Illusions of Terrorism and Counter-Terrorism

Nov 2, 2011

"It's time that we got ourselves out of this false sense of insecurity and realize that terrorism is here to stay, it will never pose an existential threat to this country, and the biggest threat it poses to us is that we will work ourselves into overreacting to the threat that it poses us."

Carnegie Council's U.S. Global Engagement program gratefully acknowledges the support for its work from the following: Alfred and Jane Ross Foundation, Donald M. Kendall, and Rockefeller Family & Associates.


DAVID SPEEDIE: I'm David Speedie, director of the program on U.S. Global Engagement here at the Carnegie Council. It's my great pleasure to introduce our distinguished guest this evening.

But first, let me make a confession. As many of you know, I am not a disinterested party to these proceedings. Just a few years ago—a few, but not enough to dim the memories—I spent seven marvelous years as a student and teacher at the great university of St. Andrews, which our guest this evening so ably leads.

Let me hasten to add, however, it was a very different university in those days. When I was there, it was 2,400 students, as I recall, basically studying liberal arts and divinity. If you wanted to do such esoteric subjects as engineering or law, you had to cross the Firth of Tay at Dundee, for anything applied, as it were.

St. Andrews now is home to more than 7,000 students, including a healthy percentage from the United States. It is consistently ranked among the top handful of universities in the UK in all the independent surveys taken, akin to our U.S. News and World Report. It's in the top 20 in the world for arts and humanities. And most importantly, surely, it is ranked first of all in Britain for student satisfaction.

The university boasts a host of research centers in everything from art history to international relations. In the latter area, these include centers for peace and conflict studies, global constitutionalism, religion and politics, terrorism, and political violence. So this ancient university, the third-oldest in the UK, is a thoroughly modern leader among seats of learning.

And ancient, by the way, is fairly literal here. As you'll see from your program, in 2013 St. Andrews will celebrate its 600th anniversary. We at the Council are coming up on 100, so we have a ways to go.

As for our speaker, Professor Louise Richardson became principal and vice chancellor of St. Andrews in 2009. Immediately prior to this, she served for seven and a half years as executive dean of the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard University, and was really instrumental in the transformation of Radcliffe into an interdisciplinary center promoting scholarship across a wide range of academic fields and the creative arts.

She has brought that leadership philosophy very much, I think, to St. Andrews. She has put it simply thus: "To recruit the best scholars, the best students, and to create the best environment for them to do their work."

Just one thing bothered me in reading Louise's introduction to St. Andrews. It said that, even some time after going there, she had had no time for a stroll. I hope that has changed, because St. Andrews has a great stroll. Stroll to the end of the pier. It's a great experience.

Louise Richardson is, perhaps first and foremost, a teacher. She taught Harvard's large undergraduate lecture course, "Terrorism Movements in International Relations," and for this she won the Levenson Prize awarded by the undergraduate student body to the best teachers at the university.

She is a prolific author, and she has rightly been described as a bold thinker. This is reflected in her published works, among which are What Terrorists Want: Understanding the Enemy, Containing the Threat; The Roots of Terrorism; and When Allies Differ: Anglo-American Relations in the Suez and Falkland Crises.

Her academic focus, therefore, is international terrorism. Her talk this evening is on "Illusions of Terror."

While she's here with us just after the tenth anniversary of 9/11, I should note that her scholarship and bold thinking long predate that fateful date in New York and American history.

Please join me in welcoming Professor-Principal Louise Richardson.


LOUISE RICHARDSON: Thank you very much, David. Good evening to you all, and thank you for coming out on this very Scottish day to hear this very grim topic.

My plan is to talk about "Illusions of Terrorism and Counter-Terrorism." I do so with a little trepidation in this town at this time.

I should also warn you that we've got about an hour, so I will endeavor to be brief to leave as much time for discussion as possible. But I should warn you, having been trained as an academic, I speak in 50-minute increments. I will try very hard not to in this instance.

First of all, just to be clear, what do I mean "terrorism"? So rather than spending any time debating all of this, let me simply say that I see terrorism as the deliberate targeting of noncombatants for a political purpose. That's what I mean when I talk about terrorism. So it's the ends that a group uses, and not the means that they are trying to achieve, that determines whether or not a group is a terrorist group.

I think unless and until we are willing and able to declare a group whose goals we consider deliberate but who deliberately target civilians to achieve those goals a terrorist group, we are actually never going to forge international collaboration against terrorism.

I think that for far too long we have been reluctant to label a group a terrorist group if we actually liked what they were trying to achieve. My argument is that it doesn't matter what they are trying to achieve; if they deliberately target civilians to try and achieve it, we should consider them terrorists.

So terrorism, then, is simply a tactic. It's a tactic employed by many different groups in many parts of the world in pursuit of a whole range of objectives.

My own view, although we won't talk much about that, is that it makes no more sense to declare war on the tactic of terrorism than it does on any other tactic, like precision-guided bombing or what have you.

And I am absolutely convinced that when the history of this decade is written, the declaration of war on terrorism will be seen to have been a colossal mistake.

In my book on this subject, I argue that in this period we made two major mistakes and missed two opportunities. The two mistakes were the declaration of war on terror, and the second was the conflation of our enmity with Saddam Hussein and our enmity with Osama bin Laden.

The two opportunities I think we missed were the opportunity to mobilize the international community behind us and the opportunity to educate the American public about the nature of terrorism and about the nature of risk. I will talk more about that.

Let me simply assert what I take to be some of the illusions of terrorism and counter-terrorism. There are a great many, but I will speak of three. So three illusions of terrorism:

    • The first illusion, I think, is that we can remake the world.

    • The second is that democracies are decadent and will cave.

    • The third is that the masses will rise up to support us.

Then I will talk a little about three illusions of counter-terrorism.

First of all, on terrorism, what do terrorists want? One of the problems of giving a book a catchy title like that is that people, not unreasonably, expect you to have an answer. I, at least, have an argument.

The leaders of terrorist groups, I think, believe they can remake the world. They have broad political objectives, and they have been singularly unsuccessful in achieving those objectives. We are no closer to a caliphate today than we were ten years ago.

But if you look at the more immediate motives of terrorists, they have actually been far more successful in achieving these. What I mean by the more immediate or secondary motives are what—at the risk of oversimplification for the sake of alliteration—I call the Three R's: revenge, renown, and reaction. That's actually what I think drives terrorists.

It's not the desire to remake the world—they cannot remake the world; they have invariably failed to do so—but they have been pretty successful in exacting revenge, in gaining renown for themselves, and in provoking us into reacting, preferably overreacting, to them. I am more than happy to speak at greater length on all of that.

So terrorists have this illusion that they can remake the world. They are wildly optimistic and invariably wrong about the impact that they will have.

Where they have success in exacting vengeance, achieving renown, and provoking a reaction, is because we concede it to them. It's our actions that provide the revenge, the renown, and the opportunity for reaction.

The second illusion of terrorists is that democratic governments are decadent and corrupt, and that we will cave in the face of a terrorist assault. It's really quite extraordinary. And again, they have singularly failed in achieving this. But time and again bin Laden wrote that he thought that because we had withdrawn from Somalia, because we had previously withdrawn in the face of attack, democracies would simply withdraw in the face of a powerful attack.

Now, they failed to realize that in fact democracies historically are very slow to go to war, but democracies are very, very slow to come out of wars. Most wars last far longer, and certainly wars in which democracies are involved have lasted far longer, than an objective assessment of the interests of the belligerents would warrant. They have done so because once a democratic populace is aroused, they tend to be quite unwilling to back off.

So Osama bin Laden actually thought that in his action he would eliminate U.S. interests from the Middle East, or U.S. involvement and influence in the Middle East. In fact he succeeded in greatly intensifying it, for better or for worse.

The third illusion of terrorists is that the masses will rise up in support of them. This has, again, turned out not to be the case. We've all borne witness to the Arab Spring, in which bin Laden and al-Qaeda have been completely sidelined; they have been entirely absent from the Arab Spring.

So, in fact, precisely because of the inability of bin Laden to articulate a positive message, his message is one of murder and violence. Terrorists, like most revolutionaries, are so much more loquacious and so much more eloquent in describing the inequities of the system that they are trying to overthrow than in describing the benefits of the new world they are trying to create. And frankly, it's pretty hard to get large numbers of people to support you in a negative message, and they have singularly failed to do that.

So those are three of the illusions of terrorists.

But I do think that there is a shared illusion between terrorists and counter-terrorists, and that is the illusion that our virtue is self-evident, that right-minded people will side with us.

We in the West tend to think of terrorists as being depraved and immoral. But in fact, when you speak to terrorists—and I used to do this quite a lot—I never met a terrorist who didn't believe passionately in the morality of his cause and the immorality of his enemy.

They go to great efforts to justify their actions. The whole business of issuing fatwahs, what is that but an effort to provide legitimacy for their actions? When you go on terrorist websites, when you read their literature, they spend a great deal of time arguing the legitimacy of their case, because they actually believe it.

We, on the other hand, of course, think our virtue is self-evident and we have been the victim—we know that we have been the victim—of an atrocity, and therefore feel that any right-minded person will side with us.

But we have completely failed to appreciate what it is like to be at the receiving end of the policies of the most powerful country in the history of the planet. So, rather than try to persuade people throughout the Middle East that in fact we are the good guys, we have taken it as a given, and we have missed an opportunity to provide a compelling narrative to potential supporters in the Middle East.

So that's an illusion that both terrorists and counter-terrorists face.

Also, terrorists and counter-terrorists share a particular perspective—and this was particularly so in this country several years ago—and that is a highly over-simplified view of the world. If there's one thing that terrorists—no matter what their ideological hue, no matter what their political objectives, no matter where in the world they are operating—they have a highly over-simplified view of the world. They see the world in black-and-white terms, good and evil—and they are the good guys, of course.

It seems to me in the first years after September 11 we tended to mirror our adversary by responding in these highly over-simplified, Manichean terms as well—"if you're not with us you're against us," "this is simply evil incarnate." Over time, we have acquired some nuance, and it is imperative for successful counter-terrorism policy that it be nuanced.

Let me now quickly turn to what I take to be the illusions of the counter-terrorist—that is to say, ourselves. I'll speak mostly on this.

To me one of the great tragedies of the past several years is that we singularly failed to learn the lessons that were widely available to us. We were so convinced that our situation was unique, that there was nothing we could learn from anybody else, whereas, in fact, democracies have been countering terrorism for a long time, and governments have been countering terrorism for about 2,000 years. There were many lessons available to us that we chose to ignore.

Now, I would say when I say "us," I mean the United States here. In this way I think we behaved just like other democracies.

One of the iron laws of counter-terrorism is that governments get better at it over time, but that governments never learn from other people's mistakes. They learn from their own mistakes, never from others.

It was a terrible shame, and many lives have been lost because of our unwillingness to learn from the mistakes of others. We simply repeated them.

The first great mistake—and there was overwhelming evidence to indicate that this was a mistake—is to believe that military force can defeat terrorism.

There have certainly been instances in which military force has defeated terrorism—most recently in Sri Lanka with the LTTE [Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam], previously Turkey with the PKK [Kurdistan Worker's Party]—but, for the most, part military defeat of terrorism has meant violation of human rights on a scale that is entirely incompatible with democratic government. Yes indeed, Chile, Brazil, Argentina—they all successfully defeated terrorist movements by military force; but only by replacing terrorism from below with terrorism from on high.

This is not to say that military force doesn't have a role in countering terrorism. It does.

As you probably can detect from my accent, I spent some time in Ireland and paid a lot of attention to terrorist movements there. Thirty thousand British troops, the best and most professional trained troops in the world, were not able to beat about 400 members of the IRA [Irish Republican Army] over a period of 30 years.

Now, they did have a role. They could fight the IRA to a stalemate; they could prove to the IRA that they couldn't win militarily. So they could fight them to a stalemate and then allow space for dialogue and political involvement, but the military couldn't defeat the IRA.

Interestingly enough, the first people to point this out are the military. In 1976 the general in command of the British forces in Northern Ireland wrote a paper saying, "You've got this all wrong. These aren't just a bunch of thugs here. This is actually a political conflict. As long as our troops are on the ground, we're going to be fighting this, and we can't win it."

The IRA, which had pretty good intelligence at the time, actually found a copy of this report and publicized it, much to the embarrassment of the British government and the general, because the politicians didn't want to hear this. They could not believe that this extraordinarily efficient professional army couldn't beat this bunch of thugs. But they couldn't.

Painfully, over the past several years, gradually the same conclusion is dawning on us: that—notwithstanding the fact that we are infinitely more powerful than the terrorists who confront us—we simply cannot beat them militarily, because ultimately they pose a political, not a military, threat.

By definition, terrorists are weak. Nobody wants to be a terrorist. If you've got a wide base of support, you are going to launch a guerrilla army. If you've got a really wide base of support, you are going to launch a conventional army. By definition, terrorists are people who lack support. They are small groups completely outmanned and outgunned by their opponents. So they use extreme tactics to enhance the impact of their action.

But military force isn't going to defeat them, not at least if you want to maintain some respect for human rights.

The other illusion of counter-terrorism—and, again, I say this in a little bit of trepidation in this town—and I've been saying it for years, and I used to get into a huge amount of trouble for saying it—terrorism does not pose an existential threat to us. Never has. Never will.

We have greatly exaggerated this threat, completely forgetting that what we are actually facing is a bunch of extremists living under the sponsorship of one of the poorest governments on the planet.

We have also tended to believe that, again, this is a new situation. As I say, terrorism isn't new; it has been around at least since the first century after Christ, or that's the first documented case.

It is also not the case that there is anything peculiar about Islam and terrorism. We've had Catholic terrorists, like the IRA or the ETA [Basque separatist group] in Spain. We've had Jewish terrorists, like the Stern Gang. We've had Hindu terrorists, like the Thuggee. Most commonly, you have atheist terrorists, like the social revolutionary movements in Europe in the 1970s. You've got secular terrorists, like the PKK. And of course you have Islamic terrorists. But to assume that there is some particular and unique connection between Islam and terrorism is simply an illusion.

But the other myth or illusion that I want to challenge—before I say that, let me just give you a few statistics on the terrorism threat this country has faced over the past decade.

We've had 32 terrorist plots in the United States in the past ten years. Only ten of these had anything remotely resembling an operational plan. Six of them were FBI [Federal Bureau of Investigation] sting operations. Three of them got as far as carrying out an attack. One of these was intercepted. So in the past ten years we've had two attacks, each carried out by a a lone gunman.

Compare this to the 1970s. In the 1970s there were about 60 terrorist bombings a year in this country. In the 1970s, the first eight years of the decade, 72 people were killed in this country by terrorists.

And yet we act as if this is an existential threat.

At the time of 9/11, intelligence estimates were that there were about 5,000 al-Qaeda operatives in the United States. Looking back, Mayor Giuliani later reflected, and I'm quoting him: "We were looking at dozens and dozens and multi years of attacks like this, and yet there was absolutely no evidence that we were facing anything like a threat on this scale."

The final illusion I want to talk about is the more we spend, the safer we are.

If you look at the expenditures on homeland security over the past decade, they are staggering. On domestic homeland security, we spent about $360 billion; on federal national intelligence counter-terrorism, we spent $110 billion; on state, local, and private security, we spent $220 billion.

According to a new book [Terror, Security and Money: Balancing the Risks, Benefits, and Costs of Homeland Security] by John Mueller and Mark Stewart, the increase in expenditure on domestic homeland security in the past decade exceeds $1 trillion—that's trillion with a T.

Now, this doesn't count the wars in Afghanistan or Iraq or our engagement in Pakistan. President Obama estimates that we spent $1 trillion (with a T) on these wars. A recent study by Brown University estimates the figure at $3.7 trillion.

So these are staggering amounts of money in a fairly brief period of time. Now, they're so large that it's very hard to grasp them.

One anecdote that captures it for me was pointed out by Paul Theroux, that the U.S. military spends over $20 million every year on air conditioning for our personnel in Iraq and Afghanistan. That gives you just some sense of the scale of the money that we are spending.

Now, as I said, the whole point of terrorism is for the psychological impact to be greater than the physical act, because terrorists are so much weaker than their opponents. Actually, that's really why terrorism is here to stay, and it's why terrorism works so well in a democracy, because they can use the press to make themselves look more powerful, and politicians are so happy to see a threat and rise to the bait.

Mueller and Stewart have estimated that if you were to use conventional risk analysis practices, the enhanced expenditures on domestic homeland security that we have spent would have to have deterred or foiled 1,667 terrorist attacks, or four a day, in the decade since 9/11, on the scale of the kind of operation that was planned in Times Square.

Now, I've just spent the last couple of days in New York and have been getting slightly frustrated every time we spend five or ten minutes at the bottom of every building trying to get in, buildings which nobody has the remotest interest in damaging.

So again, to warrant the kinds of expenditures in defending the buildings which we all walk in and out of every day, the risk to them would need to be 1,000 times greater than it is by using any sort of conventional means of risk analysis.

Counter-terrorism, and in particular homeland security, simply has come to consist of contemplating the consequence of a terrorist attack and completely ignoring the probability of that attack. So risk assessment seems to become a process of identifying a possible potential source of harm and then trying to do something about it, without evaluating whether the new means actually reduce the risk sufficiently—or at all—to justify the cost.

One example we're all familiar with is last year the Department of Homeland Security began deploying full-body scanners at our airports. This is a technology that is going to cost $1.2 billion a year. But if any of you have seen any evidence that there has ever been a study of what the likely reduction in threat will be as a result of this new technology, I'd love you to show it to me, because I've searched for it, and Mueller and Stewart have searched for it, and there appears to have been none.

Now, obviously, some tactics would appear to work. Hardening cockpit doors, for example, is a relatively cost-efficient means of enhancing security. But deploying air marshals on planes, is that really likely to enhance our security?

Part of the thinking that we have worked ourselves into is thinking in relative terms rather than assessing absolute risk.

So yes, it is the case that New York is more likely to be hit by a terrorist attack than Des Moines, Iowa. But it is also more likely that New York will be hit by a tsunami than Des Moines, Iowa. And yet we don't spend any money trying to protect ourselves from a tsunami in New York because the probability is so low. And the probability of a terrorist attack is very low. So we exaggerate the threat and the likelihood of an attack, and we simply have been ignoring the cost.

Now, part of the problem, of course, is a political one. If a politician supports expensive counter-terrorism measures, he can never been proven wrong. If there is no attack, then it's because they spent all that money preventing it. If there is an attack, too bad; they should have spent more money, just like he wanted. On the other hand, if a politician wants to limit expenditures, they can never be proven right, because if there is ever an attack, it will be their fault. So who's going to do it?

We probably remember when John Kerry was running for president back in 2004 he made the statement saying that, "We want to get to a point where terrorism is simply a nuisance." He was excoriated in the press and backtracked ferociously immediately.

A few years later, Mayor Bloomberg was the first politician, I think, to have the courage to say, as you probably remember, "Get a life. We are not likely to be attacked by a terrorist."

In fact, anyone outside a war zone has a 1 in 85,000 chance of being killed by a terrorist over an 80-year period. So any one of us in this room, if we live to be 80 years old, the odds that we will be killed by a terrorist are 1 in 85,000.

The Christmas bomber caused a lot of fuss. People stopped flying. We thought this was more evidence that we were under attack. But what nobody pointed out was that when that attack took place this was one terrorist incident for every 16.5 million flights on American airlines in the previous decade. And yet people stopped flying.

So we spend about $10 billion a year on airline security. The real issue is: What if we were spending that money on something else? If we spent the money on seat belts, we would save one life for every $40,000 we spent. If we spent the money on bicycle helmets for children, we would save a life for every $120,000 we spent. If we spent $10 billion a year on expanding immunizations for children in Africa, we would be saving millions of lives.

So the real impact of terrorism is a psychological impact. We have risen to the bait. Terrorists deliberately try to provoke governments to overreact. Governments, including our own, have obliged. And we as a population have lulled ourselves into a false sense of insecurity.

We have engaged in two wars to protect ourselves from terrorism, with tens of thousands of casualties as a result—4,400-and-something American deaths in Iraq; 1,800-and-something in Afghanistan; and tens of thousands of others. And yet, has that made us safer? Do we feel safer?

And is the question, "Are we safer?" or should the question really be, "Is the increase in safety worth the cost, and what are the opportunity costs of the money that we have spent on homeland security, on having half-a-dozen men checking everybody who goes into every building in this city?"

So the real cost is actually the opportunity cost, what this money might have been spent on and how better a world it might be if it had been spent in other ways.

I'll end with this. I should have prefaced by saying in my haste not to speak for 50 minutes I'm being deliberately provocative and not giving all the arguments I would usually give in a classroom to support some of the controversial things I am saying.

But anyway, it seems to me that the further we are from 9/11, the more incumbent it is on us as citizens to ask questions of our leaders and to insist on rational explanations for the expenditures that we are making.

We need to inform ourselves, because it's clear that our leadership has absolutely failed to inform us, about the nature of risk. And remember, the fact that one improbable event happened, as it did in this city on 9/11, does not increase the probability that another improbable event will happen.

Mayor Bloomberg, when he said, "Get a life," said, "You're as likely to be hit by lightning as killed by a terrorist." That isn't entirely statistically accurate, but it's pretty close. The accurate figure is one in 85,000 over 80 years.

Given that, I think it's time that we got ourselves out of this false sense of insecurity and realize that terrorism is here to stay, it will never pose an existential threat to this country, and the biggest threat it poses to us is that we will work ourselves into overreacting to the threat that it poses us.

With that, let me end and invite you to disagree with everything I've said.

Questions and Answers

QUESTION: James Starkman.

How would you define the difference between a freedom fighter and a terrorist? For example, was the Haganah a terrorist organization or a freedom fighter? And could the IRA have been considered an independence-promoting organization?

And secondly, in a nuclear age, isn't there a remote possibility of an existential threat to all of us if a nuclear weapon fell into terrorist hands?

On the first point first, we've all heard the adage, "One man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter." I don't believe that. I think if you simply take the defining characteristic, deliberately targeting noncombatants to achieve a political purpose, you can separate out.

The IRA, for example, I have no hesitation in saying, were a terrorist movement. The IRA in Northern Ireland for 30 years deliberately planted bombs to kill civilians. It's a completely separate matter whether I agree with what they were trying to achieve or not. It seems to me that the early IRA, in the early part of the 20th century, when they killed exclusively British military and intelligence officials were not a terrorist group. So if they deliberately target noncombatants, it doesn't matter what they are trying to achieve.

Now, "freedom fighter" has a very positive connotation, and "terrorist" has a very pejorative one. But it seems to me definitionally no terrorist is a freedom fighter, because the basic freedom is a right to life, the freedom to live; and terrorists, by randomly choosing victims, are denying that to people randomly. So no, I believe one can distinguish between a terrorist and a freedom fighter.

On the nuclear weapons, yes, there is a remote possibility that terrorists would get hold of nuclear weapons. What do we do about that? Surely the thing to do is to secure our nuclear weapons facilities. It seems to me that that is money very well spent and that we should continue to spend it.

But we don't have to whip ourselves into a frenzy thinking that Saddam Hussein is going to give nuclear weapons to Osama bin Laden. That was always a preposterous notion. Anybody who knew anything about Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein knew that they actually loathed one another. They were sworn enemies of one another long before either one of them were enemies of ours. So the idea that a state would give a terrorist access to nuclear weapons is just so completely inconceivable, I don't think that's the threat.

The threat is we do need to ensure that there are no loose nukes. Whether it's a terrorist or a state or anybody else, we need to protect against loose nukes, and that I think is money eminently well spent.

QUESTION: James Whitcomb.

When we capture terrorist suspects, should we process them through the criminal justice system or the military justice system?

LOUISE RICHARDSON: This is a really tough one.

I think, we all know, President Obama came into office planning to handle this issue very, very differently than President Bush, and has ended up handling it in a fairly identical way to President Bush. I think that speaks to just how difficult an issue this is.

My overwhelming preference is to treat them in the civilian courts, to treat them as criminals. Terrorists consider themselves soldiers. They often give themselves military titles, they affect military standing, they affect military discipline. They want to consider themselves soldiers. I think we should deny them absolutely anything they want. So I'd much rather treat them as the murderous criminals that they are rather than treat them in a military fashion, which I think just gives them more credence.

Now I will say, recognizing the difficulties President Obama has in dealing with Guantanamo and so on, sometimes it looks like it may not be possible. But I would hope that we would treat every prisoner, irrespective of where we got that prisoner, in such a way that we would not be afraid of putting them in front of a criminal court.

David Hunt.

Professor Richardson, it's certainly true that we have spent untold millions and billions of dollars on terrorism, and perhaps al-Qaeda is spent. But if suddenly you are appointed yourself to replace Ray Kelly and actually responsible for the security of the City of New York, would you pull back all the people that he has around the Middle East in terms of gathering intelligence? How would you act, based on what you know now about being operationally responsible for the security of this city?

LOUISE RICHARDSON: It does seem to me the single most important weapon in counter-terrorism is good intelligence. Again, the evidence for that is overwhelming.

I'll just give you one anecdote to illustrate this, the case of the Shining Path in Peru. The Shining Path is a brutal terrorist movement led by an academic and it killed tens of thousands of people—it's hard to say how many were killed by the terrorists, and how many were killed by the Peruvian government and the Peruvian military trying to stamp them out.

The problem continued to escalate, more and more deaths, until the Peruvian government established an intelligence unit within the police force. It was a 70-man intelligence unit within the police force. Their job was to study the Shining Path and find out as much information as they could about the organization.

It didn't take long for them to figure out this organization had an Achilles heel: It was completely dependent on this one charismatic leader, Abimael Guzman.

So then they, through old-fashioned police work, said, "Let's find out everything humanly possible about Abimael Guzman." And they did. They actually found out that he had an unusual skin condition.

So then they tracked down every prescription for the treatment for this skin condition in Peru, and as a result of this old-fashioned police work, managed to capture Guzman and a coterie of his henchmen in an apartment in Peru and basically decapitated that movement. So 70 intelligence policemen did what tens of thousands of the military couldn't do.

So I would pour my money into intelligence, and intelligence within the communities. I think it's imperative that we ensure that the communities in which terrorists are likely to breed are loyal to the state. Our best sources of intelligence are in fact the communities in which terrorists try to recruit.

So if we treat them as enemies, if we treat them as suspect, they are not going to hand over the people in their midst who might be a danger to us. So I think it is imperative that we treat all our minorities well enough that they will feel loyal to this country and hand in anybody in their community.

The other difficulty, of course, is in the prisons, because prisons are becoming a place where people are becoming radicalized. Again, I think I would be pouring some money into the prisons to provide alternative narratives to radicalization of the prisoners.

QUESTION: John Rosen.

As someone who has followed this for so long, I wonder, looking out, projecting out a little bit, if I could bring two things up.

One is a new book by the head of the Gallup organization, Jim Clifton, about the coming jobs war. He talks about a global jobs war, where already we're on the verge of somewhere between 1.5 and two billion people, mostly young, who do not think they will ever have a so-called good job. We know in places like Afghanistan and others that an awful lot of those people who became fighters and terrorists were in that.

On the other point, look at the Middle East and the results of the Arab Awakening. Look at a country like Yemen, running out of water, running out of oil, population doubling—everything going wrong that could possibly go wrong.

What are the projections when you look out at this, how much should we be worried about those kinds of trends thinking ahead, and what it could mean in terms of terrorists, not necessarily here but around the world?

LOUISE RICHARDSON: Again, if you look historically, the most combustible combination is a large unemployed population of young males. But actually it's young males who have received an education. It's not the people who are destitute. It's areas where expectations have risen because people have an education. This was emphatically the case in Peru, but by no means solely there.

I worry very much about the Middle East. If you look at a country like Egypt, where 90 percent of the unemployed have never had a job, and I believe 75 percent of the unemployed are very young. If you have people who have been educated, who are capable and have expectations, and yet you have an economy that can't absorb them, that is a truly combustible combination. These are the people who tend to be recruited by terrorist groups. It's not people struggling, who are starving.

Ted Gurr in 1970 wrote a book called Why Men Rebel. He wasn't thinking particularly of terrorism, but I think it provides a wonderful—explanation is too strong a word—argument to explain rebellion. What he says there is, it's not your objective conditions that drive you to rebellion, but it's your conditions relative to people that you compare yourself with.

I'm a mother of three children, which may be why I find this explanation so plausible. For the parents amongst you, I used to describe this theory to my students as saying: Look, I have three kids. If I were to go home tonight, my three kids were at home, and I walk in the door and say, "Hi, guys," they might look up from video games, books, or whatever it is they're doing.

If I go home and bring three nice New York T-shirts and give each of my children a nice T-shirt from New York, they would say, "Gee, Mom, thanks very much, you should go to New York more often, that's very nice."

But if I went home tonight and brought a nice big warm hoodie which I gave to my son, and gave my two daughters a T-shirt, I would have two furious daughters. They'd say, "You're so unfair, that is so unfair, he gets a hoodie and we get a T-shirt, you're mean, you're nasty, that's unfair."

Their objective condition is better than if they got nothing. It's no different if all three of them got a T-shirt. And yet, in this instance, they're furious.

That's the essence of relative deprivation. It's not your objective conditions of poverty, but your conditions relative to others.

With the global media, if you are living in a Palestinian refugee camp, you're not comparing yourself to people in another Palestinian refugee camp; you're comparing yourself to the Israelis nearby with satellite television.

Increasingly, our wealth is broadcast around the world and will generate resentment. So I think it is absolutely in our security interest to assist in the economic development of these countries to the best of our ability.

QUESTION: Anthony Faillace.

I couldn't agree more. I've never said that before when I've asked a question, but I think it was a fabulous talk.

My question is: How does the political culture change? How do you get people to get more rational about the risks that they are incurring and the costs that they are expending? Because if you bring it forward, people act like you're a lunatic. If I suggested that to one of the presidential candidates, they'd say, "But I'll lose the election if I talk like that." Are there examples of other countries where the political culture has changed, where there is a more enlightened debate about the actual risk and return in all of this?

Yes. Two things.

We are in a democracy, and we are entitled to expect our leaders to lead. If they are worthy of our vote, they should lead.

I would just love to see it tested. I would love to see a presidential candidate get up there and say, "Wait a minute. Let's look at the risk. Let's look at the odds."

If you look at a few cases—President Ronald Reagan actually pulled troops out after the bombing in Lebanon. He made some loud noises for a couple of days but actually did very little.

There have been several instances. Similarly, President Clinton pulled the troops out of Somalia. He made lots of loud noises for a few days but actually did very little.

I would just love to see somebody with the guts to actually stand up and say, "Guys, let's look at this, let's really look at it. Is it worth spending this kind of money?"

Now, on your point about other countries, yes. If you look at Canada, if you look at the UK, they spend far less as a percentage on security than we do. And certainly a country like the UK is far more vulnerable than we are, just given the demographics of some of the cities in the UK. We tend to be most vulnerable to external terrorists; they are much more vulnerable to internal terrorists. And yet they tend to react in a much more matter-of-fact way.

I forget where I was when the London bombing took place. But Tony Blair was up in Scotland attending a summit at Gleneagles. I remember seeing him on the television that morning. I thought, That is exactly how a democratic leader should respond to a terrorist attack. He talked about crime scenes. He was very calm. He said, "We will bring these people to justice." He very calmly said, "They will have to appreciate that our commitment to our values is a lot stronger than their desire to hurt us." I actually thought it was extraordinary.

However, he then went down to London and clearly, civil servants were then writing his speeches for him, and he sounded like just every other democratic leader, being full of hyperbole and so on.

But in fact other countries do spend an awful lot less than we do, and the threat is at least as great.

Can you give us a sense of order of magnitude of these countries? Is it a quarter,or is it half, per capita?

LOUISE RICHARDSON: I'm not confident in my figures, but I would say we probably spend four times more per head. I'm not confident in that figure. But it's very significant.

QUESTION: Louise, with the Mexican cartels bleeding terrorism over our borders as well as their own, should we be focusing our efforts geographically on a country like that, that literally butts up to ours and truly bleeds all of that into our country? Is that something we should be focusing on?

LOUISE RICHARDSON: This is beyond my expertise. I don't see the Mexican cartels as terrorists. That doesn't mean I see them as good guys. I don't. I see terrorists as people who have a political motive. It seems to me the Mexican drug cartels are interested in money.

Your counter-policy is very different depending on somebody's motive. If somebody's desire is money, the counter-policy is to deny them money. If somebody is looking for a political objective, the person has no interest in money and is willing, as many terrorists are, to blow themselves up to achieve a cause; it requires an entirely different response.

But if you assume that the Mexican drug cartels are rational actors trying to maximize their income, I think that requires a different policy than a counter-terrorist one.

But as to what U.S. government policy should be on the Mexican cartels, that is beyond my expertise.

QUESTION: Tova Usdan.

I wonder if you would apply your analysis to Hezbollah and Hamas. Are they terrorists?

I think yes.

Hezbollah is a complex organization. I think it is a terrorist organization; but it is also a political party, it's also a mass movement. So yes. I'm a political scientist, so I like to see things in boxes, and the world is a messy place, but Hezbollah, in my mind, absolutely has a terrorist wing.

The same thing for Hamas. Hamas has become a government, a political party, but indeed when they send weapons across borders to kill Israeli civilians, those are terrorist acts.

Now, that doesn't mean necessarily that one shouldn't deal with them. It was only when Britain dealt with the IRA that they were able to bring about an end to the conflict of Northern Ireland.

The former chief of staff of the IRA was, until about two or three weeks ago, a very, very good—in fact, probably the best ever—minister for education Northern Ireland ever had. Tomorrow he's standing for president of the Republic of Ireland. It is certainly the case that some terrorist leaders become political leaders subsequently.

So the fact that somebody is a terrorist group doesn't necessarily mean one shouldn't treat with them. I think it depends entirely upon what it is the terrorist group is trying to achieve.

If they have a political objective, then you can negotiate. If their goal is to bring about the caliphate, if their goal is—there are plenty of people in this room old enough to remember the 1970s, when you had Baader-Meinhof, Action Directe, the Red Brigade—their goal was to overthrow capitalism. You can't negotiate that goal. But if a group has a political goal, I think you can.

The question of Hamas, of course, is: Are they a political movement or a religious movement? If you read their literature, it implies they are a religious movement. If you look at their actions, it suggests to me that they are entirely political.

QUESTION: Richard Horowitz.

You've emphasized that you have to look at the political motivation of the group to determine if it is a terrorist group. What, in your opinion, is the political motivation of al-Qaeda?

LOUISE RICHARDSON: My argument there is that we have primary and secondary motives. The motive of the leadership, the primary political objective, appears to be to bring about the caliphate. What I think they really want is a base of operation in the Middle East.

Their goals have changed over time. Initially, the goal was to take over Saudi Arabia. Over time, the Israeli-Palestinian issue became much more of an issue in al-Qaeda statements, and it seemed to me that that was just a very pragmatic approach to try to garner more support.

The notion of a caliphate is preposterous. So what I think motivates their foot soldiers, if you like, are what I call these "Three R's":

    • The desire to exact vengeance for some wrong either committed against them; or, more often, the broader group with which they identify;

    • I think they are motivated by a desire for glory, to redress the humiliation they believe themselves to have suffered at our hands; and

    • Thirdly, they want to provoke a reaction because they are weak, and the bigger the reaction they provoke, the stronger they appear to be. So when you have the most powerful countries in the history of the world declare war on this ramshackle bunch, you're elevating their stature to a degree of which they could have only dreamt. They could never have done that for themselves.

So while the leadership talks about political motive, I think the foot soldiers are much more motivated by these more immediate concerns.

DAVID SPEEDIE: Louise, I know how daunting your schedule is in New York, so we're all the more grateful for your coming and giving this incredibly thought-provoking talk. Thank you.

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