and global scope of the problem and the threat before devoting resources and policy initiatives. It is also necessary to develop proportional responses to the proportionality of the threat and be flexible enough to respond to a continuously changing phenomenon through adjustment to legislation or other instruments in their counter-terrorist toolbox. Although not exclusively, the primary focus needs to be those terrorist networks that seek strategic change in the international system, those groups or individuals who has no threshold in the type or level of violence used and whose political agenda is totally non-negotiable. A greater emphasis should be placed by policymakers in public that the threat of global terrorism is a threat to all nations and peoples and an effective response requires sustained support for multilateral cooperation at multiple levels over a long period. More nuanced policy statements by public officials are needed and detail about the changing nature of the threat and why measures are needed and necessary.
  2. Countering Identity Theft
    A common pre-requisite for any criminal and terrorist alike is their ability to move unhindered from point A to point B through the use of forged identity documentation. Today's terrorist rely on a triad of financial criminal enterprise: identity theft, credit card and bank fraud. A critical ingredient is the availability of forged identity documents that flourish in the organised crime environment and surrounds the illegal trafficking of human beings. The scope of this problem can be gauged by the fact that every time an al-Qaeda suspect is arrested, an average of 15-20 identities and 20 stolen credit cards are found. For every suspect arrested vast law enforcement resources are tied up for the next nine months in investigating and establishing the identity of the suspect and acquiring evidence from abroad. Given the close synergy between terrorism, organised and ordinary crime, there is an urgent need to provide more effective mechanisms to monitor and establish the authenticity of identity documents possibly by either using new technologies to make these documents more difficult to forge and more easy to verify and by making maximum and broader available use of existing or new law enforcement databases. The issue of European 'data protection' legislation is a major stumbling block and needs to be resolved to institute more efficient exchange of intelligence information between Europeans and U.S. officials.
  3. Countering Terrorist Finance
    More resources need to be expended in a more coordinated fashion on the financial front in the war on terrorism. Beyond the existing goal and efforts to deny terrorist groups access to the international system; to impair their ability to fund-raise in different theatres of operations; and to expose and incapacitate the financial networks used by terrorists, more focused coordination is needed. Better trained and multilingual financial analysts and accountants are crucial and closer-knit multi-agency coordination is vital to monitor the changing means and contours of terrorist finance flows as they provide vital intelligence leads about the way al-Qaeda's network is structured. It is a simple but true reality that terrorist finances flows far quicker in the international financial system than any law enforcement agency can react to. Operationally linking funds in one country with a terrorist crime in another is extremely difficult to prove in a court of law, let alone tracking the money in today's international financial system.

    Apart from countering terrorist financial transactions in its infinite constellations, there is a need to continue to re-focus the relationship between the global War on Drugs and the War on Terrorism. Accepting that trans-national organized crime and terrorism are two inextricably linked phenomena, every effort must be made to undermine the illicit drug trade. This drug (crime)/terror nexus has multiple consequences, the most dangerous of which is its ability to sustain areas of lawlessness… or "black holes." These areas, in which no state legitimacy or rule of law exist, are one of the foremost dangers to US security as it relates to international terrorism. This concern is outlined in President Bush's "National Strategy for Combating Terrorism" (February, 2003). However, black holes play an intricate part in every facet of the President's "4D" approach to CT (defeat, deny, diminish, & defend). If policy towards black holes is merely targeting at denying a base of operation for terrorist organizations, then this policy will remain weak.

    Areas such as the Golden Triangle in Southeast Asia contain multiple threats. Not only are they a safe-haven for international terrorists, they serve as a conduit for terrorist financing, a nexus in which organized crimes creates links between ideologically varied terrorist organizations, a conduit for weapons and WMD trafficking, and the socio-economic disadvantage often provides fertile recruitment ground.

    Black holes must be combated by active human intelligence and military presence in conjunction with local government, a comprehensive counter-narcotics strategy, local government institution building so that respective government can exert control over their rural areas, and finally a sustained humanitarian program to curb the fundamental catalysts for recruitment in these areas. It must be remembered that recruitment in black holes is often not the result of ideological adherence as opposed to economic sustenance. Equally, the ability for black holes to serve as 'communal gathering places' for varied terrorist organizations cannot be stressed enough. The cross-fertilization of resources and operational capacity is worrying in and of itself.

    Those American agencies that deal with organized crime and narcotics trafficking should be integrated into all possible CT operations. For example, all relevant agencies should (if not already) be incorporated in the Terrorist Threat Integration Center under the leadership of the DCI.

  4. An Intelligence-Led Approach Before Crime and Terrorism is Committed Investment in, and role of, intelligence is critical and first-line of defence against this multi-headed hydra. There needs to be investment and expanded resources in a more pro-active intelligence-led approach for both intelligence agencies and police before crimes and terrorism are committed. Towards these ends there is still further scope for states to improve intelligence-gathering, analysis and intelligence-sharing, specifically enhancing their individual humint capabilities and understanding of relevant languages and cultures. There needs to be a focus on actively pre-empting attacks rather than reacting to them, forcing the masterminds to devote attention to their own security than to attack planning and operations. More intelligence assistance and anti-training assistance needs to be provided for those states that are ill-equipped or lack the means to forge an effective response to local problems. The United States have provided much needed anti-terrorism assistance, alongside anti-riot techniques, to numerous North African and Arab regimes and beyond. However, European Union can provide additional assistance in this task in a more concerted global effort. A model to highlight in this respect is the commonality of interests as evidenced by past critical assistance provided by Great Britain and France to Iran in training and equipping local police and law enforcement in their interdiction efforts in the war on drug-trafficking from Afghanistan through Iranian territory. More emphasis on policing at the frontline is absolutely critical in the detection and interdiction level of terrorist suspects. In this respect, more focus needs to be expended on border security, especially in how these officers continuously adopt and refine their profiling and interviewing techniques of terrorist suspects. It is absolutely key in thinking outside the box about addressing adversaries who are familiar with our security and detection methods.
  5. The Procedure for Extradition of Suspects
    The European Common Arrest Warrant that comes into effect in 2004 is an important feature to overcome past tension between member states. However, there is possibly a need to negotiate an extradition convention between the EU and the United States that overcome the problematic issues of the death penalty and military courts.
  6. Assessing Terrorist Attack Modes
    A critical ingredient in relation to al-Qaeda in relation to CBRN is to understand the selection process in their attack mode. Analysing al-Qaeda's attack modes is difficult under the best conditions as they are extraordinarily unpredictable and versatile, using multiple suicide airborne-, land based and sea borne attack platforms and in a synchronised fashion. Aviation security has improved remarkably across the globe but much more can be improved as different airports apply diverse levels of anti-terrorism security measures. Al-Qaeda has shown an interest in portable SAM-missile systems and protection needs to be instituted to guard against this threat around major airports. The case of Richard Reid illustrates the weakness of the industry in thinking outside the box and in instituting comprehensive watertight security procedures and systems in terms of screening technology and in profiling and interviewing passengers. Equally, the maritime terrorist attack mode is an area that al-Qaeda has devoted substantial energy and resources to, not just identifying and developing attack modes against military-class vessels according to its internally developed maritime military manual but also against commercial tankers and possibly cruise-liners. It is very disturbing that al-Qaeda has already adopted gas or fuel tankers as a means of suicide terrorist missions and following the attack on the Tunisian island of Djerba it is likely that the success will be emulated in other terrorist operations.

    Understanding the psychological make-up of the terrorist and decision-making procedures in how they identify, gather intelligence on potential targets and select peculiar attack modes is urgently needed, to centrally collate lessons learnt from intelligence gathering from interrogations, military manuals and from identifying weaknesses in our own critical infrastructure. Instituting protection of our nuclear power stations, providing protection and security of chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear weapons against attack and theft whilst improving our overall response and resilience towards the use of these weapons is absolutely critical. Insufficient degrees of physical protection and security of chemical and biological facilities in the former Soviet Union and elsewhere, coupled with the availability of free-lance scientific expertise, increases the spectre of 'catastrophic' terrorism. There are worrying signs that al-Qaeda has explored avenues in Moldova and other adjacent areas for quantities of Cesium-137 and other radiological materials. A recent study in 2002 made by Booz, Allen & Hamilton reveal the consequences of a dirty bomb attack if it was to occur in downtown New York City. According to the study, 50gr of cesium chloride in Lower Manhattan would spread radioactive fallout over 60 blocks and the economic costs of relocation and lost revenue would reach $58 billion. From this hypothetical scenario, it is very clear this attack mode would appeal greatly to al-Qaeda as a cost-effective means to cause maximum disruption.

    To achieve cost-efficiency in terms of al-Qaeda attack mode there is naturally the spectre of hijacking planes to be used against Sellafield or La Hague nuclear processing plants. This type of catastrophic act has already been subject to a series of television documentaries highlighting the vulnerability of security surrounding these nuclear processing plants and the availability of blueprints publicly available for undertaking such an attack. While the British RAF has deployed rapid-reaction interception capabilities to counter any hijacked aircrafts, there is still a great degree of uncertainty about any willingness within the Cabinet Office to issue an order to intervene forcefully nor whether there would be enough time to intercept or issue any such orders.

    Another catastrophic spectre would be if al-Qaeda's maritime capability focused on attacking a liquefied natural gas tanker in any Western port. According to the Washington-based Maritime Intelligence Unit, such an attack would explode with a force of 0.7 Megatons - close to a thermonuclear device. As such, it remains paramount to ensure advanced security around port facilities to prevent this type of attack and to detect smuggling of CBRN agents, especially as al-Qaeda has expended significant energy on developing their maritime capabilities involving even the development of a mini submarine and human torpedo system.

    Even if al-Qaeda may be far away from succeeding in a major CBRN attack, it is very clear that the media will play a critical role in allaying the broader psychological effects for the public with or without major fatalities. It is still questionable whether there are sufficient contingency plans in coordinating public information between the public contingency offices in any country and major media outlets - yet the framework for this type of coordination will be absolutely critical in mitigating the effects of such attacks both in terms of dissemination of public advise and ensuring infrastructure and societal continuity.

  7. The Role of the Private-Sector/Public-Sector Partnership
    Having recognized the immediate benefit of implementing the Customs Trade Partnership Against Terrorism (CTPAT), counterterrorism policy must take further steps in expanding this ethos internationally while extending private-public cooperation at home. Recognizing the new tactic and targeting opportunities provided to terrorist organizations by 'globalization' and the importance of cross-border illicit smuggling, initiatives such as CTPAT must be included in any comprehensive international cooperation on terrorism. When the U.S. government takes part in any multilateral counterterrorist initiatives, a concerted effort to develop develop private-public partnerships is crucial. This is particularly true for countries that are in relatively initial phases of industrialization and growth in indigenous capital markets. It is here that the private sector can be easily exploited by terrorist organizations.An example of the benefit of promoting initiatives such as CTPAT to allies is seen in Southeast Asia. Currently, the U.S. government is actively engaged in the region in the form of multilateral efforts such as the current military exercises in the Southern Philippines to engage and destroy the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG). One of the greatest difficulties in this effort results from a combination of porous border crossings between Malaysia and the Philippines coupled with the geographic difficulties inherent in the Sulu Archipelago (with over 3,000 islands.

    This effort to expand the level of private-public cooperation is particularly crucial when considering the evolving targeting criteria of organizations such as Al-Qaeda. Private-public cooperation can do nothing other than assist the security interests of private corporations. Globalization has ushered in an increased desire to isolate and target softer economic assets. In recent years, not only has the targeting of economic soft targets resulted in fiscal damage, but also serves to highlight the vulnerability of symbols of American power and influence worldwide. For example the majority of Fortune 500 companies do not have adequate business continuity plans or crisis management strategies.

  8. Educational Reform & Addressing the Religious 'Incubators' of Extremism and Hatred
    Whether in the religious madrassas in Pakistan or the religious clerical-run schools in Saudi, the educational systems are largely in the hands of extremists who preach a message of religious hatred and jihad against the West. Critical reforms have been instituted in Pakistan but the problem remains in Saudi Arabia as it has created a generation without any transferable skills. Encouraging a reorganisation of Islamic education towards moderation and tolerance and away from extremism is a necessity while alternative forms of education be provided in Muslim societies, one that includes rather than excludes women. In fact harnessing the role of women through education and in society can constitute a powerful 'stealth' force against extremism and violence. Equally, more effort needs to be focused on the power and role of sports as a 'neutral' vehicle for social change as exemplified by Youth Sports Foyle in Ireland and the Sports For Good Foundation.
  9. Delegitimising Measures of 'Suicide-Bombings' & Religious Hatred
    The decentralised nature of authority within Islam makes it difficult to coordinate public relations campaigns to delegitimise terrorism and suicide-bombings. While many officially appointed clerics lack credibility among ordinary people as they are often seen to be co-opted by Arab governments, new global forums need to be created to impart effectively collective condemnation by clerics across religious faiths. At a time of uncertainty, the value of cross-cultural understanding and communication should be harnessed, promoting dialogues among and within civilisations that are politically, culturally and socially relevant especially relevant to young people. This may involve local initiatives as exemplified by the Yemeni initiative, 'sheikhs against terror' to counteract the appeal of extremism that resonates with the marginalized and disenfranchised, feeding upon stereotypes and prejudices. Perhaps worth considering is making suicide-bombings a crime against humanity for whatever purpose or cause.
  10. Targeting the Root Causes of Terrorism
    Among the first priorities must be to systematically develop more long-term policies aimed at reducing the systemic causes of political violence and terrorism, fuelled by social and economic pressures and fused with frustrated and unresolved political, ethnic and nationalist aspirations. This may involve providing innovative political pathways out of terrorism, engaging and gradually drawing them into a political process that specifically addresses political grievances of the terrorists' constituency (through secret dialogue or public platform) and that facilitates viable and face-saving exit strategies for terrorists out of their organisations through either symbolic decommissioning; amnesties or possibly eventual political participation. In some contexts, this may involve providing public space where conflict between adversaries can be discussed openly through third parties or on neutral territory to desensitise, defuse or even find common values and language. It also includes removing or reducing socio-economic grievances through policies that at least reduce the inclination to become engaged in political violence. As such, development assistance and aid, meeting the target of 0.7 percent of a developed state's GDP, needs to be distributed effectively with pre-conditions for better governance, transparent economic programmes and employment schemes for the young and disaffected to counteract the environment that provides opportunities for terrorists to recruit and generate support. These are formidable challenges with less visible immediate return. In the Middle East, the region has experienced a 'youth explosion' with little direct foreign investment and stagnant economic plans, it has been estimated that it would take the region an economic growth rate five times stronger than that of the United States to reverse the current situation. In the absence of a regional Marshall plan, perhaps more can be done by a partnership between the public and private sectors to begin to reverse the situation, especially as it is clear containment of the problem is a recipe for future disaster. Towards these ends, the United Nations needs to continue to reinvigorate new approaches and actions on tackling the root causes with greater urgency. It is imperative for the international community to continue reconstruction efforts in war-thorn countries and address early-on failing or failed states before they become the incubators of hatred and violence within and beyond their own societies. Equally the international community must be more innovative in resolving regional or local conflicts that nurture the environment in which terrorist recruits, flourishes and spreads.
  11. Public Diplomacy and the Role of the Media
    The global trend of anti-Americanism is a worrying sign about the failure to win the hearts and minds of many parts of the world. Among the root causes for these negative attitude is American policymakers perceived lack of empathy towards the disaffected, disenfranchised and victims in the developing world. The backlash against U.S. broader policies are not going to be easy to resolve especially following a potential future conflict with Iraq and the festering Israeli-Arab conflict. But there is an urgent need for U.S. policymakers to better explain why it does what it does around the world with more nuance and sophisticated messages. This entails addressing the foreign audiences at times in their local languages and more effectively harness the local media in Islamic countries. There is also a need to craft messages highlighting cultural overlaps between American values and those of the rest of the world. There should be greater emphasis on recognising and promoting assistance to alleviate poverty, discrimination, repression and despair while promoting a message of inter-civilisational harmony, not discord.

    Western media also must recognise their responsibility in responsible reporting as they become too easily convenient outlets for sowing the psychology of fear, amplifying the violence and extremist messages by Bin-Laden and al-Qaeda. The role of al-Jazeera is a case in hand where it has become an uncensored vehicle for distributing ideological and even indirect operational directives. Equally, it must be recognised that media plays an indirect role in target acquisition and in probing vulnerabilities of Western societies, especially the nodes of critical infrastructure protection. It may be prudent to question the wisdom of U.S. lawmakers to discuss details of Homeland Security in public, covered by continuous media broadcast. Similarly, media broadcasts have irresponsibly highlighted the vulnerability of critical infrastructure installations and, for example, the nightmare fallout following an attack on a nuclear processing plant. These are difficult questions to balance, between the public right to know and for purposes of education or simply providing new ideas to the innovative terrorist of new targets and attack modes. It may be noteworthy to mention that Dr Ayman Zawahiri noticed the so-called 'sugar-bag' experiment by a senior U.S. official in demonstrating the spectre of chemical weapons and the senior al-Qaeda leader ordered his military committee to probe ways to realise this methodology. Equally, Abu Zubayda in interrogations was ironically astonished that we in the West provided the terrorists with outstanding ideas about critical vulnerabilities in our infrastructure. As such in many ways the inevitable is likely to become reality and al-Qaeda and CBRN will sooner or later become a self-fulfilling prophesy.


The new terrorism represented by September 11th present special, new and urgent challenges to the West and the international community, especially to United States citizens whether at home or abroad. A fundamental first but critical step in the building on lessons learnt, cross-border cooperation, structures and strategy is a clear understanding of the requirements of the changing nature of the threat itself. It requires us to understand the critical importance of sustained multilateral cooperation and a more efficient inter-agency approach both nationally and collectively. Above all there is a need to 'think outside-the box' about the threat itself and about cohesive potential 'solutions', something that more extensively knits together the spectrum of instruments and capabilities from the counter-terrorism toolbox. International counter-terrorism collaboration, within a strategic framework, is more than ever needed to confront the new dangerous contours of the al-Qaeda and transnational terrorism. The United States has made significant inroads in re-addressing weaknesses but it cannot simply do this alone - if it does it will jeopardise our strategic chances of success. This is not a 'war' on terrorism - it is a ceaseless struggle that will and should remain at the heart of protecting the Homeland nationally and its interests abroad. More than ever it is critically necessary to prevent and pre-empt terrorist cells - otherwise September 11th will repeat itself with potentially higher levels of lethality. It is a testimony of the great strength of New York City and the American people to overcome but never forget. We owe it to the victims, their families and their country to be ever vigilant in the face of this evil.

Dr. Magnus Ranstorp is Lecturer in International Relations at the University of St Andrews, teaching courses on the Middle East, the role of political Islam in the contemporary Arab world as well as terrorism. He is also Deputy Director of the Centre for the Study of Terrorism and Political Violence at the University of St Andrews where he specialises on various dimensions of international terrorism and specifically the behaviour of militant Islamic movements in the Middle East and North Africa. He is author of Hizballah in Lebanon: The Politics of the Western Hostage Crisis (Macmillan 1996).

Dr. Ranstorp is also on the International Editorial Board of Studies in Conflict & Terrorism. He is currently writing a new book on the role and function of Hamas in the Palestinian Authority. Apart from having been a Visiting Fellow at the Harry S. Truman Institute for the Advancement of Peace at Hebrew University, he has interviewed at least 35 Hamas leaders and activists in Gaza, the West Bank and the outside leadership during the course of his research for the book.

Dr. Ranstorp has recently completed a study "Evaluating Hamas Interest in Unconventional Weapons Material" for the Monterey Institute of International Studies and is currently editing a major textbook on the changing face of terrorism with contributions from leading authorities in terrorism studies, to be published in early 2001.

Apart from his internationally recognized expertise on the Hizb'allah movement in Lebanon, Dr. Ranstorp has regularly provided lectures and briefings on Middle Eastern terrorism to academic, government and military audiences around the world. He also regularly briefs senior policymakers, diplomats and military officers throughout Europe and the Middle East on subjects relating to terrorism as well as broader Middle East political issues, specifically the avenues and prospects for an Israeli withdrawal from South Lebanon.

Dr. Ranstorp was formerly a foreign policy editorial writer for Dagens Nyheter, Sweden's largest daily newspaper, and a Visiting Fellow at the Swedish Institute of International Affairs.

Current News

The Commission has released its final report. [more]

The Chair and Vice Chair have released a statement regarding the Commission's closing. [more]

The Commission closed August 21, 2004. [more]

Commission Members

Thomas H. Kean

Lee H. Hamilton
Vice Chair

Richard Ben-Veniste
Fred F. Fielding
Jamie S. Gorelick
Slade Gorton
Bob Kerrey
John F. Lehman
Timothy J. Roemer
James R. Thompson

Commission Staff

Philip D. Zelikow
Executive Director

Chris Kojm
Deputy Executive Director

Daniel Marcus
General Counsel