Of Mafiosi and Mullahs
Intelligence is how you take down organized crime and organized terror
by Andrew C. McCarthy
National Review Online
September 10, 2011
This was supposed to be a reflection on 9/11 and what we've learned in the decade since — what we've done right, what we've done wrong. It would be foolish, though, to waste time retracing our steps when the lesson is simple and the threat that we will unlearn it is immediate and concrete. What we've learned is that the only protection from jihadist terror lies in good intelligence. And what we're seeing is an attempt to re-establish pre-9/11 roadblocks to intelligence-gathering in the very place where, as 9/11 painfully proved, the threat to us is most profound.
Commissioner Ray Kelly's police department has pioneered a counterterrorism strategy that has safeguarded New York City, the jihad's No. 1 target, since jihadists destroyed the twin towers ten years ago tomorrow. Yet, as my column last weekend related, Kelly and the NYPD continue to be targets of an Associated Press smear campaign, bringing down the same hidebound indictment Islamist organizations and the Lawyer Left trot out against any counterterrorism strategy worth having: that it means profiling, domestic spying, and Islamophobia.
This week, that campaign continued with AP's latest installment, wherein correspondent Adam Goldman bewails the special attention the NYPD has paid to mosques and what he preciously describes as "Muslim student groups."
Not surprisingly, I caught some flak for contending that the AP is dutifully carrying water for the Obama administration, which has urged a strategy for combatting terrorism that is very different from the NYPD's — a strategy that resists even using the word "terrorism." So I am grateful to Mr. Goldman for removing any doubt. Right on cue, he now frets that internal NYPD memoranda "appear at times at odds with the White House's newly released policy on combatting violent extremism." NRO readers will recognize this Obama policy as "Empowering Local Partners to Prevent Violent Extremism in the United States," which I outlined in both the aforementioned column and in "Losing Malmo," another recent column on what the European forerunner of Obama's strategy has wrought.
As Goldman puts it, Obama's policy "discourages authorities from casting suspicion on communities or conflating strong religious views with violent extremism." That's an accurate reflection of how Obama fans view the president's policy. It also brings into sharp relief two of the policy's several flawed premises — misconceptions that Goldman clearly shares.
First, if a threat is coming from a particular community, the police must investigate that community. At the very least, that means monitoring the enclaves that are the source of the peril. In suggesting that the threat to America is not Islamic militancy but rather police investigations that cause Muslims to feel aggrieved, President Obama has it exactly backwards. Not coincidentally, this is the domestic iteration of the administration's wayward foreign policy, in which past American action, rather than Islamist ideology, is portrayed as the root cause of Muslim aggression.
It is not, as the administration claims and the AP parrots, a matter of the police "casting suspicion on communities." In New York City, police have reacted as police must react to a threat of unprecedented deadliness. Of course, if one is content to wait until "violent extremism" erupts before responding, one presumably has no problem with the police remaining passive until after innocent people have been killed. But having experienced jihadist terror in a way other American cities have not, New Yorkers prefer to see their police prevent attacks. If that's where you're coming from, there simply is no alternative to proactive policing: gathering intelligence and interrupting terror cells before plots mature.
This is not a radical concept. It is why legislatures elected by citizens enact laws against conspiring to commit offenses and providing material support to terrorists. The point is to get police to thwart attacks, not prosecute them post facto (assuming that there are any survivors left to prosecute).
What is radical is the administration's premise: As framed by the president and attorney general Eric Holder, it is a "false choice" to posit that we must either encourage more proactive policing or be prepared to suffer more attacks. Instead, the administration insists, there's a third option: Have the police "empower local partners" — which is to say, have the police delegate their intelligence-gathering duties to Muslim community leaders.
The second flawed premise shared by the administration and the AP is their insistence that "strong religious views" are being unfairly equated with the promotion of "violent extremism." In point of fact, what promotes terrorism is Islamist ideology. In the strict sense, Islamist ideology is not a religion. It is a political program. Yes, it has some spiritual elements, but its main goal is to consume our secular space: to supplant Western culture with Islamic culture and American constitutional principles with sharia, Islam's legal and political framework.
To be sure, there is an apolitical interpretation of Islam — a Westernized adaptation. Regrettably, it is a work in progress, no matter how many times we tell ourselves it is really mainstream and popular and comfortably consonant with Islamic scripture. In this reformist construction of Islam, adherents honor Islam's spiritual principles but resist the insinuation of sharia tenets in civil society. That Islam is not a political program. It is a creed more consistent with religion as we understand it in the West, and no one is conflating it with "violent extremism." What is conflated with violent extremism is Islamist ideology, for the simple reason that the latter endorses the former.
With this as background, let's consider the AP's sleight-of-hand. Mr. Goldman contends that the NYPD is using covert operatives "to canvas the Islamic population of America's largest city." This, he claims, has "put huge numbers of innocent people under scrutiny as they went about their daily lives in mosques, businesses and social groups." This is nonsense, betraying either willful deception or a woeful grasp on how law enforcement works.
It is simply a fact that crime, particularly concerted criminal activity, tends to have cultural or ethnic commonality. Let's put Islam aside. When the mafia was more of a force in New York City than it is today, the police and the FBI dispatched informants and undercover agents into parts of the Italian community. They were not canvassing the city's Italian population; they were pursuing leads and collecting intelligence in what were notorious hotbeds of Cosa Nostra activity and support.
Relative to the comparatively small number of people who were eventually prosecuted, one might well say that "huge numbers of innocent people were placed under scrutiny." "Scrutiny," however, is a misleading term. Very few of those people were what prosecutors call "targets" of the investigation — people virtually certain to be charged. Some were what's known as "subjects" — people whose activities were being investigated to determine whether they were criminally culpable. The vast majority were innocent people, neither subjects nor targets but ordinary citizens (the bank teller, the pizza-delivery guy, the witness who happened to be in the parking lot when the heroin was delivered) whom investigators necessarily came across in trying to get to the bottom of what the crooks were up to.
In the investigations on which I worked over the years, it was not unusual to have hundreds of these innocent people cross into our investigative lens. In the 1984 Pizza Connection case, which we investigated for years before finally indicting three dozen Mafiosi, it was no doubt well over a thousand. A high percentage of those people, naturally, were Italian. But in no sense were we canvassing the Italian population. We were conducting an investigation of a secret criminal organization in which Italian heritage was a membership requirement, and we were going where the evidence took us.
Islamist terrorists and the Islamist firebrands who inspire them are Muslims. They contend that they are compelled to act aggressively, and at times violently, by their ideology. (Again, I don't think it's accurate to call it a religion just because they say so.) They are anchored in Muslim neighborhoods, they have sympathizers in those neighborhoods, and they use mosques, Islamic community centers, and Muslim-controlled businesses to plot, recruit, raise funds, and draw other material support. You can't investigate them or gather intelligence about their machinations without crossing paths with many innocent people, as well as not-so-innocent people, who are Muslims. That is not canvassing, profiling, or Islamophobia. It is competent police work, if the mission of the police is to prevent attacks.
Goldman's next bombshell is to report that police identified 250 mosques in the metropolitan area and whittled them down to 53 "mosques of concern." Evidently, you are to be alarmed by the one-in-five breakdown, the suggestion that fully 20 percent of mosques are problematic.
You should be alarmed, but for the opposite reason. If Goldman is right, the police are probably low-balling. As I mentioned over the weekend, the recently published Mapping Sharia study found that four out of five American mosques — 80 percent — disseminate literature that endorses violent jihad. The imams in mosques that feature these materials tend to promote them. Further, over half these mosques feature guest speakers known to preach approvingly of violence.
The true number of "mosques of concern" is surely higher than the number to which the police have apparently whittled it down, perhaps by a factor of four. The only sensible conclusion is that the NYPD is bending over backwards not to target Muslims for investigation. And sure enough, Goldman concedes that most of the 53 "mosques of concern" have been "flagged for allegations of criminal activity, such as alien smuggling, financing Hamas, or money laundering." It is precisely not a matter of NYPD's "conflating strong religious views with violent extremism."
In a dark tone, Goldman adds that other mosques have been scrutinized due to their "ties to Salafism" or to what is vaguely described as mere "rhetoric." But his implication that this runs afoul of the First Amendment is meritless. To take "rhetoric" first, the direct nexus between the exhortations of Islamist imams and the commission of violence by Muslims is too well documented to call for much additional comment. There is no constitutional protection for rhetoric that incites lawlessness or that evidences seditious designs.
Regarding Salafists, Goldman naturally fails to alert the reader that they are infamous for promoting violent jihad (see my column earlier this year on the savage attacks by Salafists against Coptic Christians in Egypt). Amusingly, Goldman's lame effort to camouflage the Salafists as extremely devout rather than extremely violent succeeds only in highlighting the dangers of sharia. He describes Salafism as "a hardline movement preaching a strict version of Islamic law." Well, yeah . . . but what makes this "hardline" is the uncongenial fact that "strict" sharia is inextricably linked to — all together now — violent extremism.
Equally disingenuous is Goldman's concern that the NYPD focused on two mosques "for having ties to Al-Azhar, the 1,000-year-old Egyptian mosque that is the pre-eminent institute of Islamic learning in the Sunni Muslim world." Let's assume for argument's sake that the AP is correct and that the police had no reason other than some hazy connection to al-Azhar for giving a mosque special attention. Goldman's rendering of al-Azhar is ludicrously incomplete.
Yes, it is the ancient seat of Sunni learning. That happens to make it the cradle and sustenance of Islamist ideology — and, given its weighty influence in the Muslim ummah, that also makes it the chief obstacle for Islamic reformers we are supposed to be trying to help. Al-Azhar has produced such jurisprudents as the Blind Sheikh (Omar Abdel Rahman), whose authority to issue fatwas for assassinations and mass-murder plots (including the 9/11 attacks) owes solely to his status as a renowned al-Azhar scholar. Ditto Sheikh Yusuf Qaradawi, the Muslim Brotherhood scholar whose fatwas have called for killing Americans in Iraq and for suicide attacks in Israel.
That some of al-Azhar's faculty condemned the 9/11 attacks, and that the university won praise from top Bush adviser Karen Hughes, as Goldman takes pains to point out, doesn't tell half the story. Sheikh Qaradawi condemned 9/11, too. It's not that he and al-Azhar oppose terrorism in principle. They don't. Indeed, al-Azhar scholars rallied to Qaradawi's defense over the fatwa authorizing terrorist attacks against U.S. personnel in Iraq. No, al-Azhar and Qaradawi were against 9/11 for tactical reasons. The U.S. is not an Islamic country, so there was no sharia mandate to attack Americans here as there is to attack Westerners if they occupy a Muslim territory such as Iraq. When there is no mandate, Islamists decide whether violent jihad should be launched against non-Muslims based on a cost-benefit analysis, not on any conviction that killing non-Muslims is immoral. This is a close question when it comes to America — we might call it a question on which unreasonable minds can differ.
To al-Qaeda, America is the root of all evil and must be attacked whenever and wherever possible, period. The Brotherhood and al-Azhar agree with al-Qaeda's condemnation of America's nature, but, being more sophisticated, they also recognize that the U.S. has an unparalleled capacity to inflict damage if provoked, and is a country where Islamists (the Muslim Brotherhood's affiliates, in particular) have been fabulously successful both at raising money for terrorists and pursuing the sharia agenda by cultivating naive politicians such as Ms. Hughes, who was hardly singular in the Bush administration in her eagerness to pander to Islamic authorities.
Al-Qaeda's 9/11 strikes prompted the U.S. to attack and occupy Muslim countries, as well as to scrutinize and prosecute the Islamist fundraising network on which Hamas (a Muslim Brotherhood terror wing championed by al-Azhar) is dependent. To Qaradawi and al-Azhar, this made 9/11 counterproductive: a miscalculation, not a blasphemy against Islam.
On that score, it is worth bearing in mind that al-Azhar has certified Reliance of the Traveller, the classic manual of sharia. Among other gems, Reliance defines jihad as "to war against non-Muslims," and collects Koranic verses to corroborate this interpretation (e.g., Suras 2:216 and 4:89, respectively, "Fighting is prescribed for you," and "Slay them wherever you find them.") The al-Azhar certification appears at the beginning of the manual, right after a similar certification from the International Institute of Islamic Thought, a Muslim Brotherhood think-tank, whose founders and leading members have been intimately connected to the Brotherhood's promotion of Hamas, as well as to Sami al-Arian and Abdurrahman Alamoudi — both convicted promoters of terrorism.
Finally, the AP grouses that "police also kept tabs on seven of the area's Muslim student associations." This attempt to suggest sinister NYPD spying on youngsters for no better reason than that they happen to be Muslims is laughable. What Goldman doesn't tell you (but what I do recount in The Grand Jihad) is that the Muslim Students Association is the foundation of the Muslim Brotherhood's American infrastructure.
The MSA began in the Midwest in 1963, and there are now about 600 chapters in colleges and universities across the U.S. and Canada. Its raison d'etre is to steep students in Islamist ideology, providing a rich recruiting pool for the Brotherhood (many of whose alumni, it is worth noting, move seamlessly along to terrorist organizations). The MSA encourages mastery of the writings of Brotherhood theorists Hassan al-Banna (the Brotherhood's founder) and Sayyid Qutb (the thinker most admired by al-Qaeda and the Blind Sheikh for demanding holy war against regimes that fail to govern in accordance with sharia). Eventually, the MSA was officially subsumed into the Brotherhood's most important American satellite, the Islamic Society of North America. ISNA was cited as an unindicted coconspirator by the Justice Department in the 2007–08 Holy Land Foundation case because of its well-documented fund-raising activities on behalf of Hamas.
Goldman doesn't tell you any of this. He just says the police "define" the MSA as "a university-based student group, with an Islamic focus, involved with religious and political activities." Well, sure, if you consider Islamist ideology to be religion and the replacement of American law with sharia law to be politics. But once they are aware of its program, most people recognize the MSA as a gateway to radicalization and thus, potentially, to "violent extremism." The problem would be if police were ignoring the MSA.
But that, of course, is not the Obama way. As I've noted in recent columns, the Islamist apologists on whom the Obama administration relied in crafting its strategy maintain that there is not enough evidence to figure out what radicalizes Muslim youth. This is a thinly veiled jab at the NYPD, which responsibly undertook to study radicalization in 2007. The Obama strategy is to "delink" law-enforcement efforts to prevent violence from such studies — i.e., to pretend Islamist ideology is not a problem and to avoid offending the Muslim community leaders with whom the administration is anxious to "partner."
Both the AP and the Obama strategy would have New York City abandon the intelligence-based counterterrorism that has worked remarkably well. Police would instead delegate their information-gathering functions to their "partners," Muslim community leaders, many of whom harbor Islamist sympathies. Of course, these community leaders frown on traditional police investigative techniques such as the use of informants and the interrogation of arrested suspects. That is, the police would forfeit their ability to reach out beyond Islamist organizations and imams to rank-and-file Muslims — patriotic Americans who would like to help police identify potential problems, but who need to do it quietly for fear of being ostracized as traitors. And because the Obama program anticipates that the community "partners" would train the police to be culturally sensitive, what little the cops will be allowed to observe would be seen through the prism of the community leaders' worldview — which is to say, sloughed off as innocuous religious and political activity.
Over time, police would learn almost nothing about what happens in communities with a history of supporting Islamists and rationalizing terrorism. Concurrently, the community leaders with whom they "partner" would become more powerful, strengthening their hand to pursue a strategy of Islamizing their enclaves without interference from the state. As Europeans will tell you, that's how a country sprouts no-go zones, where police no longer enforce the civil law and where the society loses its sovereignty. That's how a city gets to be Malmo.
— Andrew C. McCarthy, a senior fellow at the National Review Institute, is the author, most recently, of The Grand Jihad: How Islam and the Left Sabotage America.
Reader comments on this item
To the point
Sep 15, 2011 04:06
One of the most articulately and thoughtfully presented arguments on the subject. Every counterterrorism official, analyst and researcher should read this very well thought and presented article. Just to add, what needs to be addressed or argued here is the need to stay away from propagandizing doubtful, and almost harmful (to the cause), arrests such as the resent FBI case in upper Manhattan at the Jewish synagogue in , or the NYPD's in Jersey. Not to discount these arrests, but to put them in their appropriate frame. We need to focus (as well) on the real threat which is coming from the new wave of "taqqia" islamists; those who dwell amongst us (sometimes in sensitive agencies) who pretend and act against their true hidden beliefs. Our next shock will be more sophisticated than the brute attack of 911.