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Friday, July 8

London Bombings and President Bush plays Sherlock Holmes

"Pundita, I'm wondering if you have your crystal ball back from the repair shop or if your Ouija board is in the mood to speak English.
Jan in Reston"

Dear Jan:
When it gets to the point where one's regular readers can psych one out, I don't know whether this is a good or bad thing. All right. The caveats apply but my first thought on getting the news of the London bombing was that this was a message from Tehran to Blair's government.

Keep in mind that the EU Three negotiations with Tehran about their nuclear program have been led by Jack Straw; the negotiations, which have depended on the diplomatic ploy known as confidence building (or what the layperson would call "appeasement"), have been his special project. But recently the EU Three have said in essence, "Hey, this isn't working."

They've been tossing around the idea of a harder line but it really depends on Britain's decision because they've been leading the negotiations. The question of what to do about Tehran is surely at the top of the agenda at the G8 meeting, even though I doubt this has been announced.

So if ever there was a time for Tehran to send a message to Blair that stiff penalties would accompany London encouraging Brussels to take a harder line, yesterday was the time.

The reasoning informing my view requires explanation. I see the term "war on terror" as shorthand for referring not to the methods of warfare or so-called terror organizations but to state sponsors of covert warfare. These states use mercenary armies specializing in asymmetrical warfare that passes as terrorism.

Bush came close to spelling it out when he okayed a speechwriter's use of the term "axis of evil." He was speaking of governments -- three, to be precise -- that fund and direct what are mercenary armies, although he was aiming the message at more than three governments.

Bush's naming of governments as an axis spreading terrorism was the outcome of a trend that he and his military and intelligence advisors identified after 9/11. Previous to that time, Western intelligence agencies were drowning in data about terrorist attacks, but with no way to organize the data to reveal meaningful patterns.

Along came Bush, the son of a US president who had been head of the CIA. So, unlike his predecessor, Bush actually read the intelligence reports that came to his desk. And (unlike his predecessor) he received an in-person report from the head of the CIA every working day. And he paid more attention to Israeli dossiers on terrorism than perhaps any previous US president.

From all that, Bush formed the idea that the concept of terrorism was outdated. At that time (early 2001) terrorism was seen as the means for an oppressed group to influence/topple a government via attacking the civilian population. But from what Bush was learning, it seemed that many terrorist acts were government sponsored.

That view up-ends the accepted definition of terrorism. Yet it also presents an efficient way to organize data about terrorism: Instead of trying to figure out from the past attacks where and when various terrorist organizations are going to strike next, see if the data points to a specific government sponsor.

That tentative view led to the Bush administration's ill-fated attempt to hit at al Qaeda via the Afghanistan Taliban regime. I'd say the administration was on the right track but a little late in the day -- 1998 would have been a better shot but then that was before the Bush administration. And bin Laden figured out that the Taliban were preparing to give him up.

After 9/11 Paul Wolfowitz had his assistants plug data on terrorist attacks into a software program called Analyst Notebook, which looks for connections between disparate data. The program massaged the data to reveal a clear pattern of government-sponsored terrorism.

Yet so entrenched was the idea that terrorism is a weapon against the state that intelligence agencies never made a concerted effort to connect terrorist acts with state sponsorship. Once they made that effort a completely different picture emerged. The new picture quickly rescued Western intelligence agencies from the hall of mirrors created by too much data and no coherent way to organize it.

And the revised view quickly led to successful interdictions of weapons and WMD material shipments. One such interdiction led to Libya folding up their WMD program.

So, while George W. Bush seems an unlikely contributor to the science of detection, he holds a place there, although it might take historians a century to get around to crediting him. He had considerable help but without his grasp of the issues and pushing the idea, the revised view of terrorism could not have come about and gotten a foothold in the US government.

This does not imply that all modern acts of terrorism are state sponsored. The "Battle of Algiers" type of terrorism, which is as old as resistance to a powerful oppressive government, will always be with us. But the global epidemic of terrorism, which is the target of the war on terror, can be traced to sponsorship by a small number of governments and/or factions within them.

Thus, the Bush Axis of Evil speech and the thesis informing the war on terror: take down the kingpins -- the corrupt regimes sponsoring terror armies -- to end the global epidemic of terrorism. Readers who lived through decades of rampant crime in New York City then saw Rudy Giuliani's strategy to go after the crime kingpins can appreciate the concept behind the war on terror.

With that explanation out of the way, I can return to the London bombings. From what I heard last night on John Batchelor's show, George Friedman, the head of Stratfor , would probably dispute my view of who gave the order for the London bombings and why.* According to what George said last night, Stratfor holds to the theory that the bombings were part of a methodical al Qaeda plan to stage bombings in Europe about 18 months apart.

For what reason? Once you accept the Stratfor thesis, there are branching theories. One branch is that the bombing is an attempt to terrorize Europe into pressuring European members of the Coalition to leave Iraq. Another theory is that al Qaeda has to periodically stage attacks in order to save Face and keep up recruitment.

Those speculations might be very sound. Yet they ignore that al Qaeda central command currently draws pay from Tehran and the implications. And they ignore that timing is everything. They ignore other things as well, such as that al Qaeda's leaders are not fools. They don't spend a lot of money and risk exposing a cell over a matter of Face. And in a world of many hungry people, recruitment is always as easy as a few bags of grain.

My bet is that the London bombings were staged to send a precise message to a government at a precise time. In the case of London the message was: If Britain wants to avoid being a target for ongoing warfare against civilians, the British government should continue taking a soft line against Tehran's nuclear weapons program.

* This is not to discount Stratfor's view. It's thanks to Stratfor's analysts that John Batchelor's audience was probably the first to get confirmation that al Qaeda carried out the 9/11 attack.

Stratfor is not a news source -- it's an intelligence source -- but it provides so much valuable information that it's used by many media insiders, congressionals, and even government intelligence analysts as a cutting edge source of news on international developments. From that angle, Stratfor, along with John Batchelor's radio show, is spearheading the "intelligence-based" post-partisan revolution in news reporting and analysis.

For readers unfamiliar with John's show and the concept of intelligence-based reporting, see yesterday's Pundita post John Batchelor Show: stay tuned , which I put up as a public service to UK readers looking for news on the London train bombings. (Almost all of John's three-hour show last night, plus the fourth hour we receive here in WMAL-land, was devoted to sources reporting on the bombings.)
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